Only a stone’s throw separates Glenfield Rovers and Forrest Hill Milford United on Auckland’s North Shore and there are strong ties between the women’s teams of both clubs. Many players from the opposing camps share close friendships but those will be put to one side on the weekend in the semi-finals of the Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup.
Although the local rivalry is very much of the friendly variety, the action on Sunday is likely to be no less fiercely contested with a place in the final of female football’s leading national club competition on the line.
“There’s no nastiness at all, there’s a huge competitiveness but you’d have to say it’s absolutely in the right spirit and everyone is good friends,” Glenfield coach Andy Clay says.
“But that doesn’t make it any less painful for whoever loses. We’ve got a lot of cross pollination and players who have played for both clubs. There’s a lot of girls in the Forrest Hill team who I’ve coached so I know a lot of them personally and there’s some good young people there.”
The admiration is mutual with Forrest Hill counterpart Ben Bate harbouring a healthy degree of respect for the achievements of Glenfield Rovers, who have won three Kate Sheppard Cup titles in the past four years and have just been crowned Lotto NRFL Premier Women’s League champions.
“We love testing ourselves against that team, they really are a standard in the league,” Bate says.
“In terms of their continued success over a period of time, it’s definitely something we aspire to, in our own way of course. Without trying to be clichéd, it’s the one game our players look for in the league as soon as the fixture list comes out.”
In addition to the close connections among the respective squads, there is plenty of recent history between the teams in the Kate Sheppard Cup so there is no shortage of scores to settle. The clubs met in the final of both the 2014 and 2016 competitions – Glenfield winning the first and their neighbours triumphing in the second – while they also came up against other in the quarter-finals last year, Glenfield emerging victorious before going on to lift the trophy again.
“Revenge wouldn’t be the right term probably but it’s definitely motivation,” Bate says.
“A lot of the girls have been with the club for several years now so that rivalry is kind of embedded. It’s definitely become more competitive in the time that I’ve been at the club and we certainly feel that we’re getting closer to their standard. In every game and year that passes, we definitely feel that we’re growing as a group.”
Players in both teams don’t need to look far for inspiration and a sense of what is needed to perform at the highest level with each possessing several members of the New Zealand team that recently competed strongly with some of the best sides on the planet at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in France.
Glenfield will be without Claudia Bunge, who has stayed on in Europe to enjoy a holiday with her family, but welcome back Dayna Stevens and Maggie Jenkins from France while Forrest Hill will be able to call upon Malia Steinmetz, Aneka Mittendorff and Samantha Tawharu.
While many of those international players often do not train with their club sides as they are part of the Future Ferns Domestic Programme (FFDP), they do feature as much as they can and Bate says their presence is invaluable.
“In previous roles I’ve held in the UK, it’s very difficult for players to envision where the goal is because they can’t see those top players train week-in, week-out. They don’t get to experience being on the field with them,” he says.
“So our girls are very fortunate, it doesn’t happen as often as we’d like but we understand that it’s for the betterment of their development. As much as they’re team mates, they’re also role models and a lot of the girls aren’t very far away from them in terms of age so it’s an achievable goal. Most have aspirations to go that far.”
Forrest Hill are likely to need their international contingent to be at their best as Glenfield have proven their quality in the league and are now going for a rare double, last achieved by Rovers in 2011.
“I don’t know if it adds more pressure but it definitely gives you more focus, the players have already mentioned doing the double,” Clay says.
“We thoroughly enjoyed winning the league and it was a hard one to win too. It was a long season and there used to be a few easy games but they’re just about all gone now, it’s all battle after battle. So we’re pretty battle hardened and hopefully that will stand us in good stead for this cup semi.”
Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup Semi-Finals
Wellington United vs Dunedin Technical
Saturday 25 August, 2pm
Newtown Park, Wellington
Glenfield Rovers vs Forrest Hill Milford United
Sunday 26 August, 2pm
McFetridge Park, Auckland
Article added: Thursday 23 August 2018