Polo: Last second goal ends a dream run

By Anendra Singh

Someone had to lose but just don't tell that to New Zealand's highest-ranked polo player John Paul Clarkin.

The dream run of Clarkin and his team, Mystery Creek, came to an agonising end yesterday when they lost to stablemates Mystery Creek Morningstar in the Savile Cup final, to concede the bragging rights to the top club in the country in Hastings.

A last-second goal to Argentine teenager Paco O'Dwyer broke the 5-5 deadlock to rob Clarkin's favourites of the title at a firm Elwood Park bathed in sunshine.

O'Dwyer came up trumps with his mallet after captain Simon Keyte and Thomas Hunt had "hooked out of it" while Arthur Morgenstern kept guard at the gates in anticipation of a counterattack.

Was Clarkin disappointed?

"Definitely, I don't like losing," he quipped after his cousin Keyte led Morningstar to glory.

"I suppose if you have to lose to anyone it might as well be your other team," Clarkin reconciled.

The pair, who co-own the Mystery Creek business in Cambridge, were leading their teams to the cup tourney after securing a win and a loss each in other tourneys in the past few weeks.

Keyte, 38, humble in victory, said there was no difference between the sides although eight-goaler Clarkin was "by far a country mile the best player in Australiasia".

With two shy of a maximum handicap in polo, Clarkin's status enabled other cup teams to spread their handicap more evenly.

Keyte, a six handicapper, said winning the cup was great considering he and Clarkin were often plying their trade in Australia and other farflung destinations around the world.

The hard, lumpy ground was a "great leveller" in Clarkin's admission and, in fact, Keyte felt it worked to Morningstar's advantage because it negated Clarkin, Jack Richardson, Alan Browne and Missy Browne's spread of handicap.

"Up north we're a bit spoilt because we have a ground which has a hybrid Australian grass called cooch dressed with a layer of sand," he said, adding that calibre players such as Clarkin would find more traction with their mallets on it with their dexterity.

It was unusual for two top teams to be 3-3 at halftime and to finish with a low-scoring affair. Keyte put it down to a mixture skill pool of both teams as well as the ground.

Said Clarkin: "We had our chances but we made a couple of mistakes."

Lauding Morningstar, he acknowledged the hurt of his team's unblemished run throughout the week coming to an end.

Keyte and Clarkin praised Bay polo stalwart Richard Hunt for staging a top tourney at this time of the year.

Now Clarkin and his New Zealand teammates will jet off to China for a snow polo tourney in a fortnight, with Hunt as their manager.

Asked if the switch from heat to snow was an issue, Clarkin replied: "I've played in St Moritz's frozen lake three times before."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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