Southern personnel praised

Mosgiel set what is believed to be a premier league record when it beat Northern 20-0. Photo:...
Photo: Getty Images
"Don't underestimate us down here".

That is the message Southern Football chief executive Dougal McGowan hopes Southern United has sent to the rest of the country after qualifying for the National League final against Auckland United.

"I think it’s absolutely amazing for the team that comes together two weeks before the season starts," McGowan said.

"Quite often, being at the bottom of the country, the lens isn’t on us and it’s typically on Auckland.

"We can put that stamp in the ground that says ‘this is a massive achievement in the year of the Women’s World Cup’.

"When all eyes are on the country, and lots of people are playing the game ... we’re up there and competing very strongly with what are seen as the best in the country."

Southern has been on quite the journey over the past few years.

They won just 17 games between 2009 and 2020, but after winning the South Central Series — a replacement league without Auckland teams when they were in lockdown — in 2021, things have been on the rise.

After losing their opening game this season, Southern recorded seven wins and one draw, against Auckland United.

Dougal McGowan
Dougal McGowan
McGowan put the rise down to players being exposed to a higher level of football each week and becoming a side that regularly found the back of the net.

"When you start scoring goals, that’s always a good thing, but the other side is, they don’t concede many when you look at the table.

"They’ve done a really good job at both ends of the park. They play a good brand of football that’s exciting to watch."

Kris Ridley took over as head coach last season when Graeme Smaill, who is still involved with the team, stepped down due to health reasons.

Ridley, originally from Southland, had been based in Australia for several years, but was not unknown to the federation, McGowan said.

"We knew from the interview process we had the right person to gel that team together, but just as importantly, add value to the team here at Southern Football in our football development roles," McGowan said.

Culture had been key for Southern this season and the players, who are not paid, bought into their values and had a collective will to represent the region.

"There’s a lot of pride whenever they put on the shirt ... and you can see it when they go out there.

"I don’t think people in Dunedin fully understand what they have achieved as a team because it is exceptional, basically with people that choose to be here in Dunedin."

There had been good quality people involved within Southern, and the federation, for years, but Southern’s success helped attract others to the region, he said.

"What we’re seeing now is that other people now are wanting to be part of that story and choosing to come and join the region and the federation.

"People want to be part of a good culture and at the moment that’s really strong with that team and it attracts other good people."