It had to be a superb silver once again for the Whanganui Marist team, after they were the beaten Open grade finalists at the annual New Zealand Marist Football Tournament for the second time in three years earlier this month.
Having come second to Palmerston North Marist in Auckland back in 2017 – when they moved to Open grade because there were not enough numbers for the usual Causal grade – Whanganui now back themselves to compete with their bigger brethren clubs.
As well as Masters and Ladies grades, the Open grade draw in Hastings saw 14 teams competing, with Whanganui drawn in Pool 3 with four other teams, while Pool 1 was the smaller pool with each team getting one bye.
Matches were held at Frimley Park, Lindisfarne and Hastings Girls High School over the September 14-15 weekend.
Whanganui were unbeaten in Pool 3, after victories over Palmerston North Marist Reserves (2-0) and Napier Marist (2-1), along with draws with Birkenhead Barons 2 (2-2) and the Palmerston North Jokers (1-1).
That put them through into the semifinal against the slightly fresher Pool 1 winner and hosts Hastings Hibernian 1sts, and Whanganui pulled out the victory following a 3-2 penalty shootout.
"The compact nature of the tournament meant little rest between games - and a smaller squad than usual put extra pressure on the team," said player-manager Paul Maguire.
"A string of injuries to key players – Brad Alexander, Ben Murphy, Jordan McDonald and Tom Dixon - saw a somewhat threadbare line-up take the field for the decider.
"Losing inspirational leader Brady O'Connor just before the tournament to injury was a huge blow as well."
In the final, Whanganui were matched with Wellington Marist, who had won their way out of Pool 2, and would claim the title with a 4-1 victory.
Wellington got out to a quick 2-0 lead, before Whanganui started to make some progress, but a penalty kick put them further back and then some unlucky play saw the favourites find the net again.
Alexander limped off the bench to score an impressive goal as way of consolation.
"It was later found out that Wellington had decided not to attend festivities on the Saturday night should they make the final and this plan worked for them perfectly," said Maguire.
"It was a harsh lesson Whanganui has yet to – and probably never will - learn.
"There was a feeling of frustration after the final, considering how well the team had played in the tournament.
"The team had shown great intestinal fortitude, as on three occasions over the two days [we] come back from slow starts to win and draw games.
"But the final was a bridge too far."
The squad was made up predominantly of the Marist Celtic team, which competed locally in the Whanganui Men's league, but did test themselves by entering the 2019 Lotto Federation Cup – being allocated a tough game first up game as they also had to travel to Hastings for a 4-1 loss to Western Rangers.
Under tournament rules, each squad was allowed a maximum of three guest players and so the team recruited GJ Gardner Homes Wanganui Athletic's Scott Burney, who also played in 2017, and goalkeeper Matt Calvert, along with expat Josh Tyson, now playing in Napier.
"In fact, Calvert and Tyson – along with defender Jordan Beech, made the tournament side named at the conclusion of the final," said Maguire
"Burney was leading goal scorer with four goals.
"Midfielder Taco Rangi especially had a good tournament, chipping in with a couple of goals, and Jimmy O'Connor was his usual dependable self in the centre of defence.
"Diminutive but feisty striker Murphy ran himself into the ground all weekend.
"And young rookies Thor Bjornsson and Hamish Beissel stepped up when it mattered most.
"It was a weekend of what if's and maybe's, but it sure was a hell of a ride."
The NZ Marist tournament is to be held in Palmerston North in 2020, with Maguire saying Whanganui is in line for hosting in 2021.
The team would like to thank Whanganui Toyota and NZDF for use of vans for travelling.
The full squad was: Paul Maguire, Craig Thorpe, Hamish Beissel, Manuel Pieropan, Scott Burney, Brad Alexander, Matt Calvert, Jordan McDonald, Michael Saucers, Taco Rangi, Jordan Beech, Ben Murphy, Jimmy O'Connor, Tom Dixon, Josh Tyson, Thorstein Bjornsson and coach Russell Eades.