In 1995 I took on the position of Senior Coach to Avondale United’s Women’s team, based in West Auckland. I had very little experience of coaching female footballers and it came as a pleasant surprise to me the level of energy and dedication that this particular group of players put into their football. Any fears which I might have harboured regarding the coaching of women were quickly dispensed with, as I soon realized that these players were every bit as committed to the game as any men’s squad which I had coached. They were very receptive to my coaching methods, and they trained with the intensity required to play good quality football.
Avondale United (later to be known as Lynn Avon) at that time was heavily influenced by Merv Phipps, who was the catalyst behind much of the club’s progress in both the men’s and women’s divisions. A very likable ‘cockney’ in the form of Mick Weymouth was involved in the day to day managing and running of the club. Both Merv and Mick were very supportive of me during the several years that I spent at the club, and we became close friends during this period. The Avondale United clubrooms were located at the bottom end of Eastdale Rd in a large converted old wooden house which had limited parking areas for the members. The club had much appeal for both its own members and also for visiting team because of Thursday training nights and after match functions always consisting of slap-up meals. These were provided Mr and Mrs Phipps (Merv’s parents). The parity between the male and female sections of the club ensured a very social and friendly atmosphere, which extended to club nights during the week, where the place was usually ‘buzzing’. However, despite the social atmosphere the club never lost sight of its ambition which was to be amongst the forefront of the Auckland football scene in both the women’s and men’s game; to this end the club management was totally focussed on its goals.
The squad which I inherited on arrival at the club consisted of Yvonne Vale, Jill Corner, Terry McCahill, Alisse Robertson, Patrice Bourke, Maia Jackman, Sue Gregory, Lyn Pedruco, Emily Drumm, Angela Vujnovich, Abby Allen, Karon Roger, Emma Ross and Stacy Philpott. Goalkeeper Yvonne Vale was a very agile shot-stopper, good ball handling skills and was very courageous. Her lack of height may have cost a goal or two, but her ‘never give in’ attitude and wholehearted approach to her goalkeeping role more than compensated for any weaknesses in her game. Jill Corner and Patrice Bourke filled the full back (wing back) positions, Jill was a tenacious tackler who used the ball well and looked to get forward when possible, Patrice was a natural ‘lefty’ who could deliver penetrative passes and could read the game well. A very young and inexperienced Alisse Robertson filled one of the centre-back positions and was able to make much improvement in her game under the guidance of the team captain Terry McCahill. Terry took her captain’s role very seriously, both on and off the field of play; from her central position at the back of the defence she was able to direct the play and see that the team tactics were adhered to. During all levels of my coaching career I have always fostered a good relationship with the team captain by involving them in much of the decision making and Terry was no exception. She had a good knowledge of the game, strong leadership skills, and wasn’t afraid to give her opinion.
The team was very strong in the middle of the midfield; Lyn Pedruco had an intimidating presence, particularly with her aerial strength and uncompromising tackling abilities which she combined with simple but efficient distribution of the ball. Sue Gregory complemented Lyn perfectly by her vision and ability to create opportunities with long raking passes which could pick out her teammates and force opposing defences to turn. Although lacking genuine pace, Sue had excellent technical abilities which ensured that she was very rarely caught in possession. On the right flank the teenager Maia Jackman was beginning to emerge, and would continue to have a distinguished club and international career which would take her well into her thirties. It wasn’t difficult to recognise her potential as she was very strong and athletic; although lacking in technique she was willing to work individually to improve. Initially I had some issues with Maia due to her preoccupation with injuries, most of which seemed innocuous to me, however, as she matured this disappeared and over the years she has made an outstanding contribution to NZ women’s football. Operating on the left flank was the irrepressible Emily Drumm who was better known for her cricketing prowess than her footballing abilities. Emily was extremely competitive and would ‘track back’ when needed and she also delivered some telling crosses. She didn’t take kindly to being left out of the starting line-up or being substituted, and she would let me know in no uncertain terms. Up front, Angela Vujnovich always contributed her fair share of goals; short in stature she was very quick and difficult to contain for opponents, she was able to generate power into her shots with the minimum of backlift. Striker; Abby Allen was a natural athlete, tall, lean and fast, Abby had good ball control and shooting skills and was at her best when latching on to through balls where she would leave opponents in her wake.
After being knocked out of the National Cup (SWANZ Cup) 0-1 by Waikato, we went on to win the Northern Premier Women’s League by one point. This was decided on the last game of the season, where, after being 0-2 down at half-time we fought back to draw 2-2 against our nearest rivals Te Atatu. The team also won the Champion of Champions title which made it a very successful season for the club, and for me personally.
After a reasonably compliant merger, the two west Auckland clubs; Avondale United and Lynndale became known as Lynn-Avon AFC, basing the club’s home venue for both the senior men’s and women’s division at Ken Maunder Park. The 1996 season turned out to be an immensely successful season for the club’s Women’s team, which ended with no less than four major trophies in the cabinet. I had added two Bay of Plenty youngsters to the squad, Katrina Sharp and Dana Heiford, along with two ‘apprentices’ Anna Perkins and Rebecca Sowden. Rebecca went on to carve out a distinguished career in the game, both in NZ and overseas. Unfortunately Abby Allen was lost to the team due to a serious injury sustained in Australia during an NZ Under 19 International tournament during the close season (a team coached by me; see International teams). Abby’s loss was minimised by the signing of Delwyn Hearn, a no nonsense striker who put herself around, causing many problems for opposing defences with her dashing and cavalier approach.
The season started badly by losing two of our opening four games, against Te Atatu and Claudland Rovers respectively, however, once the team got into its stride they conquered all before them. The defensive unit was tightened, leaking only five further goals; Maia Jackman took on the mantle of top goal-scorer with Angela Vujnovich contributing her usual share. The League title was wrapped up with games to spare leaving the team to concentrate on the remaining ‘knock-out’ competitions.
The SWANZ Cup was the most prestigious club contest in NZ Women’s football as it was the only truly national club completion; consequently, the winner could regard themselves as the true champion team. The Lynn-Avon club left me in no doubt as to the importance that they placed on winning this competition, and although I kept my thoughts to myself, I was particularly keen to win this trophy as it would complement my coaching success of the men’s equivalent (Chatham Cup) a decade earlier. Having survived two penalty shoot-out’s against Eden and Te Atatu respectively in the early rounds, we had a comfortable ride to the final, disposing of Fencibles and Claudlands before hammering Taradale by no less than 7-0 in the semi-final.
This set up a mouth-watering SWANZ final clash against the Central Region’s top team; Petone. The final was played at Park Island in Napier, and preceded the men’s Chatham Cup Final; the game resulting in a convincing 4-2 victory for Lynn Avon. Terry McCahill scored from two set plays with Maia Jackman and Delwyn Hearn adding two further goals thus ensuring that the SWANZ Cup arrived in West Auckland. Although the SWANZ Cup victory was the ‘jewel in the crown’ during my tenure as Lynn Avon’s coach the team went on to further honours by becoming the first Auckland club to win the Northern Women’s ‘Grand Slam’ of all three senior regional honours in the same season.
I continued for a further season at the club (1997) combining my National Coaching duties with the club commitments and even though my final season brought success in the form of the ‘League Title’ we were unable to emulate the outstanding endeavours of the previous year……
© 2020 Cerebral Soccer