Hard to find better way to script departure

Graeme Smaill coaches the Dunedin Technical women's side on Wednesday night at De Carle Park....
Graeme Smaill coaches the Dunedin Technical women's side on Wednesday night at De Carle Park. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Graeme Smaill and his players have come a long way since they first formed a junior all-girls' team a decade ago.

It is hard to imagine a more fitting storyline for the Dunedin Technical premier women's coach, who is stepping away from the role at the end of the season.

Ten years ago, he approached Football South about forming an all-girls' team to play in the local competition.

Essentially the Otago under-14 representative team, that side played for two years before linking with Tech.

Four players from that original side - Holly Smaill, Kelsey Kennard, Chelsea Whittaker and Shontelle Smith - remain.

Alongside Smaill and the rest of the Tech team, they will contest the Kate Sheppard Cup semifinal against Wellington United in Wellington this afternoon.

Should the side lose it will be Smaill's last game.

If it wins, he will have one more outing in the final in two weeks - somewhere Tech has never been.

"You couldn't script it any better really," he said.

"It's great to be in the semis again and to have that opportunity to maybe have my last game as a coach in the cup final would be awesome.

"But if we don't take that next step it would still be a great way to go out.

"I've had a fantastic run with these girls. They're all like daughters now.

"Whatever happens on Saturday, I'm going to be extremely proud of what this team has done."

It was the culmination of eight years in charge of the Tech team for Smaill.

Initially, the goal had been to win the local league, something it did in its third year, beating the five-time defending champion Roslyn-Wakari side.

That first title was one of two highlights Smaill identified.

As the side improved, the national knockout cup became a greater focus and beating the top Mainland team in the quarterfinal was a goal.

That goal was finally achieved last year when the team beat Coastal Spirit at the Caledonian Ground.

It went on to lose its semifinal to Glenfield Rovers, but it was another highlight for Smaill.

This year the side was aiming to go one better.

It dominated Coastal Spirit this time around, winning 4-1 in Christchurch.

Now heading into the second national semifinal in its history, Smaill said the side had improved a lot.

"I think the self-belief's a lot higher this year.

"That's due to the fact we do have everyone available this year.

"Last year we were suffering with player injuries and that certainly had an effect.

"That one year on and having experienced it before, knowing what to expect, has everyone in a better frame of mind.

"Most of the girls played in the Southern United side last year that did really well in the national league, so they've got a lot of self-belief out of that campaign."

The side has some inside knowledge, too.

Kirsty Hayr spent the early part of the season with Wellington United when she was up there, while Mikaela Hunt and Emily Morison are both from the capital and knew many of the players.

The Tech side will be at full-strength, aside from Kate Guildford, who has returned to the United States where she is on a college scholarship.

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