Northland's under-15 boys' hockey team are national champions after they beat Counties Manukau 1-nil in Whangārei yesterday.
Playing in the week-long, national under-15 tournament at the Northland Hockey Centre, the home side won five of their six games to take out the trophy for the first time in its 26-year history.
Northland lost one of three pool games to qualify for the quarterfinals and met a tough North Harbour team. However, the home side rallied to win 1-nil and play a semifinal against Waikato on Friday which Northland won, 4-3.
This meant Northland would face Counties Manukau on Saturday, six days after the two teams had met in pool play which Northland won 3-nil.
Northland came out of the blocks early with a brief period of dominance in front of a packed grandstand at the hockey centre. The visitors soon gained control as Northland looked on the back foot going into halftime (30-minute halves).
With eight minutes left before the break, a great ball inside the area from Northland's Joe Trigg found Henry Storey who struck the ball back across the Counties Manukau goalkeeper to give Northland the lead.
The goal before halftime gave the home side real belief going into the second half and soon dominated the opposition. Counties Manukau showed some fight to get back into the game and even substituted their goalkeeper with eight minutes to go to try and get a goal back but it wasn't to be.
It was only three weeks ago when the Northland team, which had been training together for about 11 weeks prior to the tournament which started on Monday, lost 7-nil to the same opposition in the lead up to this competition.
Northland coach Richard Storey said he was relieved and exhausted after months of preparation but was incredibly proud of his team.
"The most pleasing thing is the way the boys behaved themselves and how humble they were in every victory, which is a huge part of our culture up here," he said.
While he felt the whole team deserved praise, Storey highlighted goalkeeper Madoc Therkleson as a real stand-out player for the team.
"[Therkleson] kept us in the game against Harbour and that was the game we targeted and I said to them, 'if we won, we were going to win tournament'," Storey said.
"If you let a couple of easy goals, the boys can drop their heads but that was never going to happen with Madoc."
Storey, a former NHL coach, credited Hockey Northland chief executive Grant McLeod for all his knowledge and help given throughout the tournament.
Northland's top under-15 girls' hockey team also finished their national premier competition in Dunedin on Saturday, narrowly losing to Canterbury in their bronze medal match to finish fourth.