Dunedin Technical 4, Forrest Hill Millford United 2 North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, September 9 2018
And then there were two.
The home side, Dunedin Technical, playing 2000 km away from home in their first cup final, had already made history last year by reaching their first semi final in the competition. With many players in their last year of uni and possibly their last game for the club, and with this being coach Graeme Smaill’s last game at Tech’s helm after eight seasons guiding the club from the wrong end of a double figure scoreline to a six year championship winning streak and an unbeaten season that, being on the precipice of their first ever national title was the only way to round off such a strong period in the clubs’s history.
The away side, Forrest Hill Milford United (a good 10 km away from home) were a young team (though not an inexperienced one, with this being defender Chloe Wilson’s 112th game for the club, and having several age group Football Ferns in their ranks) with several players perhaps carrying the strain of a week’s worth of NZSS tournaments and the surprise tag of favourites perhaps not sitting quite right, despite having overcome local rivals (and cup holders) Glenfield Rovers in the semi finals.
Whichever way you cut it, this was a final which promised an exciting beginning to Aotearoa New Zealand’s premier club football competitions.
Tech picked up where they left off against Wellington United in last month’s semi final. Central midfielders Chelsea Whittaker and Shontelle Smith set the tempo early on, breaking down Forrest Hill attacks and providing the impetus for Tech to advance down the pitch, releasing wingers Lara Wall and Mikaela Gray to cause a little mayhem out wide. This contributed to their opening goal, with the ball popping out to Mikaela Hunt to finish in the middle.
Their second soon followed as Lara Wall raced down the left wing, beating several Forrest Hill defenders to be rewarded with a well-taken goal, the ball lifted over Emily Couchman and the goal line courtesy of the crossbar’s underside. After later rattling one off the horizontal, and Maia Jackman Trophy winner Smith crashing a long distance shot off the crossbar partway through the second half, at least one observer (definitely not me) wondered whether Tech were also here to play an undercover crossbar challenge. Who can really say?
Tech’s third came from another piece of well-drilled wide play, this time down the right hand side, as Gray cut back from the by line to find Morison in the middle to finish from close range. Their fourth of the afternoon came from a set piece, as Hunt connected with a lofted free kick to loop a header over Couchman, her second of the game concluding Tech’s scoring for the afternoon.
None of this is to say that Forrest Hill didn’t have their own moments. They started the brighter side, zipping the ball around the pitch and testing Tech’s defensive resolve, with nifty interchanges during the game’s opening period giving a flavour of what this young side is capable of.
Even when Forrest Hill were a couple of goals down they never looked like they wouldn’t score, with Barnett’s first goal of the game seeing her confidently disregarding the Tech defenders’ attentions to slam the ball into the back of the net. Soon after skipper Malia Steinmetz similarly took it to Dunedin, weaving her way along the edge of the penalty area only to shoot wide.
Barnett’s second, a wicked strike from the edge of the box early in the second half, had you thinking that maybe there was a fightback to be had. But unfortunately for Forrest Hill, despite the best will of their vocal local support, this didn’t materialise, and as the clock ran down Tech and their delighted supporters ecstatically settled in for a convincing 4-2 win.
The relaunched Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup challenged participants to ‘Make a Name for Yourself’. At the beginning of the year it signalled a new direction for the women’s domestic game, demanded new stories to be be told. And, eventually, it required a brand new winner’s name to be engraved on the renamed trophy, from a region previously unrepresented on the national trophy. The Kate Sheppard Cup represents the pinnacle of women’s club football in Aotearoa New Zealand, and this was a final befitting that mantle.
Photos Enzo Giordani
Waiheke Islander currently in exile in Wellington. Supporter of Nottingham Forest and England, through thick and thin (there's been plenty of that). As a player is somewhat averse to the offside rule.