Nayland first holder of new trophy
Story by: Jonathan McKoeown - Nelson Mail - Photo by: Marc Palmano - Shuttersport
College First XI football took centre stage as Nelson College hosted Nayland College on the "hallowed turf" of the front field for the first time in 20 years, in the inaugural contest for the Jill Heath Memorial Trophy yesterday.
The match was played to honour the memory of Jill Heath, a tireless supporter of football in the region and the Nelson College First XI team manager for over 25 years. She died on Monday last week.
The match was marked by a minute's silence followed by a full school haka of more than 1000 boys. The two First XI sides put on a spirited display befitting such an occasion, with Nayland College taking the honours in a 2-1 victory.
Nelson College controlled the ball for much longer periods but Nayland looked more dangerous on attack and especially on the break through striker Lency Norman. Norman opened the scoring toward the end of the first half when he flicked a through ball over the top of the last defender and finished well, low and to the keeper's left.
Nayland College's midfield of Willow Milligan, Sam Maxwell and Matson Fenny stifled Nelson College in the middle of the park, shutting down the dangers of Ross McPhie and Phillip Tunepa for most of the match.
Tunepa equalised for Nelson midway through the second half, which invigorated the partisan crowd packing the embankment. Tunepa was brought down and after the referee pointed to the spot, he made no mistake in converting.
The winning of the match came 10 minutes from the end when Milligan struck a fine free kick, curling it straight toward Nelson keeper Kevin Choi. Choi, who has only been in goal for less than a season lost the ball in the sun and the game slipped through his fingers.
Nelson College were extremely disappointed to lose the game, but can hold their heads high as they shouldered the pressure of a great occasion with verve. George Kaukui worked tirelessly for Nelson along with defenders Jamane Wilson-Duggan and Harry Tod-Smith, who organised the solid shape of the Nelson side.
Unfortunately the result had wider ramifications as Nelson College will be in the bottom 16 at the nationals, contesting the bowl competition they won two years ago.
Nayland's victory earned them a top 16 spot in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Lotto Premier national tournament, which will see 32 teams coming to Nelson from September 3-7. However, Nayland coach Brendan Crichton wasn't concerned with that tournament as he celebrated yesterday's victory.
"I don't care if I win another game this year, I'm just so proud of our boys as I honestly thought we went in as underdogs, but they couldn't break us down defensively."
Nayland's defence-oriented game suited the slippery conditions underfoot and the defensive line was led well by the centre back pairing of Izaak Cunningham and Josh Sansom.
Crichton also commented on the significance of the match.
"I think it's fantastic that now there is a meaningful trophy for both sides to play for, honouring the person the trophy is named for. All my boys know who Jill is and we are happy to honour Jill in that way, it is a great sign of respect.
"I know my boys will remember that game for a lifetime."
Nelson coach Dave Shaw said with the support of Nelson College headmaster Gary O'Shea and staff, the playing of this match had been a massive leap forward for college football.
"We have to recognise Gary O'Shea. Since he has come to the college he has taken a much more open perspective of sport; from a football perspective you can see how important that is.
"The event was what was most important from our perspective. We have now had a game of football on the hallowed turf of Nelson College rugby field. It was a fitting memorial and a fittingly passionate game to remember Jill by."