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Final failure fuels Forrest Hill

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Finalists in three of the past five years, Forrest Hill Milford United are using the pain of a crushing setback to inspire them in the current edition of the NZ Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup, the country’s leading women’s knockout competition.

After winning their maiden title in 2016, Forrest Hill were red-hot favourites to add a second in last year’s final but suffered a dramatic 4-2 loss to first-time winners Dunedin Technical in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition.

While the Forrest Hill squad has a fresh look to it this season, several players who took part in that game are still involved while coach Ben Bate remains in the dug-out. He admits the emotions of that fateful day are still raw but says the team is using them as a motivational tool.

"It stills stings a bit in all honesty," he says.

"I know for the girls who are still involved it’s certainly a major motivation to go on and get that trophy this time. And the new girls that have come in or been promoted from other teams at the club know the importance of it. So there’s no lack of understanding in the squad of how important it is to get to that final and hopefully lift the trophy."

It’s all going to plan so far as Forrest Hill have made their way through to the last 16 but standing in their way tomorrow is a familiar foe. The Kate Sheppard Cup has thrown up several memorable clashes over the years between Forrest Hill and neighbours Glenfield Rovers - who met in the 2014 final with Glenfield emerging triumphant - and another chapter in their intense rivalry will be written at McFetridge Park on Auckland’s North Shore tomorrow afternoon.

"It’s one that we always look for in the league fixtures but we seem to be coming up against them almost yearly now in the cup as well," Bate laughs. "It’s a little earlier this time than we would like but it’s another local derby and a lot of close friendship and fierce rivalry are going on the line so we’re really looking forward to the game."

While it was a devastating blow at the time, Bate says his young side will be the better for the disappointment of last year’s final and is keen for another cup run to help continue their development.

"Ultimately, we know where we sit in the spectrum of New Zealand football and we very much see ourselves as a development club which is hopefully going to give the girls an opportunity to impress in their careers," he explains.

"As part of that, getting to a national final in front of a sizeable crowd, being on television, the media stuff around it, the expectation and all the rest of it are all incredibly valuable lessons for the girls. Hopefully, all of those experiences provide a little bit of help along the way and make them into more well-rounded individuals who can achieve their football goals."

Bate cites the examples of Hannah Mackay-Wright, Aneka Mittendorff, Rose Luxton and Arabella Maynard, who all featured in last year’s final before going on to star for their country in New Zealand’s surprise run to bronze at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.

Under the tutelage of long-time coach Andy Clay, the Glenfield squad also boasts its share of youthful talent but a group of experienced campaigners are at the centre of Rovers’ campaign and their line-up has a more settled look to it.

"They’ve got a lot of older, and I use that phrase very loosely, players that have been with the club for a number of years now and are very much Glenfield girls. They’re very committed to the cause and obviously they have some incredibly talented footballers as well in the likes of Kate Loye, Liz Savage, Claudia Bunge, Maggie Jenkins and Dayna Stevens - the list goes on really," Bate says.

"They’ve been together so long and know each other like the back of their hand. They’re always going to have those threats and have got match-winners all over the field so, for us, it’s about working for the team, being cohesive and trying to prevent those players from getting opportunities which could potentially cause us issues."

After a slow start to the season in which the new arrivals took time to bed in, Forrest Hill have begun to find their stride and earned a 1-1 draw against Glenfield recently in the league.

"We probably had the better of that game and Andy even admitted that," Bate says.

"There’s been a huge improvement in the last few weeks and we’re now on a seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions. I’m really proud of the way they’ve come together and it’s a good time for us to be playing our local rivals."

Forrest Hill’s short trip to Glenfield Rovers is one of eight third round games taking place across the country in the NZ Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup this weekend.

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