They got one out of four possible awards but it was a great achievement for the teenage girls who took New Zealand to the giddy heights of the Fifa Under-17 Women's World Cup in Uruguay late last year, according to coach Leon Birnie, of Napier.
"For me it was that sporting moment to be able to go up to be recognised for a final ending of what has been an amazing run and chapter of sport for these girls," said Birnie yesterday after he and his partner, Michelle Gillespie, had just returned from the 56th ISPS Handa Halberg Awards during a ceremony at Spark Arena in Auckland on Thursday night.
"I guess not just to be recognised in the footballing circles but outside of that as the people's choice, you know, is really humbling and shows ... at the time the girls captured the public's hearts and minds with what they were doing."
Goalkeeper Anna Leat's successful penalty shootout against Japan, leading New Zealand into the world cup semifinal was voted as New Zealand's Favourite Sporting Moment of 2018 — the only award the public votes on.
Birnie said it was a splendid endorsement of the impact their campaign had had on the New Zealand public.
The 36-year-old was a coach-of-the-year nominee with Allan Bunting (rugby union), Clark Laidlaw (rugby union), Gordon Walker (canoe racing) and Joe Schmidt (rugby union). Walker won.
"It was an awesome occasion," said the Central Football development officer based at Park Island. "I think what was really special was for all of us to be nominated for the Halberg Awards but (also) to be recognised in the same category as the sporting talent and sporting people there ... it was amazing what we achieved in the football circle."
Birnie said for football to be bracketed in the same calibre was distinguished and memorable.
"It has really motivated me to try to accomplish and even improve on that because it was such a great ride and an impact that set off football across the whole country, especially when it came to a increase in registrations in the female game."
Perhaps a little disappointment from his girls that the young women didn't etch their names on more awards last night?
"Yes, I mean the Halbergs is so hard to compare anyway so I wouldn't know where to start with the awards.
"But to be up for four awards it would have been awesome if we could have got up to that team of the year but there were some great achievements in there as well."
The age-group footballers, who went beat Canada 2-1 for bronze medals, were among the team of the year hopefuls. That made them eligible for the supreme Halberg Award.
They were in the elite company of the All Blacks Sevens (rugby union), the Black Ferns Sevens (rugby union), the New Zealand women's kayaking team (canoe racing) and the Black Sticks Women (hockey), with the Black Ferns claiming the gong.
Leat was a nominee in the emerging talent category with Amelia Kerr (cricket), Josh Armit (yachting), Lewis Clareburt (swimming) and Maddison-Lee Wesche (athletics), which Wesche clinched.
The opening 16-second goal to striker Grace Wisnewski in the playoff for bronze medals was the quickest in the history of the tourney as the girls went on to become the first Kiwi team to make the playoffs of any Fifa World Cup tourney.
The favourite sporting moment of the year award nominees included Nico Porteous and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott who won medals at the Olympic Winter Games within two hours of each other in Pyeongchang, South Korea, weightlifter David Liti for smashing a Commonwealth Games record and winning gold in the men's 105kg+ division at Gold Coast, Kelly Brazier scoring a long-range solo try in extra time to secure gold for the Black Ferns Sevens against Australia at the Commonwealth Games, Black Sticks Women's penalty shootout over Olympic champions England in the semifinal at the Commonwealth Games, Kerr blasting a record-breaking unbeaten 232 against Ireland in Dublin for the White Ferns, achieving the highest score in women's ODIs, Warriors fullback and captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck receiving an impromptu haka after winning the Dally M Player of the Year in Sydney, Auckland rugby team winning the Mitre 10 Cup Premiership final after a dramatic finish in extra time against Canterbury in Auckland, and the Black Caps winning the first test against Pakistan by four runs in Abu Dhabi.
Birnie said it was huge honour for his name to be mentioned in the same breath as other elite mentors in the country as well as to be involved with the Halberg Foundation when young disabled athletes performed drills and skills before admiring the girls' bronze medals at Papatoetoe United Football Club on Saturday.
Thirteen of the squad of 21 invited were able to make it to the glitzy Halberg awards.
"[The others] definitely watched it on TV and were sending texts non-stop to the girls who were there so it was a big moment and they were in awe of all the people who were there," he said.
Birnie said the girls at the award took the opportunity to talk with the likes of Richie McCaw, the former All Black captain and co-ambassador with former prime minister John Key, and Bill English.
Birnie was a talented midfielder who represented Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United in the ISPS Handa-sponsored national summer league before becoming their assistant coach under incumbent Brett Angell in 2014. He embarked on a coaching career at 21, was the national U20 coach in 2015-16 before finding himself at the helm of the U17s to Costa Rica in 2014.
He said it would be nice if the Halberg Awards were not be a one-off for him and the girls. A repeat was something they would strive for.
"Fingers crossed we can make that happen again."
Birnie has never been nominated for the Hawke's Bay Sports Awards, which this year are on May 25, but if he is he would thoroughly enjoy that.
"It's funny how you go from coaching gear every week to putting on a super tux — it is quite different," he said with a laugh, adding it would be great for Central Football to book a table for his family and friends.
Eagle Golfing Society of New Zealand president David Howie, of Napier, presented the annual cheque contribution to foundation chief executive Shelley McMeeken to help disabled athletes.