From fifth in Wellington to fourth in New Zealand, the rollercoaster ride of the St Patrick’s College, Wellington (Town) First XI football team is one of the more remarkable stories in college sport in 2018.
Had the ball bounced in a different direction and some greater administrative empathy been applied, it’s quite conceivable Town could have successfully defended their Premier Youth Wellington title and won the Nationals.
Captain Samuel Mitrakas was convinced his team would perform strongly at Nationals, despite a disappointing conclusion to the Wellington Trevor Rigby Cup.
“I always had a feeling we’d do alright. Our luck had to change sometime. Our management prepared us really well both mentally and physically,” Mitrakas acclaims.
Town are coached by Harry Rickus (a young Englishman with a UEFA B badge) and Luc Townsend, a respected teacher.
July 28, is the last round of Premier Youth Wellington competition before the teams are divided into a top four/bottom four section - a change in format from the previous season where the top two teams automatically qualified for the final.
Town only needs a solitary point to absolutely guarantee their place in the top four, but lose 1-2 to Wellington College leaving three teams tied on the same number of points.
Despite beating Rongotai College and St Patrick’s College, Silverstream, the other schools involved, Town is demoted to the bottom four because of an inferior goal difference.
Law 16.1 of the College Sport Wellington Football handbook states:
“The process for differentiating two teams tied on round robin competition points shall be: a. The team who won the most recent competition match between those two teams shall be afforded the higher rank.”
However Law 20 relating to semis and finals is applied. That rule states.
“In the case of teams being equal on competition points they will be differentiated firstly on goal difference in all competition games.”
“We thought we were through,” Mitrakas admits.
“We found out at Wednesday practice we were in the bottom four. We were absolutely gutted, but we don’t control the rules so we had no choice but to pick ourselves up,” he continued.
The top four teams played each other in a round-robin series before the top two advanced to the final. The absence of a one-off semi-final was the source of the confusion.
Given the choice would Mitrakas have structed the competition differently?
“I don’t know. I don’t mind the top four. I guess there's lots of way you can structure a competition,” Mitrakas answered.
There was nothing confusing about Town’s response. In the bottom four they defeated Tawa College (4-0), Scots College (2-1) and Wairarapa College (8-1) with Mitrakas scoring in all three games.
Ironically Silverstream, the team with the worst record against Rongotai and Town in the earlier round, lost to Hutt International Boys’ School in the final having beaten HIBS twice previously. HIBS were the lowest finishing Wellington team at Nationals coming in 24th place.
Town was grouped in Pool B at Nationals alongside New Plymouth Boys’ High School, Lincoln High School and perennial contenders Sacred Heart College. The first two fixtures were identified as a ‘must-win.’
A heavy downpour played a major role in the New Plymouth match.
“It was played on grass which made the pitch really muddy. We scored an early goal and were able to sit back a bit more because it was hard to create chances. We scored another goal and won 2-0,” Mitrakas reflects.
There would be no sitting back against Lincoln High School.
“I thought Lincoln would do a lot better than what they ended up doing. We beat them 1-0 and had to really work for it,” Mitrakas shared.
Both Town and Sacred Heart were through to the Round of 16 by the time they met which allowed both sides to rest some key players. However Town were eager to show they could compete against the 2016 champions.
“We didn’t want to roll over. We had to show we could compete against a very strong Auckland team. A 1-1 draw gave us a lot of confidence,” Mitrakas asserted.
St Andrew’s College (1-0) and King’s College, Auckland (2-0) were dispatched in the Round of 16 and quarter final respectively establishing a rematch with Sacred Heart in the semi.
An even battle was locked up at 0-0 approaching the end of regulation. Mitrakas captures what happened next.
“We won a penalty in referee’s time. If I scored with the last kick of the game we would’ve won, but the keeper made a great save. The game went to a shootout and I was always going to be the first shooter for us. I missed again,” Mitrakas morns.
Sacred Heart prevailed 5-3 and went onto win the final against Mount Albert Grammar School.
In the playoff for third Town faced St Kentigern College who had beaten Sacred Heart twice and romped to the Premier League title in Auckland. More anguish was to follow.
“St Kent’s were a really good possession side, but we gave as good as we got. They won by scoring a goal with the last play of the game,” Mitrakas rues.
Year 11 striker Nathan Simes, goalkeeper Themba Clarke and defender Lachlan O'Connor were among Town’s standouts.
Regular Wellington Phoenix starter Liberato Cacace was absent.
“Liberato is a class player and there's no doubt he would’ve made a difference, but we’ve played most of the season without him so I'm not sure how much we could of changed things,” Mitrakas observers.
Town’s finish is the best by a Wellington school since St Patrick’s College, Silverstream lost the final to Sacred Heart in 2011.
“I’m really proud of the boys. There's lots of leaders in the team and we could have fell apart after Wellington,” Mitrakas concluded.
Mitrakas plays for senior football for Wellington Olympic in the Central and Capital leagues. In 2019 he intends to work, play and study with the goal of earning a scholarship to the USA in 2020.
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