They were aiming for a top-three placing but Taradale women have already etched their name as champions of the inaugural Federation League with a round to go tomorrow.
"I think we've finished our chances compared to some other teams," says Aleesha Heywood of the Bluewater Hotel-sponsored soccer side who lost only two games from 14 and are 12 points ahead of second-placed Palmerston North Marist Women's Reserves.
The Alex Simons-captained Taradale pipped Rothbury Insurance Brokers Port Hill 1-0 at Marewa Park, Napier, last Sunday to etch their name on the trophy.
While the elation is deserved the GR Engineering-sponsored league hasn't been a stroll in the park due to the closeness of many results.
The Central Football women's development officer for Hawke's Bay says the difference has been strikers who can sniff out spaces to rifle balls into the goalmouth.
"Port Hill have missed a striker and that has been the story of their season."
Heywood should know because she is in the hunt for the golden boot award in the league.
The striker, who turns 27 tomorrow, is setting the pace with 20 goals. Fernanda Toscani, of Withers Coachlines Moturoa AFC (Taranaki), is second, six goals adrift.
The former Federation representative reiterated coach Dave Carswell's blueprint of accomplishing a five-year plan to develop players on the way to the higher echelons of the Women's Central League competition, equivalent to the men's Lotto-sponsored one.
"Even Dave said to me that he didn't expect to win it [Fed League crown] but, yes, we've done quite well and surprised a few people so it's been quite good," says Heywood of the coach who is immensely proud of the women.
"We really didn't set any specific goals at the start of the league and just wanted to be competitive in what has turned out to be a really good and competitive competition," says Carswell on the Central Football website.
"To lead the competition from week three or four and then win it with two games still to play is beyond what we expected."
He lauded Simons, who is on holiday, and Alex Dickenson for their consistency and leadership as well as Heywood for her dexterity in scoring.
The young back four of Chloe Waugh, Johanna Niewhenrus, Cate Pedersen and Holly Barclay, with youthful keeper Brooke Bennett, also got a mention for their sixth sense in finding cohesiveness.
Carswell is hoping to maintain a lion's share of the squad, including the likes of Aimee Atkins and Charlotte Lancaster, next season with the mindset of helping them gain another year's experience to make them more park savvy for the eventual step up.
Heywood says several players from teams in the league, including Taradale and Port Hill, will attend trials in Palmerston North next weekend in an attempt to make the Central team for the National Women's League in summer, equivalent to the ISPS Handa Premiership.
While she has been overseas and committed to her work, Heywood hasn't made previous trials but will this time.
"I spoke to Leon, who is my boss, and he said to go for it," she says of Birnie who also is coach of the New Zealand women under-16 team competing in the Oceania Federation Cup at Apia, Samoa, for the past week trying to qualify for the Fifa Under-17 Women's World Cup in Uruguay in November next year.
Taradale play their final game against New Plymouth Girls High at Skoglund Park in a 1pm kickoff tomorrow.
They have only lost to New Plymouth Girls and Moturoa so finishing off on a high is the motivation.
Port Hill also play on the adjacent field at Skoglund Park against Moturoa, who are in third place on the ladder and a point behind Palmerston North, in a 1pm kickoff.
■ The Havelock North Wanderers men's team are hosting last-placed Massey Men's First in a 1pm kick-off at Guthrie Park today to etch their name on the silverware although a yawning 23-goal difference means they will do it regardless if the unthinkable happens.
The Chris Greatholder-coached villagers will have an eye on the Lotto Central League playoffs matches against Waterside Karori, the Wellington Capital League champions, next month.
The promotion games will be played on Saturday, September 2, and Saturday, September 9, although it's unclear who will host the first match.
Last-placed Palmerston North Marist, in the Central League, have been automatically relegated.