Plenty to celebrate for Southland sport in 2018
It has been, by just about any measure, a massive year for Southland sport.
Without the space for an exhaustive list of sporting achievements by Southlanders in 2018, even touching on some of the highlights paints a picture of just how special the past 12 months have been.
Think back to March when the Southland cricket team lifted the Hawke Cup for the first time in 26 years, completing a two-year unbeaten run with an emphatic victory over Counties Manukau in Manurewa.
August would turn out to be a special month, with the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks and Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel both bringing home national titles.
Both were the sort of achievements that Southlanders love - gritty, underdog wins that were built on belief and a never-say-die attitude.
The Sharks had twice beaten a Saints side gunning for three consecutive national titles, but they produced the upset of the competition to defeat Kevin Braswell’s Wellington team in the final, despite injuries to Jarrad Weeks and Luke Aston.
It was sweet reward for coach Judd Flavell and captain Reuben Te Rangi, who had played through a knee injury for much of the season.
Less than a week later, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel came back from an 11-goal deficit to beat the Pulse in the ANZ Premiership final in Palmerston North and give skipper Wendy Frew the perfect send off after 16 years of top flight netball.
Few were predicting a Steel win before the game, and for much of the final it looked like a young Pulse side were going to continue the strong form they had shown for much of the season.
However, an ability to apply and withstand pressure in the key moments proved the difference as Frew was sent out a winner.
It’s been a heck of a year to set up a local sports blog, with no shortage of opportunities to tell some great yarns on SouthlandSport.com.
There was the story of Southland’s Kendall McMinn, who thought she was being rung up to wear the mascot costume at a Steel game and ended up making her debut just a few hours later - that story garnered more clicks than any other in 2018.
There was the tale of Te Anau policeman Dwight Grieve, who has gone from being ‘’overweight and lacking ambition” to achieving his goal of wearing New Zealand athletics’ iconic black singlet with selection in the world championship mountain running team at the age of 40 - not bad for someone who only started running a decade ago.
We’ve seen our best young talent achieving on the world and international stage too - proof that Academy Southland and the pathways created by our sporting codes are still producing the goods.
Alena Saili graduated from the New Zealand women’s sevens team through to the Black Ferns without missing a beat, while Corbin Strong returned home from the junior world track championships with a rainbow jersey after being part of the successful New Zealand men’s team pursuit and we celebrated that marvellous Sting netball era and the legend that was Tania Dalton.
He backed that up with an outstanding debut SBS Bank Tour of Southland, which featured a superb performance from fellow Southlander Matt Zenovich, a stage winner and yellow jersey holder through the first half of what was a very good race.
Bobby Dowling showed the power of perseverance with a world championship title in the single saw at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show and Tom Scully rode both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.
At the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, cyclists Emma Cumming, Kirstie James and Natasha Hansen all won medals, while Eddie Dawkins claimed gold, silver and bronze.
And that’s just a snapshot of what Southlanders achieved in 2018, there were many more fine performances across the codes and across the world.
At home, we’ve seen the establishment of the Women in Sport Murihiku network, a platform designed to ensure women and girls are valued and visible in Southland sport.
Expect to see a lot more about that in 2019, and expect to see the word ‘play’ a lot too.
There’s an acknowledgement now that play, the best thing about being a kid, is under threat from a whole range of societal factors and you will be seeing lots of action at a local and national level to try and address that risk.
Without play, we don’t get a Wendy Frew, an Eddie Dawkins, an Alena Saili or a Corbin Strong.
Even more importantly, we have children who miss out on the resilience, the creativity, the connectedness, the friendships and the fun which we learn through play and carry for the rest of our lives.
Let’s not accept that default future. This region is the ideal place for children to develop a lifelong love of being active, whatever that looks like.