Nelson Falcons captain Mark Johnston was full of praise when reflecting on the side’s inaugural ASB Youth League campaign, which ended with a 1-1 draw against Team Wellington on Saturday.
Mark, who was one of two over-age players in the squad, says everything from the players, coaches, supporters, sponsors and volunteers exceeded all expectations, epitomised by the fact the side were disappointed with their overall fourth placing in the southern conference.
The former Canterbury United defender says early expectations were just to be competitive, but having gone the entire season undefeated at home, Nelson deserves its place in the league long term. “If you look at what we’ve come from to be disappointed with finishing fourth is pretty amazing,” he says. “We thought we would really struggle. It’s bittersweet really; with a bit of luck we could have done a hell of a lot better.”
The Falcons were in a strong position going into the second round of the competition, before losing 2-1 to Canterbury United down in Christchurch when Hal Fish was shown an early red card. “We were in a good position 1-nil up and that was a huge turning point. Unfortunately it was one of those things where we just didn’t have that bit of luck. It really comes down to fine inches.”
Losing defenders Erik Panzer and Fox Slotemaker after just a few rounds was a key loss, as was the unavailability of New Zealand Under-17 players Ross McPhie and Cory Brown who were instead made to play in the northern conference. “With the players we had we made a good fist of it and I’m really proud of their efforts. Without having a go at New Zealand Football, I think Ross and Cory would have benefited not only our team but they would have improved with regular football.”
Exciting forward Omar Guardiola, vice captain Harry Tod-Smith and midfielder Tore Waechter were highlighted by their skipper as the players of the season and he expects all three to reach the ASB Premiership within the next year or two. Having played in that league himself, he was also confident a Nelson-based side would have the ability to match it with Waikato and YoungHeart Manawatu – whom he said were no better than a top Mainland Premier League side.
He was thankful for a lot of the volunteer work that went on behind the scenes and says the crowd at the first game was larger than what turned up to watched Canterbury United’s ASB Premiership semi-final last season.