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Hot favourites to clinch 4th title

Alex Sumenko-Bucknell [centre] on the attack against Hutt United. PHOTOS/FILE

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Dalefield are hot favourites to claim their fourth title in six years and their second straight Wellington men’s premier championship when they take on surprise finalists Harbour City today at the National Hockey Stadium.

Harbour City made the final with a late goal for a 4-3 victory over Hutt United last Saturday.

Although the reigning champions have won all 13 championship games this season, including 9-1 and 2-0 victories over today’s opponents, player-coach Dane Lett was reading little into those two results.

“I was always picking them as a top-four side at the start of the season,” he said,

“They proved that they could beat the top teams and they have backed that up two weeks in a row and to be fair they were reasonably competitive over the season.

“We saw that the second time we played them when we were 0-0 going into the last quarter and we scraped by with a couple of late goals.

“That was a pretty messy, ugly game – and that’s what they tend to enjoy. Since then, they’ve just got better and better and got a bit of confidence.”

Lett said it was up to his experienced side to knock their opponents’ confidence with a fast start.

“We know that they’ve got momentum and I can see there’s a real buzz around their team. They’re pretty confident the way they’re tracking along, and they will be looking for another big scalp.

“It’s up to us to take the wind out of that sail and deflate them pretty quickly with a fast start.”

Lett expected Dalefield to dominate possession and said it was vital that the defending champions stuck to their gameplan.

“One of our key focuses this year is just stick to what we know,” he said.

“The challenge will be if the goals don’t come early or things aren’t happening as we want them to, it’s just to stay calm and stick to our processes.

“If we do that, the result will come at some point – whether that’s in the fifth minute or the 50th minute it doesn’t matter.”

Most of the Dalefield side have been part of the four championships dating back to 2015 when they beat Indians. Further championships came against Hutt in 2016 and in 2019, and Lett said that experience would be crucial.

“We’ve got guys who have played in bigger finals than this and at a higher level, and for us it’s just treating it as another game, go out there and play our game and have fun.

“They haven’t been in the final before, and they’ve got a young, inexperienced team. I think if we can really start hard and put some pressure on them, maybe we can compound their nerves.”

Lett said the team have a few surprise moves which they have been practising all season and will bring out in the final.

Victory would be sweet for the Black Cap international, who along with several other Wellington-based locals returned to their roots to establish the powerful side in 2015.

“I can’t remember a team in the modern era that has been as dominant and as consistent as this and four out of six sounds a lot better than three out of six,” Lett said.

O’Connor: Hutt Utd will be feeling pressure

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Morgan Percy was part of the 2017 Dalefield team.

Dalefield coach Michael O’Connor is happy to take the underdog tag into today’s final against Hutt United at the National Hockey Stadium.

Hutt have beaten Dalefield in all their three encounters this season – 4-3, 1-0, 4-2 – but O’Connor said the pressure was all on their opponents, who are in their sixth consecutive final but have lost all their previous five.

“I would rather be the underdog than the top dog, because you’ve always got everything to lose, and we’re going in with everything to win, and with a do-or-die attitude,” he said.

The final is Dalefield’s first since 2017, when they had a 2-0 triumph over Eastern Hutt, who merged with Hutt to form Hutt United.

Six of that 2017 championship team – assistant coach-player Katherine van Woerkom, captain Michael O’Connor, Brigitte Mossman, Katie-Anne Saywell, Morgan Percy, and Jenna Anderson – are in the lineup for today.

Dalefield also have ex-Black Stick Felicity Reidy, who won the championship with Harbour City in 2018 and 2019, who will bring valuable finals’ experience to the team.

“Experience is good, but you have to have a bit of exuberance in there as well,” O’Connor said.

“We have four schoolgirls and a couple of girls who only just left school, and they have really stepped up – like last week I thought Reese Robertson was outstanding.

“They like playing with the older girls and have learned a lot, and we have a good mix.”

Dalefield’s losses to Hutt this season have come through conceding late goals, and O’Connor said the team must stay focused for the whole 70 minutes.

“It’s just been in the last 20 or so minutes that we’ve let them in a bit, and we’ve got to be a bit more consistent from the first whistle to the last whistle.

“Hutt are very good attackers, so we have to repel everything they throw at us, but we’ve got some really gutsy defenders so I’m expecting a big game from them.”

Much of Hutt’s play revolves around ex-Black Stick Aniwaka Roberts, who can control play in defence or midfield and then be in position to set up a scoring play.

O’Connor said that it was important for Dalefield not to get sucked into Hutt’s style of physical play.

He wanted his team to use their good passing game as much as possible to neutralise Hutt’s style.

“We have to be a little bit careful some of our girls do like to dribble a bit, but our passing game has been really good.”

O’Connor said the final would be decided by the team who made the most of their scoring opportunities.

“The girls are talking about the one-percenters. You might only get that one chance in that circle in a quarter and we’ve got to make sure our options are spot on in that attacking circle.

“We’re just going to go for it. We’re going to enjoy the game, we’re going to enjoy the pressure, and whatever the outcome will be, we’re definitely not going to come
off wondering.”

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