Producing a spectacular moment to win a championship with the last play of the game is everyone’s dream in sport.
Last week at the National Under 19 Club Football championships in Napier that desire became a reality for Petone’s Olivia Gibbs.
With her side tied 0-0 against Nelson, Gibbs was fouled 30 yards out from goal. What followed was a spectacular right to left strike that flew beyond the wall, past the keeper, and into the roof of the net.
“You know when you hit it, it feels right, It feels good. When it went in, I couldn’t believe it. It was just pure excitement and relief. It was crazy, I’m still getting over it,” Gibbs said.
“I haven't scored a goal with that amount of pressure behind it. I didn’t realise it was the last minute of the game. Nobody told me. I didn’t turn around and look at the scoreboard. I was like, “ I'm just going to do it otherwise we're eventually going to penalties.
“I’m not going to lie, I've been sent it many times and enjoyed watching it. Ethan Claridge is goalie in our boys team and he got it from the perfect angle so I could watch it dip in. I remember afterwards a lot of the girls were crying. It’s unbelievable.”
Petone had modest expectations prior to the tournament, hoping to “get out of pool play.” Gibbs ensured they started strongly by scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 win against North Wellington. In their next outing Petone came unstuck against a Napier selection (2-3) before holding Nelson to 1-1 draw.
“We didn’t think we could win it until the last day. Everyone played so well. It’s crazy. Kate Marra and Devyn Crawford won so much ball and bring experience from playing in the senior women's’ league. Zara Bowen was unbelievable in goal. The whole team did so well.”
Gibbs' free kick wasn’t a flash in the pan. The attacking midfielder was named tournament MVP and stung Taradale in the semi-finals with a similar effort.
“I always take the free-kicks from about 30 out. Any further out and I’d look to play it forward rather than shoot it.
“The coach took the credit for helping me practice from the same place,” she laughed.
Taradale was accounted for 2-1 but initially that moment didn’t carry over to the decider against Nelson.
“It seemed like a real close game. I thought they had the better of the first-half and we dominated the second.
“I remember winning the free kick clearly. Our right winger ran down the line and crossed it in, but missed hit-it, tried another cross and it came to me. I tried to feed another player but got fouled in a late challenge outside the box and the rest is history.”
Gibbs spent five years in the Sacred Heart College, Lower Hutt First XI and identified “friendships” and “beating St Mary’s College” as her personal highlights.
She studies commerce at Victoria University and her twin brother Michael plays in defence for Petone. Her favourite player is Lionel Messi.
Story by Adam Julian/ Photos by Petone Football
These are bleak times. The National Secondary Schools touch, athletics and cricket championships were cancelled on Wednesday, joining September’s winter tournament week on the Covid scrapheap.
First held in 1976, the National Under-19 club football championships typically caters for 68 teams, with others waiting to get in. This year the tournament started on Saturday with just 13 teams in the boys' draw and eight in the girls.'
Even then it was in doubt. North Wellington AFC captain Riley Manuel explains, “There was a COVID case in the Napier K-Mart or something. Teams withdrew at the last minute. We were pretty nervous, but tried to focus on what we could control. We are really grateful it went ahead,” he said.
A gruelling format requires the finalists to get through five pool matches lasting an hour in addition to a quarter and semi-final.
North Wellington didn’t concede a goal until the semi-final against one of the pre-tournament favourites Mirimar Rangers where they required extra time to prevail 3-2.
In the final against Wellington Olympic control was lost as early as the fourth minute when wing Sam Rioga was toppled in the box and George Walker coolly converted a penalty. Misery compounded 25-minutes later when Walker scored again collecting a piercing right-foot pass by Theo Jones on the edge of the area and gracefully turning by a hapless defender leaving the keeper stranded.
“We got off to a slow start”, Manuel admitted, “but once they got that second goal we started to turn up and get on top of them.”
“We didn’t give up, we kept trying, the boys' attitude was pretty good and in tournaments you can gain momentum quickly.”
Following the kickoff at 2-0 striker Alex Mort dashed clear and was knocked off his stride in a heavy collision inside the box with Olympic goalie Toby Hunt. With the penalty Manuel had the chance to half the deficit.
“It’s always nerve racking to take a penalty but I’m lucky I’ve got a lot of experience taking them. Where you shoot depends on the keeper, but deciding where to go beforehand and not changing your mind is pretty important.”
Manuel went right and North Wellington turned at halftime with some optimism 2-1 down.
