And just like that, the Premier Hockey League is finished for 2017. After an initial delay in the tournament, the tournament offered some more excitement and more importantly, at least for me, a further chance to tell the story of South African Hockey and the players that make this such a special sport. Here is our final wrap up of the tournament.
Women’s Final Four
It was always going to be the Blyde River Bunters until it wasn’t. The 2016 champions were heavily favoured after finishing top of their group and faced the highly unfancied Orange River Rafters. The Bunters were dominant, but the minute that Donna Small popped up to score, the unthinkable became a real possibility. When their fantastic skipper Nicolene Terblanche made an error the equally outstanding leader for the Rafters Sulette Damons popped up to finish outstandingly well. Sulize de Klerck then held the Celia Evans-led charge at bay and the Rafters qualified for the final!
They were joined in the final by the star-studded St. Lucia Lakers who never looked like losing the match after Kara Botes netted in the 6th minute from a penalty corner. The Daisies tried their hardest but were guilty of making the wrong choices far too often and found themselves out when the outstanding Tiffany Jones scored a goal of fine individual brilliance. The game rather ran out of steam in the run out to eliminate the Daisies from the competition. They would also lose the play-off for third place with Blyde River Bunters with a goal from Izelle Verster 1-0.
The Man of the Match for the final would, unfortunately, be mother nature as the excessive lightning and thunder prevented the play from taking place and the ladies tournament was to be decided by the dreaded showdowns. It was fitting that after five showdowns were level and it took a further three before Donna Small converted the showdown that won the title for the Rafters. IT may not have been the most popular way of winning, but having started Saturday morning in the last place, they will be delighted for years to come of the triumph over adversity!
“I don’t think anyone would have thought we’d be champions,” said a thrilled Rafters captain Sulette Damons, who finished as the tournament’s top goalscorer, despite missing the first weekend’s matches. We were the underdogs but we took it game by game and everyone kept on believing and did so well to get us where we are. Obviously, we wanted to play – it’s not nice to win like this and it’s unlucky for the St Lucia Lakers but at the end, there has to be a winner and we’ll take it. We had a slow start but as they say – it’s how you end and we ended on a high note. We hadn’t practised shoot-outs at all so we just went in with hope and luck and faith. We finished bottom last year so to win this competition is just awesome.”
Men’s Final Four
The Men’s final four featured two of the pre-tournament favourites and both of those seemed convincing in their victories. The Drakensberg Dragons were dismissive of the early form leaders Mambas. After an outstanding early save by Richard Curtis, Austin Smith put the Dragons in the lead with a sublime PC. Matt de Sousa added the second after poor defensive work and Bili Ntuli then scored from another great save from Richard Curtis. Austin added his second but there was a glimmer of hope when Ross Hetem scored. It was a superb finish from Nick Gonsalves, the captain, that sealed the game despite a late consolation for Steven Paulo.
The defending champions the Cavemen were expecting a stern test from last years runner-up and for 13 minutes they did. After that it was all one way traffic. The early goal came from a good Tommy Hammond cross and Cezaro Comersamy made it 1-0. The first penalty stroke was then awarded to the Cavemen and Lance Louw got his first. Hendy Seerane then made it three in the second half after a save from Durheim. Lance Louw was then the benefactor of two more penalty strokes to make it 5-0 and complete an unlikely penalty stroke hat-trick. There was time for Michael Abrahams to score a beautiful deflection before Ignatius Malgraff added a little silver lining to the scoreline with the last goal of the game.
In the Bronze medal game, the Mambas were victorious by 2 goals to with their goals coming from Owen Mvimbi and Greg Last with the Elephants netting one back through Andrew Manson.
The Drakensberg Dragons were without former national skipper Austin Smith, a lethal weapon from the penalty corner, but still fielded a team with enough talent to win the tournament. They started the final laying siege to the Cavemen goal but met a resolute wall of defence in the Cavemen’s backyard. As such the Cavemen weathered that early storm and took the lead through the incredible Brynn Cleak and then through an absolute bullet from Miguel da Graca they made it 2-0. After more opportunities missed by the Dragons, Michael Abrahams got the final goal of the tournament and helped the Cavemen retain the title!
“Walking into the change room before the game I saw a couple of nervous faces,” admitted Cavemen captain Rassie Pieterse afterward. “But we said a few nerves aren’t a bad thing. We got ourselves into the final so all we could do was play our socks off and our hearts out. It’s a great bunch of guys – really a brotherhood. That’s what the Cavemen are about and it really showed again this year. Winning the tournament back to back – I can’t be prouder. It shows a lot of character and it also shows a lot of character coming off the field and not conceding a goal. It’s one thing we worked on very hard – we went for the motto ‘defend to win’ and there’s nothing more we could have asked for. I’m just so chuffed lifting that trophy again – it’s such a beautiful trophy.”
Sports 24 Seven Team of the Tournament – Women
Sports 24 Seven Team of the Tournament – Men
Sports 24 Seven Player of the Tournament – Women – Celia Evans (Bunters)
She may just have been named the 2016 South African Player of the Year, but it’s in 2017 PHL that she really showed her class. The energetic and pragmatic defender was a constant thorn in the side of the opposition and a player whom so much should be written about. Her attitude about playing for South Africa is absolutely incredible and we salute Celia!
Runner-up – Kirsten Paton
Sports 24 Seven Player of the Tournament – Men – Nick Gonsalves (Dragons)
Nick Gonsalves was the one player that I truly felt deserved to be on the winning side in this tournament. He has been a consistent performer throughout and for me was the standout performer on a very good Dragons side. He has worked hard for years and deserves every credit that comes his way. Oh yes, he actually was a pretty good captain too!
Runner-Up – Miguel da Graca