2018 Kate Sheppard Cup Final:
Dunedin Technical 4-2 Forrest Hill Milford United
I’ve written a fair bit about this Dunedin Technical side over the last couple of seasons, in the belief there was something a little bit special about them. Now with the team having put on such a grand display in the Kate Sheppard Cup final, it’s quite nice to know I can finally leave it up to the real journalists to give them the plaudits they deserve.
But actually, I can’t help but rave about them one last time, because this win was the culmination of eight years of hard graft and couldn’t have been scripted better for the club.
Eight years ago, coach Graeme Smaill started coaching a team of young girls in Dunedin. Today, he bid the team farewell, leading a number of players who had started the journey with him all those years ago.
And make no mistake, it was a journey alright. Dunedin referee Mark Currie tweeted this afternoon that he controlled Graeme’s first match in charge of Dunedin Technical. The team – which featured at least three or four of today’s cup final starters – lost 14-0!
They steadily improved though, winning the Football South Premier League a couple of seasons later, the first of six consecutive local titles. Now, on the back of an unbeaten season, they can lay claim to being the best team in the country.
They’ve done it the hard way. Has a team ever had to visit Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland on their way to winning a national trophy?
As touched on previously, the fact that the match was played at New Zealand Football’s North Shore headquarters and televised live across the country brought the opportunity for some of my region’s best players to shine on the biggest stage on offer in our domestic game.
They were up against a talented Forrest Hill Milford United side with a raft of international experience. True, FHMU didn’t quite seem to be at their best today. Perhaps they missed Aneka Mittendorf’s composure in defence. Perhaps a long season of club, representative, and school football had finally taken its toll. Undoubtedly, Technical’s raw desire to win was a big factor and enabled them to capitalise on mistakes.
Leading up to the match, Tech was predictably tagged as the underdog. Thankfully I don’t think the players themselves ever take too much notice of those labels. There is however always a sense of the unknown when two teams from opposite ends of the country come up against each other.
Tech clearly weren’t intimidated by their opponents at all though. The Dunedin side dominated physically, particularly in the middle of the park. But the physicality was always ruthless and relentless rather than brutish.
Midfielder Shontelle Smith, who picked up the Maia Jackman trophy, was everywhere – from raking balls forward to bone-crunching tackles.
Winger Mikayla Gray, still at school, is always a dazzling dribbler and set up Tech’s third goal, but what really stood out about her performance was how often she had raced back the length of the field to help out her defensive unit.
Attackers Emily Morison and Lara Wall were constant threats. Wall’s solo goal, skinning a defender before slamming it home, was sublime.
Defender Mikaela Hunt had every right to be named player of the match, scoring two booming headers to go with her unflappable defensive work.
It’s unfair not to run through the entire team individually, because they were all superb. A team really is only ever as strong as its weakest link. This Tech squad seems to have no obvious weakness.
There were plenty of times when they could have been rattled. When FHMU scored early in the second half to cut the deficit back to two, the Dunedin side could have easily gone into their shell. But they were still happy to calmly and confidently stroke the ball around the park. It seemed they appreciated playing on a surface streaks ahead of what Dunedin’s winter tends to offer.
Forrest Hill had their moments. They started the better of the two teams, and striker Jane Barnett’s two goals were sublime. Her first was a perfect combination of strength, control, and composure, while her second was a classy long-range strike that left the goalkeeper no chance.
But Dunedin Technical could well have scored a few more and won by an even bigger margin. After the first half onslaught, the second half saw the crossbar struck twice, and a couple of other efforts went agonisingly close.
The travelling contingent of Dunedin supporters wasn’t huge, understandable given the challenge of having to travel the length of the country at short notice. But those present were in dreamland. I spoke to a couple who didn’t book their flights until the day before the match. No regrets for those fans. These memories are what football’s all about.
Argh, I’m gushing. But it’s impossible to overstate what this success could mean for football in the deep south. Hopefully, there’s a whole generation of youngsters with new heroes. Youngsters who will get along to the upcoming National Women’s League matches (two rounds!) to see those heroes in action. Youngsters who can dream of one day being able to hold aloft one of the country’s most prized trophies.
Categories: NZ Kate Sheppard Cup
Dunedin is my home, and I’m just another football obsessive. Over the last couple of years I’ve looked after social media content for the country’s southernmost football federation, Football South, and helped the Southern United national league teams with their content and media commitments. I’ve had a crippling addiction to Football Manager ever since I was a child. Struggling to come to grips with the “no slide tackles” rule of Masters football. Perrenial follower of teams which have seen much better days.