The favourites and underdogs in the Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup final are clearly identifiable but both teams are comfortable with the tags that have been placed on them and are relishing the prospect of playing up to those roles on Sunday at QBE Stadium.
Forrest Hill Milford United are most observers’ picks to lift the most prestigious trophy in women’s club football as they are aiming for their second title in three years, knocked out defending champions Glenfield Rovers in the previous round and have a squad packed full of international experience and young talent.
In contrast, Dunedin Technical have already broken new ground by making it this far – no other Football South club has ever done so – and are lighter on well-known names than their Northern Football rivals.
“I think anyone who knows about football has the overriding opinion that we’re the underdogs,” Dunedin coach Graeme Smaill admits.
“We accept that and we’re embracing it but we give ourselves a 50/50 chance in this game. It’s 90 minutes and two teams of 11 players – everyone has two arms and two legs. Yes, they have a bit more pedigree than we do but we’ve been building over a number of years and that’s really increased the self-belief of our players – they’re certainly not going in with any fear.”
While secure enough to shoulder the burden of being favourites, Forrest Hill counterpart Ben Bate says complacency will certainly not be an issue for his charges. He feels there is little danger of them thinking the hard work is already done after getting past Glenfield, who have lifted the trophy in three of the past four years.
“A lot of the girls and myself were involved in the national league last year and saw how strong Southern United came out. I was with Auckland Football in the first game and we ended up losing to Southern so we know there’s been a bit of a sea change down there,” he says.
“The players have obviously stepped up and, as we know, things are improving all around the country in terms of coaching and player development. So we have to appreciate the fact that the standard is improving and we can’t take it for granted anymore that a team like Dunedin is going to be weaker than we might be. So we’re confident but also very respectful of what Dunedin will have to offer.”
As they are located at opposite ends of the country, both coaches admit they have little firm knowledge of their opponents but have a fair idea of what to expect anyway.
“We know some of the players they have through the national league but, as a team itself, we don’t know a lot,” Smaill says. “But we expect them to be like most of the top sides these days, they’re all very similar in the way they approach the game. But our focus is going to be on ourselves and what we hope to do on the pitch.”
Aside from the excitement of being in their first ever Kate Sheppard Cup final, Dunedin have reason to be even more motivated as this will be Smaill’s final game in charge after eight years at the helm. After leading Technical to six leagues titles in that period, he is stepping away as he can no longer devote the degree of time and commitment required.
“If you look around at the top clubs now, they all have FDOs and a lot of their coaches are fulltime. That’s the way it’s heading and I think that’s needed if we’re going to keep progressing so it’s probably a good time for me to step down. It’s turned into a wee bit of a fairy-tale I suppose with us making the final – you couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
Bate is wary of the fact Dunedin will want to send their long-serving coach off on a high and is expecting them to rise to the occasion.
“Adrenaline always plays a part in cup finals football,” he says. “So regardless of the quality of the players they will certainly come out with a lot of fight. And they’re obviously going to want to fight for the coach and show the hard work Graeme’s put in over a number of years has paid off.”
Both teams have goal-scorers in hot form with former Football Ferns striker Jane Barnett having hit a hat-trick for Forrest Hill in the 3-1 semi-final win over Glenfield while Emily Morison and Lara Wall both notched doubles as Dunedin Technical accounted for Wellington United 4-2.
In addition to Barnett, Bate will also be able to call on the services of Football Fern Malia Steinmetz, Aneka Mittendorff and Sam Tawharu, who all starred for New Zealand at the recent FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
Smaill does not have the same level of international experience at his disposal but there is still plenty of nous in the Technical ranks as most of the line-up have played at the country’s highest level with Southern United.
“The overriding feeling is just one of excitement – the girls are really excited to play in such a prestigious final so we’re really looking forward to it,” Smaill says.
“We’re just going to continue doing what’s got us here in the first place. I envisage the game is going to be played at a high tempo and we’ll look to pressure them as much as possible. And we need to keep our fingers crossed that we get a bit of luck as well because that always helps in footy.”
New Zealand Football Cup Finals Day
Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup Final
Dunedin Technical vs Forrest Hill Milford United
Sunday 9 September, 12pm
QBE Stadium, Auckland
Tickets: $10 (U-16 free), gains access to both matches
ISPS Handa Chatham Cup Final
Birkenhead United vs Western Suburbs
Sunday 9 September, 3.30pm
QBE Stadium, Auckland
Tickets: $10, (U-16 free), gains access to both matches
Article added: Friday 07 September 2018