Nothing hurts more than hosting an elite age-group football tournament in the country and not having a team in the main draw to fly the Hawke's Bay flag.
The Lotto Napier Under-19 Youth Tournament is humming this long weekend just fine but hosts Napier City Rovers and Havelock North FC have a chance to gain promotion if they progress to the satellite draw final in an 11am kick off at Park Island tomorrow.
Unfortunately the Blues face the Blue and Golds in the second semifinal on pitch No 7 at 8am to earn the right to enter the hallowed turf of Bluewater Stadium, Park Island.
"This is the third year we haven't been in the main draw after we got relegated two years ago," said tournament controller Graeme Sole today.
Sole said part of the process was exposing talent to HB Premier League and Central League squads to boost their experience.
"It's showing because this time last year we hadn't won a single game," Sole said, after the Blues won two games and had a bye to make the playoffs.
The two finalists in the satellite draw are guaranteed a main draw entry next year at the expense of the bottom two of the elite section.
"It would have been nice if we could meet each other in the final and both got promoted," he said of Bay campaigners.
The Dion Adams-coached villagers have a wealth of Ultra Football Central League experience in the mould of Liam Shackleton, Kenny Willox, Josh Murphy, Vince MacKirdy and James Barclay who were in the relegated Wanderers' equation last winter.
Today the Hastings club is undefeated at Park Island, overwhelming North Wellington 4-1, Wanganui Athletic 2-0 and Kapiti Coast United by the same margin.
Conversely, Rovers co-coaches Stu Wilson and Chris McIvor have the dexterity of Central League talent such as Ethan Clarke, Kaeden Atkins, Zac Madsen, Ethan Ladd and goalkeeper Dan Robinson.
With the Central League champions without any imports, this should make a mouth-watering exhibition of home-grown talent and, possibly, the core players to provide the template for Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United in the ISPS Handa Premiership (national summer league).
"Havelock are a class side and they are playing really well," said Sole. "They had a good tournament last year but an even better one this year."
In the other satellite semifinal on the adjacent pitch No 6, Papakura City (Auckland) will play Levin at the same time.
In the quarterfinals, Papakura pipped Oratia United (Auckland) 1-0, Levin crushed Waikanae 3-0, the Rovers edged out Stop Out (Wellington) 2-1 while the villagers had the measure of Porthill United 3-1.
In the main draw, Waitakere City play Petone FC (Wellington) in the first semifinal and Melville United (Hamilton) will face Birkenhead United (Auckland) in the 9am matches tomorrow to decide who goes into the final at Bluewater Stadium for the 12.30pm showcase encounter.
In all the 2-1 quarterfinal results today, Waitakere beat Miramar Rangers (Wellington), Melville pipped Tauranga City, Petone had the ascendancy over Olympic in the Wellington derby while Birkenhead tamed Waterside Karori (Wellington).
In the inaugural girls' five-team draw, Hawke's Bay bowed out in the second semifinal to Hamilton Wanderers on a 4-2 penalty shootout this afternoon after the sides were locked scoreless in extra time.
In the first semifinal, Hibiscus Coast thumped Ellerslie FC 5-0.
The Bay girls had a tough baptism yesterday, losing 4-1 to Hibiscus Coast and 2-1 to Ellerslie despite going up 1-0 in the first half.
However, they bounced back with a 2-0 victory over Palmerston North Marist this morning to secure a playoffs berth.
Hibiscus Coast and Hamilton Wanderers play in the final at Bluewater Stadium in a 9am kick off tomorrow.
The Napier club also is proud of introducing the female category.
"That was something I wanted to do and we did it with five teams but, I think, the way the women have reacted this year there'll be more next year," Sole said.
He said the tourney could cater for the expansion but the paucity of referees might be an issue.
"If we get eight women [teams] we can handle it easily because we have plenty of grounds but it's the official that we have problems with."
Sole said the Bay was blessed with balmy weather and pristine grounds this year.
"We have 51 teams here and 46 of them are from out of town," he said when asked if accommodation in the hospitality industry in the province was stretched to the limit with age-group representative cricket also staged here.
"We have 20-plus per squad and countless hangers on," he said. "We've got grandmothers and all sorts here, mate."
The annual tournament has become an ideal platform for scouting talents. It has yielded talent who have gone on to grace the international arena, akin to the annual Riverbend Cricket Camp which has produced Black Caps and White Ferns.