In the end consistency triumphed over sporadic form when it came to deciding the men and women’s champions of the inaugural Premier Hockey League (PHL), with the Maropeng Cavemen and Blyde River Bunters emerging with those titles respectively last night.
Going into the final day of the tournament, the Cavemen had done well in all but the penultimate weekend of the competition, where they lost both their games. But they were still considered easily one of the teams to beat in the competition, which they proved by smothering an Addo Elephants side bristling with intent 2-0 in the final.
For their part the Bunters, who had carved a niche for themselves as a team which never knew when they were beaten, changed things up a bit on championship weekend by being a little more aggressive and less dogged in their approach, and they were rewarded with a 3-1 defeat of a game but outfought Madikwe Rangers.
Many expected the Elephants – who had literally caught alight, form-wise, in the third week of the tournament – to be a handful for the Cavemen.
But the men in neon orange struck as early as the second minute through the reliable Cameron McKay, who got on the end of a James Drummond cross to open the scoring. After that the game fell into the kind of cagey approach finals are meant to degenerate into.
Through that period the Elephants, through a venomous shot by Julian Hykes, were trying manfully but keeper Rassie Pieterse was reminding everyone about his qualities.
With the Cavemen also not resting on their laurels, it became a keeper’s kind of night with Matthew Martins also doing his bit to keep the lead slender. But as always in these things something has to give, and unfortunately it was the Elephants who did by conceding their second goal.
Ricky West, a man who’s scored a hat-trick of short corner drag flicks here, again came up with the goods with 10 minutes to go in the match.
One supposes the Elephants needed another electric performance and, after three in three days over the last week, this was one too many.
For their part, the Bunters were as clinical as they were big on desire in their performance against the Rangers. The game frequently saw them soaking up pressure from the Rangers, rabidly defend their line and punish their opponents every time they got into their territory with a goal.
And so in the end it was strikes by Mmamoagi Kungoane, Kaydee Miller and Charne Hill that took them to a 3-0 lead by the 37th minute and left them with the relatively simple job of keeping the Rangers at arm’s length to win the coveted title.
Kungoane’s goal came after a tense first quarter and was courtesy of an attempt at goal by Anel Luus, with the former turning the shot into goal when she was one-on-one with the keeper.
Breaking the deadlock suddenly opened the game into a bit of a free-for-all, with both sides dispensing with the caginess normally associated with finals.
It was during this gung-ho period that the Rangers were caught out by Miller’s goal, whose build-up lay in an Izelle Verster shot which narrowly avoided Luus but found a willing Miller at the far post.
And just as they were still reeling from being competitive in a game but trailing 2-0, the Rangers conceded a third to Hill in the 37th minute. Most frustrating for Rangers was that they’d had their chances but had failed to convert.
To be sure they were half-chances, but in finals winning teams have to make those seem fuller. There was Charne Martell’s narrow miss in the first quarter, Lisa Hawker’s shot, which was blocked on the line by the tigerish Jessica de Bruyn-Smith, and Lisa Deetlefs’ shot, which cannoned of the upright.
Indeed, even when they did score, it was through the Bunters’ Christine Roos turning Martell’s shot into her own net.
Perhaps due to the reputation they’d built of being a team which didn’t know when they were beaten, they knew how to handle a lead as opposing to chasing down.
In the bronze matches, the Garden Route Gazelles had to be content with finishing third after beating the SA Under-21 side, playing here as the Golden Gate Gladiators, 3-1.
The Wings, who have lost a staggering four shootouts in this tournament, finally got some luck in the form of a game that didn’t go into the dreaded shootout, winning their game against the St Lucia Lakers 3-2.