Breaking hoodoo key

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor


HB Utd v Waikato Utd


ASB Premiership

NOT LONG before the toast, bacon, scrambled eggs, hash browns and grilled tomatoes are served, the familiar voice of MC Mike Goodacre booms across the floor.

Following the script of Kinetic Electrical Hawke's Bay United, Goodacre reads out the name of veteran goalkeeper Richard Gillespie to get the ball rolling.

Seconds tick away but no sign of Gillespie.

With a dose of witticism, his master's voice in soccer tries again to the amusement of the predominantly sponsors present at the Napier City Rovers' clubrooms for the official breakfast launching of the 2012-13 season squad.

Gillespie emerges a few nervous moments later, complete with an impish grin to the tune of a splendid green shirt to signal the start of the Bay franchise's campaign in the ASB Premiership which kicks off against Waikato United at midday tomorrow in Hamilton.

After the meet-and-greet pleasantries between players and their respective sponsors, coach Chris Greatholder didn't waste time talking shop with each of his men.

Bay United haven't made the play-offs in the eight-year history of the national summer league.

They have finished fifth three times and fourth in the summer of 2007-08, under inaugural coach Jonathan Gould, in a season when only the top three were considered qualifiers.

"It's no secret that we haven't done that. We're the only franchise not to have made the play-offs so that's certainly the motivational factor for us," says captain Bill Robertson.

"There's no doubt about that because CG's [Greatholder's] put a squad together and he firmly believes, just as I do, that we'll be in the play-offs this time," says Robertson, who led the Rovers to a Central League title in winter under coach Grant Hastings.

He is mindful anything short of play-offs will equate to underachieving.

The Englishman goes a step further. Not only are the rejuvenated squad capable of making the play-offs, but they'll be competitive.

Players from last season's turbulent campaign have left for myriad reasons.

No Adam Cowan, Chris McIvor, Hamish Watson, Sam Margetts, Sean Peta, Matt Gould, Tom Biss or Reilly O'Meagher.

Coach Matt Chandler handed in his resignation three weeks into the season and teenage son Adam Chandler, a defender, left with him for Australia.

Greatholder, a player in the squad, assumed the mantle of coach before the franchise board rubberstamped his position after the replacement impressed with his rapport to get the team over the line in a frustrating season that left them missing out on play-offs..

Assistant coach and ex-All White Jonathan Taylor also left for Australia at the end of the last campaign.

Enter new personnel with ex-All White Perry Cotton.

The new faces include Bay-born Dakota Lucas (Team, Wellington), Aaron Jones (Doncaster Rovers), Harley Rodeka (Otago United), reserve goalkeeper Danyon Drake (Waikato Utd) and the Waitakere United pair of Ross Halivand and Sean Lovemore.

So what's different apart from the new faces?

"I think it's the culture Chrissy has instilled in us from when he took over from last year.

"I think we've got a winning culture now and the intensity at trainings is better than it has ever been," Robertson explains.

The injection of good characters who harbour a winning mentality to do the franchise proud is a prerequisite.

While pre-season matches are poor yardsticks, he feels the team have been peaking at the right time with an away 3-1 victory over Team Wellington last Sunday.

Bay United have also played Youngheart Manawatu, Waitakere United as well as some Bay club under-19 teams preparing for the Napier City Rovers' annual youth tourney last month at Park Island, Napier.

Lucas is a product of Waitakere United's youth development programme before graduating to the senior ranks of the O-League outfit.

The New Zealand age-group representative, who was in the Oly Whites squad for the London Olympics this year, is a striker.

"Dakota's got a proven record in the league and scored goals but he's nursing a knee injury at the moment," says Robertson, although he's unsure when the 22-year-old will be fit to run on.

Lucas and returning Englishman Stephen Hindmarch played for the Sunshine Coast Fire team in Australia over winter.

Ex-All White striker Jarrod Smith, from the Bay, makes a return to the fold after overseas stints but he too is injured.

Fellow champion Rovers teammates Cole Peverley, Stephen Hoyle, Matt Hastings, Danny Wilson, Fergus Neil and Rudi Bauerfeind are in the mix with academy player Luke Chapman.

Aaron Jones is a signing from Doncaster Rovers.

"He's done pretty well pre-season and he's one of the characters I'm sure who'll be staking his claim," he says of the centreback from the United Kingdom.

Rodeka is a Caversham United midfielder from Dunedin who scored several goals for Otago United in the premiership last summer.

Halivand hails from Auckland, and will be at rightback or centreback, from where Robertson marshals the defenders.

Gillespie, who plays for the Wairarapa United side in winter's Central League, is the first-choice goalkeeper and vice-captain.

The Taradale School teacher has battled with his share of injury demons for the past few seasons.

However, Robertson says Gillespie's fit.

"He's played all pre-season and he's done some running off season to get himself in shape and he's done every single session of pre-season and played the majority of the pre-season games so he's looking like his old self," Robertson says of the former Auckland City premiership and World Cup (club) title-winning player.

"To have someone of his standard in the dressing room as vice-captain to help me is massive."

Drake brings national league experience but Robertson says Peta couldn't make the time commitments of training and games on the weekends because of fatherhood.

Burly Lower Hutt striker Watson is in the Team Wellington equation, he says, because it makes sense considering he is part of the Wellington Phoenix academy.

"He can potentially go on to do big things so we look forward to playing against him because it's a battle whenever we do," says Robertson of Watson who came off the bench in the pre-season hit out.

Margetts has returned to Waikato while brother Joshua is back with the Bay.

Midfielder Conor Tinnion is also back.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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