Steven Holloway: The best and worst of the ASB Premiership

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Waitakere United captain Jake Butler celebrates winning the ASB Premiership with his team. Photo / Getty Images.
Waitakere United captain Jake Butler celebrates winning the ASB Premiership with his team. Photo / Getty Images.

This summer's ASB Premiership threw up more storylines than a TV season of Shortland Street.

Bemused fans saw Auckland become the first team to complete the regular season unbeaten only to capitulate both home and away in the playoffs, while Waitakere United triumphed in the Grand Final after their worst regular season on record.

Almost as perversely, Canterbury United lost a potential O-League spot in a 'suicidal' 45 minute playoff spell after impressing with a second place finish in the league, while Team Wellington were left empty handed despite beating Auckland home and away in the semifinals.

But as all these storylines evolved into a masterpiece Grand Final between Waitakere and Wellington, where an O-League spot was at stake - for once there was no live television coverage.

Steven Holloway addresses all these and more in the ASB Premiership season review.

Biggest Question: Does an 8-team ASB Premiership even need playoffs?

The two main reasons - as with any competition - would be to generate revenue and media exposure. Another reason in the eight-team ASB Premiership is to extend the short 14-game season.

You could argue that there is also a subsidiary reason to add "critical mass" to a season which would otherwise only last 14 matches - but when the campaign starts in October and finishes in the last weekend of April in terms of elapsed time it is already far too protracted.

And when there is no live television coverage, and the grand final is played at a time and venue next to impossible for away fans to be present - and without the team which has clearly established itself as the best in the competition home and away for the previous five months - you have to wonder whether it is worth it.

Apart from the 1000-odd at Trusts Stadium, the rest of us could only follow live-text updates online to keep up with the action.

If football hasn't got the opportunity or inclination to run a grand final as a genuine season showpiece worthy of televised coverage, does the Play-off format benefit our competition?

Would the game be better served by a traditional home-and-away league to find the champion team? As we saw earlier this week with Manchester United v Manchester City, that format still offers scope for plenty of drama and occasion.

Auckland City were far and away the best team in this year's competition, unbeaten through 14 games. But by stumbling twice against fourth-placed Wellington in the play-offs their season was over.

Were Wellington given this life-line all for the point of a gate receipt at both sides home games? And if so, did the gate receipts even cover costs in a league where franchises must cough up $65,000 (plus GST) to enter.

Biggest turnaround - Waitakere United

On Sunday April 5th Waitakere United's season hit rock bottom.

Having just lost to Canterbury 1-0 at home in the first leg of the semi-final playoffs, players and management made the trip across town to Bill McKinlay Park to watch Tefana beat Ba 5-0 to win Group A of the O-League and end the West Aucklanders' campaign.

Waitakere's season was shaping up as a shocker. Six losses from 15 ASB games - and no O-League final - was unheard of from the competitions most decorated club.

Then the turnaround came. Captain Jake Butler said the feeling and excitement throughout the side about their second-leg away trip to Canterbury was contagious.

"We have big game players who live for the high pressure situations like we faced in Canterbury," Butler said.

"Even being down 2-1 at halftime everyone had incredible belief and that second half performance defined the winning attitude in our team."

Waitakere overturned the 3-1 aggregate deficit in the second half by scoring four goals and winning 5-2.

They continued their new found form through to the final where the attacking threat of Roy Krishna, Allan Pearce and Ryan De Vries helped the club secure it's third consecutive title with a 4-1 win over Team Wellington.

Biggest disappointment - Canterbury United

Heading into the second leg of playoffs Canterbury United were on top of the world.

After finishing second behind runaway winners Auckland City in the regular season the Canterbury football fraternity was starting to talk O-League.

They were overwhelming favourites to join City in next year's competition - bar an unexpected twist of results.

Unfortunately for Canterbury, April 22nd had a twist. Fourth placed Wellington won over Auckland and Canterbury capitulated in their second half which meant the winner of the Grand Final would earn Canterbury's 'spot'.

"We were pretty suicidal after the final whistle," said Canterbury center-back Julian Collett. "We lost it all in an incredibly frustrating 45 minutes. It was so disappointing."

Coach Keith Braithwaite will no doubt look at the positives from the season in which they 'cracked' the top two. His job now will be to secure and retain the likes of Aaron Clapham, Russel Kamo, Michael White and George Slefendorfas to launch another attack next year.

Best Player - Daniel Koprivcic

In a league where games aren't televised it can be hard to analyse and create meaningful discussion about who has been the best player over the course of a season.

I was part of the Waitakere United camp this season and probably saw as much ASB Premiership footy as any fan and the standout player for me was Koprivcic from Auckland City.

He oozes class and is often the 'unacknowledged' link man who puts it all together.

Dangerous on the ball, strong, composed and a clinical finisher Koprivcic was as good as I saw.

As the stat man will point out five goals from 16 games is hardly a 'standout' return from an attacking midfielder but unfortunately 'assists' are not documented at ASB Prem level.

He also has the support of his peers with respect coming from his fiercest rival.

"Everytime we (Waitakere) played against Auckland he is the difference," said Butler. He is an intelligent player who links everything together in the attacking third."

Biggest under achievers - Auckland City

Auckland City won the ASB minor premiership for the third consecutive year, and for the third consecutive year failed to take down the big prize in the playoffs.

It is a source of frustration for the club, players and management who are still trying to work out why the National League title has proved so elusive in recent years.

"It's a big failure in our eyes," said City player Chad Coombes.

"The Club is gutted that for three years in a row there is no trophy there. It seems like we peaked too early and the challenge continues to be going to Japan, competing there and coming back to New Zealand and taking the domestic scene too.

"The intensity at training increased tenfold before the Wellington second leg but in the end maybe we put too much pressure on ourselves."

Auckland can at least salvage the season - and earn another lucrative crack at the World Club Championships - when they face Tahitian side Tefana FC in the second leg of the O-League final next weekend.

Biggest personality - Declan Edge

No football personality has generated as much discussion in footballing circles over the summer as Waikato FC coach Declan Edge.

The former All White was given a work brief of producing a homegrown team - all players had to be registered with Waikato clubs or to have previously represented the franchise - with a nil budget.

He responded with a team of mainly teenagers required to play a demanding style of possession football, and while they often impressed with their style, results were scarce, with just two wins and three draws.

Edge is a polarizing personality but a student of the game, and passionate about football. And for the most part he doesn't care what others think. He was always prepared to defend his approach, and speak his mind. Every week Edge could be found gesticulating wildly on the touchlines and deeply engaged in passionate conversations about the merits of possession football.

For his troubles he drew a huge array of critics on on-line forums but was unbowed and always had a quick witted quip ready for anyone challenging him. In many ways he is an old-style character - yet one who is always questioning and challenging the status quo.

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