Big challenge for southern sides

Royals midfielder Olivier Cassidy (left) takes on Ben Deeley (Otago University) at the Caledonian...
Royals midfielder Olivier Cassidy (left) takes on Ben Deeley (Otago University) at the Caledonian Ground last weekend. The teams meet again this weekend in the South Island league. PHOTO: JULIE COLLINGS
As football’s revived South Island league begins today, Jeff Cheshire looks at the three southern teams set to take the next step.

How it works

The Southern Premier League’s top three teams have qualified for the South Island league. They join the top five Mainland Premier League teams — Cashmere Technical, Coastal Spirit, Nelson Suburbs, Christchurch United and Selwyn United. Each team plays each other once and the top two will advance to the national league, against the winners from the northern and central leagues.

South City Royals

Coach: Richard Murray

Key players: Jared Grove, Connor Neil, Kaleb de Groot-Green

The Royals enter the league as winners of the Southern Premier League. An amalgamation of Caversham and Dunedin Technical, the team has come together well. It is led by experienced midfielder Grove, while Neil provides a genuine goal scoring threat.

Coach’s thoughts: Murray is expecting a step up in level from bigger and more physical opponents. He said the exposure to that level was something the group had wanted for a long time and now it was here, they were excited to step up. Travel would be a factor, although the Royals do not have to go to Christchurch until round five. Murray was happy to have won the southern league and the side was now setting its sights on finishing the top two and claiming national league qualification.

Green Island

Coach: Shane Carvell

Key players: Matt Brazier, Adam Hewson, Tom Milton

Last year’s Southern Premier League champion came up one point short of going back-to-back in its 125th year. However, Green Island has hit form in the second round after an inconsistent start to the season. In Hewson, the team has an in-form scorer, who has netted 15 goals, while Brazier and Milton have been key players for several years.

Coach’s thoughts: Carvell admits his side faces an ‘‘immense challenge’’ to begin with this weekend. Green Island faces Cashmere Tech, the perennial top side in South Island football in recent years. He knows the league will be a step up in level and said there was an element of the unknown, as inter-federation games have been limited over the past two years. He hoped to finish as the highest Football South team.

Otago University

Coach: Darren Hart

Key players: Oban Hawkins, Tim O’Farrell, Ben Deeley

Needed to play well through the University holidays to qualify and did just that. The students are in a good run of form, most recently knocking over tomorrow’s opponents, the Royals, 4-1 in the Chatham Cup last week. There is plenty of quality in this team. O’Farrell leads from the defensive line, while Deeley and Hawkins are both potent threats.

Coach’s thoughts: Experience is the big difference Hart is expecting to see. While the Mainland teams have plenty of players in the 25-30 age bracket, Dunedin teams tend to be younger. That was particularly the case for University. Many of those that played for the team in the last South Island league two years ago have left, so this will be a new experience.

 

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