12th Grade to Hamilton for pre-season tournament

Two 12th-grade ECB teams (Hitchcock and Lockwood) travelled on a foggy Sunday 29 March to Hamilton for the annual preseason tournament hosted by Hamilton North FC. Three members of the team were not available (Chris, Reid and Kieran), and James from the 13th-grade second team took over Kieran"s goalkeeping duties. This year the 12th and 13th grades were combined, so we knew we were in for a tough time, and this was exacerbated by the extremely bumpy and dusty pitches restricting our ability to play quality football. One positive aspect of the tournament was that we experienced only a few instances of overtly rough play, with the large 13th-grade players being problematic due to their large size rather than their aggressiveness. There were 16 teams in 4 pools, and we (ECB Hitchcock) were drawn with Papatoetoe, Hamilton North, and Papakura. Our first game was against Papakura City, which comprised 13th-grade girls. The short games (14 minutes each way) meant that we had to get stuck in from the whistle, and this proved to be the case with us eventually winning 6-0, which included a hat trick by Troy, two goals by Stefan (one being a deflection from a defender off a corner kick) and one by Tim. Our next pool game was against Papatoetoe "Laami Juniors"; they were a very large 13th-grade team and so I can only imagine how big their "Seniors" would be. Their playing style only vaguely resembled Association Football, with them appearing to mix some elements of the rugby code in the play, but their sheer physical size meant that we eventually went down 0-1. Our final pool game against the 12th-grade Hamilton North team was a much more even affair, at both size and skill level (they were possibly a good representation of the best teams that we will be up against in the US1 season this year. They had beaten Papatoetoe 5-0, but our game against them could have gone either way. Unfortunately the final result was again 0-1, making us third in our pool and putting us in the Plate play-offs (ECB Lockwood were tied for second place in their pool, and they got through to the Championship play-offs on the toss of a coin). Our Plate quarter-final was against Matamata, who were a fairly rough game that we won 1-0 with a goal from Tim. The semi-final was a high-quality match against "Peachgrove" that ended in a 0-0 draw. James saved 2 penalties and they missed the other 3, which meant that our single successful penalty (thanks again Tim) was enough to get us into the final. This was against "Mexico 1", a team of similar stature to Papatoetoe that included two very large and capable defenders and a very competent goalkeeper who together proved impenetrable. Fortunately our solid defence was also up to the task, and so the 0-0 draw meant that the result was again determined by penalties. One of their penalty kicks was a monster shot that literally lifted James off his feet, but he still managed to stop it. Unfortunately, all their other penalties went in and only Kevin and Alex were successful for us, so we ended up runners-up in the Plate event. The Championship final was won by the Birkenhead 13th-grade team (who had knocked ECB Lockwood out of the quarter-finals), with the 12th-grade Western Springs teams being the runners-up. Despite the poor ground conditions and unique characteristics of some of the teams we played, attending the tournament was really worthwhile for solidifying the playing style and positioning of our team (which has four new players) in preparation for the first game of the US1 competition against Waitakere this Saturday.


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