Earlier this month, Fiji women won their first ever Gold medal at the Oceania Pacific Cup – a qualifying competition for next year’s Pacific Cup – when they narrowly defeated Australia Country 2-1. The tournament ran alongside the Hockey World League Round 1 tournament which took place in Fiji’s capital city Suva, writes Nina Niedermeyer.
“Thank God the wait is over!” exclaimed Fiji team captain Melba Nautu shortly after the competition final on Saturday (15th December). “Before the match I told my team-mates to think of their friends and family who have all come out to see us play today.” For many, it was the first time that their parents had watched their daughters play hockey. “After the medal ceremony we will party until Monday”, said a smiling Nautu.
Their coach Shaun Corrie has now given the team a break until Christmas, before starting preparations for World League Round 2, which takes place in India.
In the men’s competition, Australia Country were also first time winners thanks to a 7-5 victory over host nation Fiji. Both New Zealand Maori teams finished third courtesy of crucial wins against the respective men’s and women’s teams of Papua New Guinea in the 3rd place play-off games. The Maori women celebrated a 10-0 victory, while the men also scored plenty with a 9-5 triumph. Papua New Guinea men never gave up in their contest, impressing everyone including Bob Claxton, Secretary General of Oceania Hockey. “Both PNG teams have good talent in their team”, said Claxton.
Samoa women defeated Vanuatu 2-1 in extra-time to become fifth. The result was a special moment for Pauline Sulo Paulo, the mother of Golden Goal scorer Fapene Malu. “I’m very proud of her”, said Sulo Paulo. “That result is for our country which was recently hit by a cyclone.”
So, what did Bob Claxton think about the exploits of Samoa? “They have been the biggest surprise in this tournament. This was the best I have ever seen from them.”
Claxton pointed out that there were six young girls in the starting eleven, a remarkable fact for a country where hierarchy depends very much on age. “This is something that is slowly changing”, continued the Secretary General. “Now they play their best players.”
Vanuatu men finished fifth, while Vanuatu women – who made their OPC and international debut at the event – finished sixth after losing their classification match to Samoa. Claxton also acted as a mentor for both Vanuatu teams, speaking to the players and advising their coaches on what should be pointed out during the half time break.
Despite experiencing several major tournaments, the OPC is something very special to Tournament Director Gavin Hawke. “There is one Golden Rule: Expect the best but prepare for the worst”, said Hawke. “One day we had too much water, the next day we had no water on the pitch.” What he likes most about the OPC is the “pure passion and excitement that these hockey development countries show”.
Hawke also mentioned that this tournament would have not been such a great success without the help of Gill Gemming, the Continental Development Officer of Oceania Hockey. “She knows how this place ticks”, said Hawke.
Gemming took responsibility of all competition administration work at the tournament, sitting in a make-shift container that acted as the tournament office with a constant temperature of 16 degrees because the controller was missing.
“With both Fijian teams being in the Finals we have achieved a major objective; to help bridge the gap between the top island countries and the two senior Oceania members of Australia and New Zealand” said Gemming.
Gill Gemming aims to bring in a new team to the event every year, and has already got another nation firmly in her sights. “To get one team from Tonga would be superb”, she said, before stating that she wants to boost the number of umpires coming from the Island countries.
The fifth Oceania Pacific Cup has come to an end. Although only two teams earned a Gold medal, there can be no doubt that every participant leaves this tournament as a winner!
Tournament information about the Oceania Pacific Cup can be found by clicking here. (External site - Oceania Sport)
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