By Andrew Voerman, The Star
There was no particular reason why I’d chosen the topic, other than that my deadline happened to coincide with the local and national knockout cup finals, both of which featured Turnbull’s Coastal Spirit.
I had no idea what to expect, or even if there would be anything worth writing about. As it turns out, there was plenty. Year two, by Turnbull’s count, was year.
After qualifying for the finals in third place, the Pride went on the road and won in Wellington, 2-0 over Capital, then in Auckland, where they beat Northern 4-2 in the final, delivering a title exactly when planned.
His comments stuck with me because of the sense of belief and confidence in his team that they revealed.
I wasn’t surprised when they did it again, winning Sunday’s final 3-1 over the New Zealand Football development side, thus going back to back.
There is a lot of football talent in this region - just look at the players who played in last year’s final and didn’t return.
Gone were goalkeeper Lily Alfeld, to Louisiana State University in the USA; fullback Laura Merrin, to England where she’s landed at Everton Ladies; and Nelson-based youth international defenders Emily Jensen and Geena Gross, both taking a break to focus on their studies.
Then look at what this year’s squad still had: Football Ferns Meikayla Moore and Annalie Longo; youth internationals past
last and present in Ashleigh Ward, Belinda Van Noorden, Lauren Dabner, Megan Shea, Victoria Esson and Whitney Hepburn; as well as a wealth of other up-and-comers.
That might be a lot of talent, but they still had to put in the hard yards over the last two months to achieve their success.
They’ve won the league twice in a row at a time when it’s as strong as it’s ever been.
Gone are the days when the Auckland-based sides cruised through to the finals.
Teams from the Waikato and Wellington were both competitive this year (Capital gave the Pride their only loss, back in October) and they will only grow stronger with time.
Next June, the Football Ferns will contest the World Cup in Canada, where they are a real chance to make it to the knockout stages.
The women’s game received a massive boost after the same event in 2011, and there’s every reason to expect it will again.
At the game on Sunday, I was talking to Enzo Giordani, a football blogger from Auckland, who has spent the last two months getting around games up north, giving the league a great deal of exposure.
It was his second trip south to see a Pride game, and both times he has gone away impressed with what we have going on down here.
Charging an entry fee (of just $5), providing programmes, and having half-time entertainment and a ground announcer are just some of the little touches that go a long way to raising the stature of the competition, and are rarely seen elsewhere in the country.
Excuse the pun, but there’s a real sense of pride in what this team has done and can do.
After every game, there are always crowds of little girls, clinging on to posters and programmes, looking for autographs from the players they’ve just watched.
And no one ever has any problem with signing them.