Women’s Knockout Cup: Spirit aim to bring cup back south

The Women’s Knockout Cup kicks off its latest edition this weekend with much focus centred on the Mainland Football region, where Coastal Spirit will take the first steps on their bid to bring the trophy back to Christchurch for the first time since 2013.

With clubs based in the upper North Island not entering the fray until the second round, the opening bout of action brings three clashes in Mainland, two in the Central/Capital region and one down south. One of the most eye-catching fixtures will take place at Kendall Park on Saturday as the Spirit – who claimed the cup four years ago – take on a Waimak United side packed full of some of the area’s most promising young talent.

Current Coastal coach Alana Gunn was also at the helm of the cup-winning side – she took over midway through the campaign from Gareth Turnbull, who stepped up to lead the Canterbury United Pride – and is keen to rediscover that triumphant feeling.

“It was pretty awesome to lift the cup,” she recalls. “We’ve had a pretty slow start to the season but have just started to hit some form and the girls are excited to get back into the Knockout Cup.”

This year’s push for national supremacy is more significant than in previous seasons as Gunn says the club have been working towards it for some time.

“I think since we lifted the trophy in 2013 it hasn’t been a major focus but it certainly is this year. We’ve been in a bit of a three-year build-up towards it and it’s our number one focus for this year – the girls are really going to be up for it.”

Gunn’s charges will need to be at their best as Waimak boast an exciting line-up of future stars, many of whom are likely to appear at international age-group level over the coming years. Among the next crop of talent at the club are Macey Fraser, Ella Fong, Gabi Rennie, Blair Currie, Lilly Fisher and Thais Munoz – who are all aiming to be included in the next cycle for the U-17 national women’s team. They have a pair of experienced heads to guide them with coach Shane Verma and his assistant Duncan Reed both involved with the Pride in the National Women’s League over the summer as assistant coach and goalkeeping coach respectively.

Coastal were given a scare by the youngsters in the most recent league meeting between the sides, eventually emerging as 6-4 victors after quelling a stirring Waimak fightback and Gunn is expecting more of the same tomorrow.

“The Waimak girls are really good – with youth comes a lot of passion, excitement and energy,” she says. “We’ve only played them once this season and we kind of rested on our laurels a little bit, they came back and made it a really interesting game. I imagine they’ll be just as excited as us so it will be a tough game.”

While Waimak have the exuberance of youth on their side, Coastal Spirit possess plenty of up-and-coming talent themselves and are able to blend that promise with a wealth of experience, including a handful of survivors from the 2013 side. Among that group of seasoned performers is Mel Cameron – who also acts as an assistant coach to Gunn and recently notched her 100th goal in the Mainland Women’s Premier League – and captain Chloe Jones, who also wore the armband last time the Spirit lifted the cup.

“We have three or four players that have over 100 caps each and our captain has over 150. Then we have the girls that are competing to get into the U-17 and U-20 national sides – their form is really important because they’re being judged on every performance,” Gunn says.

In that promising batch are the likes of Rebecca Lake, who starred for New Zealand at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan last October, Lily Bray, Emma Clarke, Una Foyle and Tahlia Herman-Watt. All but Herman-Watt were involved in the recent National Training Centre camp held in the region and are pushing for the next U-20 national team. Others to watch include Pride striker Britney-Lee Nicholson – golden boot winner at the National Futsal Women’s League in February – and fellow forward Cody Taylor, an U-17 Mainland representative who will be knocking on the door of the Pride squad this year.

Since the Spirit’s success in 2013, the Women’s Knockout Cup has taken up residency on Auckland’s North Shore with Glenfield Rovers claiming back-to-back titles before Forrest Hill-Milford United earned the first title in their history last season.

With the traditional sporting rivalry between Auckland and Canterbury burning as brightly as ever, Gunn says the Spirit squad would love nothing more than to bring the cup back south. To do so though, she feels a gap in quality will need to be bridged.

“There’s definitely always a topic of conversation when we play the North Island teams that it’s a bit quicker. That’s something we’ve been working towards over the last two years, just introducing more boys games during the week and things like that,” she says.

“So hopefully if we get through to the latter stages we’ll be a bit more competitive and can take the trophy back off the Aucklanders.”

Please find attached audio from an interview with Coastal Spirit coach Alana Gunn.

Women’s Knockout Cup Round One

Central/Capital Region

Brooklyn Northern United vs Petone, Wakefield Park
Sunday 14 May, 1pm

Kapiti Coast United vs Victoria University of Wellington, Weka Park
Sunday 14 May, 1pm

Mainland Region

Universities vs FC Twenty 11, Ilam Fields
Saturday 13 May, 1pm

Halswell United vs Parklands United, Halswell Domain
Saturday 13 May, 1pm

Waimak United vs Coastal Spirit, Kendall Park
Saturday 13 May, 11.30am

Southern Region

Roslyn Wakari vs Green Island, Ellis Park
Saturday 13 May, 11am