Michael Caldwell [seen here playing for Rathkeale College in 2017] was part of Dalefield’s title-winning team this year. PHOTOS/FILE

HOCKEY

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Dalefield won this year’s Wellington Premier men’s title by having a stronger squad and playing a different style, player-coach Dane Lett said.

Dalefield won their third title in five years with a 2-1 victory over Hutt United on August 17.

“We set up with a completely different formation than the rest of the competition – and probably the rest of the country – and it worked well for us,” he said.

“It was important that we challenged the players and got the best out of them by getting them to experience different ways of playing.”

Dane Lett challenged his players with new style of playing.

Lett was in his second season coaching the team and he admitted he learned a lot.

“2018 was always going to be a tough year. It was my first year in the coach’s role and we were down on talent.

“We came into 2019 with a very strong team.

“We improved all the way and I always thought we were the best team in the competition.

“That was proved in the final.”

Much of the focus of Dalefield over the years has been development of promising college students.

This year, Oliver Bunny, Gus Borren, Josh Nelson, Michael Caldwell, and goalkeeper William Brown were among those who played an important role in the team.

“At the start they were quite far off the pace, but in the end their improvement was quite substantial.

“We spent a lot of time with them and once they got their confidence, they played really good hockey.”

Lett said it was hard to compare this year’s victory with the 2015 and 2016 titles.

“That 2015 win was pretty special. We had always been down the bottom and the local players had normally gone to Wellington to play, and then a group of us decided we wanted to come back to show the Wellington clubs we could really play well.

“But this year is very pleasing. It means a hell of a lot to the players.”

As for 2020, Lett expects to have most of this year’s squad on deck to defend their title.

“As far as I know most of them will be here.

“We have a settled squad of guys in Wellington and Wairarapa.

“It’s a slightly older squad now, and there are not so many heading to university.”

Meanwhile, there is no rest for Lett who returned at the weekend from a four-nation tournament with the Black Sticks in Japan.

He heads across the Tasman with the Black Sticks next week to play Australia in the three-match Oceania Cup series which also doubles as the first round of qualifying for the 2020 Olympics.

The winners of the cup will automatically qualify for the Olympics. The losers will playoff with another country for a place in Tokyo.

Lett, 29, was pleased with the national team’s efforts at the Olympics venue in Tokyo where they won their three pool games before losing 0-5 to India in the final.

“It was a tough tournament with four games in five days. It was very hot in the mid-30s to early 40s and it was quite humid.

“We played well but in the final we were 5-0 down to India in the first half and we never recovered.”

Lett expects an even tougher challenge against Australia in the Oceania series played in Rockhampton.

“We have never beaten Australia in a three-match series. Our last win over them was in 2015 and we’ll have to play out of our skins, but it feels like we’re right there.”