Mort has a best time of 11.11 in the 100 meters. His searing pace resulted in a swift equaller after the interval when he turned an air-swing by an Olympic defender into an unexpected, opportunist goal.
“Alex got the tournament MVP and was really important for us. Our game plan was to get him running behind defenders and causing chaos. His speed is pretty helpful in tournament football and he jumped on that mistake by Olympic,” Manuel said.
With 15 minutes remaining Mort would pull up lame,but there was no panic.
“It’s pretty important the recovery side of the tournament because that helps you run for a longer time and maintain a physical edge. We had a lot of depth in our squad, great coaches, everyone delivered.
“Our two wingers Ashnarvy Mustapha and Johnny Khoun ran a mile. Our backs are really solid.
“They started to get a bit nervous because we were in rhythm while fatigued. They had quite a few supporters on the opposite side of the main stand and they were getting hyped which kinda made it more fun for us.”
The final lasts an extra ten minutes but if drawn at fulltime stretches another 20 minutes after which penalties follow if the scores are still tied. It was 2-2 with three minutes to go.
“We were on a counter attack. Our winger crossed to our opposite winger and played me into space. I took a shot from about 15 years which took a deflection and it went in. The shot felt good, getting the lead felt even better.
“I try to lead by example and be consistent. I’ve played a lot of senior football this year so I guess I’ve got used to playing at a higher level. Tournament was very different from our senior season where we struggled to gel a lot of the time and lost a few games in the 90th minute.”
Manuel is in Year 12 at St Patrick’s College, Wellington and also plays futsal. Football guru Hamish Wareham covered the tournament and paid tribute to Riley and host club Napier City Rovers.
“Riley led his side superbly, be it creating chances in midfield, doing defensive duties, or rallying his troops. North Wellington thoroughly deserved their title going through to the semi-finals without conceding a goal and then digging deep when it most counted. Napier did a superb job hosting the tournament. It’s like being in Disneyland for a bloke like me. Even if the borders reopen next year, I’ll be here.”
North Wellington Results FC
Lower Hutt, 2-0
Wanganui City, 6-0
Upper Hutt, 0-0
Upper Hutt, 4-0 (Quarter)
Miramar, 3-2 (Semi)
Olympic, 3-2 (Final)
Interview and story by Adam Julian. Photos by Hamish Wareham.
“We could see it coming. We never got too far ahead of ourselves but we had such a good season last year expectations were high,” Thomas Walters of the St John’s College, Hamilton First XI revealed when asked about prospects for 2021.
With nine Year 13’s returning, St John’s achieved something they hadn’t done since 2002 - win the Waikato Secondary Schools Premier Division football title.
St John’s topped the first round of the competition, outpacing eight teams and were then front runners in the second round top four series. A 3-1 victory over perennial winners Hamilton Boys’ High School secured the title.
“It was definitely a good feeling to win. We were second by only a few points last year and Hamilton are our biggest rivals. We play an attacking style of football and aren’t afraid to get stuck in and foul if necessary.
“Against Hamilton we were up 3-0 at halftime. I scored the first goal from a free kick. Riley Sexton got the next one after their keeper dropped the ball from a set piece and Tom Roach got the third after we moved the ball around. We beat them twice which was awesome.”
Walters is an attacking midfielder who scored 11 goals throughout the season. His main attributes are “vision,” “passing” and “leadership.” He has built a productive relationship with coach Darren Walters.
“Darren is passionate about what he does. He went to Auckland Grammar, did some rep coaching, and started with the Colts at St John’s. He’s been with the First XI for eight years and he looks out for us on and off the field.
“He’s encouraged a lot of the boys to get into club football with the likes of Cambridge, Melville and Hamilton Wanderers. The boys have been tested against older players and mixed with different groups which has been really good for us.”
Walters plays for Wanderers who struggled in the senior league but Walters is a regular fixture in representative sides and was convinced St John’s would have produced a good showing at Nationals which were cancelled last month.
“We only lost to Tauranga Boys’ 2-1 and they were a very strong side. We never gave up and I think we won their respect.
“It wasn’t great that Nationals were canceled, but personally winning the league is the end of an era for me. It was a great way to finish my time in the First XI.
Hamilton Boys’ were National champions as recently as 2017. The last time St John’s won the Premier League prior to this season defender Rio Ferdinand was the most expensive player in the world.
Story by Adam Julian, for College Sport Media, October 2021.
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