“The Napier City board of directors is pleased to announce that, following another title win, manager Ryan Hope’s contract will be extended to include a third season with the club. We are thrilled with his commitment to our team and our fans, and we look forward to another successful year with him in charge.” – Tim Kelly, Chairman
Time sure does fly when you’ve only got 18 league games and one cup commitment. It’s time once again for another End of Season review! My second season is now complete and I’ve once again defended both the Chatham’s Cup and the League title, making back-to-back Double seasons.
To start off with the preseason friendlies, we had a rockier start than last year. We had two draws in addition to the inevitable loss to our Premiership Napier counterpart Hawke’s Bay, the last of which involved a serious injury that resulted in a tactical tweak to operate as a one-striker tactic. Let me tell you, the Chatham’s Cup, although we won it convincingly (and without penalty shootouts, unlike last year), it was still a rough ride in two or three matches, as it became very apparent that while Broxup and Stevenson make for a great strike partnership, they both seem to be lackluster alone.
Cameron Broxup, for example was injured in the Chatham’s Final, and we had a draw to our opening game against a side that we should have won against. Maybe it’s just something that some tactical experimenting in the 2017/18 season can fix, but once my fabulous wingers crossed the ball into the box, the lads almost didn’t know what to do with it. They are fabulous together as a partnership, and each can bang out multiple goals in the same match as a team, but not… I don’t know. I’ll need to think on it and play around. I probably shouldn’t become reliant on just my Napier City 4-4-2, as eventually I’ll become predictable, as was the case late on in the season…
But, we’ll arrive there in due time. The point is that we won the Chatham’s Cup for the second year in a row! I’m just slightly bothered with Mr Chairman’s lack of ambitions. Last year, he expected us to make the final to the cup, this year, we only had to make it to the semi-final, despite having arguably the best club team in New Zealand, considering we’re holding back-to-back doubles, and no other top regional league has a back-to-back, let alone the Chatham’s Cup.
With our injury issues in the start of the season that gave us a challenging last two Cup matches and a draw in the first match of the Central League, I’m not going to lie, I was concerned about second season syndrome, as we were winning, but were often arguably outclassed for many of the initial matches before we found our groove. But alas, all was well. After a couple matches that helped us steadily climb straight upward in the table with wins, once we got into the top place, we didn’t relinquish it all season.
Compared to last year, where we finished the season with 44 points from 14 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses, we finished this season with 45 points from 14, 3, and 1. Considering the injury issues, I am pleased we only lost one game, a 0-3 loss to Stop Out, a team that is always tipped for near the bottom of the table, but had surprisingly been a threat for a chunk of the season before falling to sixth, two places above their expected.
Going into regens, none were outstanding enough to get immediate mention, although I am very pleased that I have once again received a couple of regens capable of challenging for back-up places on the team, which has given me much needed depth that I spent the last two seasons lacking. The one drawback to this is that our average age is 21 as of the start of the season, and although we’re still keeping competitive, the lack of experience in the team has shown on times. But, we’ve got a good bunch of boys who enjoy their football and are giving results, and time and first team experience will help them out.
Another thing of note is that with our successes bringing in a good amount of prize money, our wage budget, which started in the ball park of around £500 p/w last season, has been raised to £3.9k p/w. While I am pleased that the gap that will expand between Napier City and the surrounding competition as we embrace higher and higher quality and wage players, I can’t help but wonder if this is going to bite us in the ass soon? Considering the Chatham’s Cup final pays out £30k and our peak budget is usually about £50k just after the season, I wonder if we’ll eventually be too big for our own good. Kit sponsorships and fan fundraisers are nice and all, but there’s still a net loss of a couple thousand pounds every month of the regular season after the Chatham Cup winnings are collected. It seems like boosting our wage budget by six times is a bit risky in one season, considering the key players’ new contracts only put us just above £1k.
Before I go, I want to address the little intro paragraph, as one last side item of note. I wanted to leave for an ASB Premiership side before preseason, but the board couldn’t agree on a value for a compensation package, and the “I don’t want to stay against my will” options didn’t seem appropriate when I tried to talk to the board about getting me moved on. I like my job, but I wanted to move for the sake of getting a chance at the Oceania Champions League segment of the challenge, and I didn’t want to leave on bad terms, which is why I even did the second season to begin with at Napier City.
I had resolved to not renew a contract and take an opening as soon as it came available in the top tier, if it was for a team that had a chance of title challenging. That hasn’t happened, unfortunately. There have been very few manager movements related to the ASB Premiership in two seasons, and finding an entry point has been harder than I would have thought. So, I’ll have to settle with Napier City for a third season, and I’m going to run on a year-by-year contract with the board until I see a good move in the ASB Premiership. Hopefully, it will be in the preseason, as I’d like to not abandon defending my two trophies mid-season and have unfinished business with my Young Rovers squad… Although It’ll inevitably come to a point within a few years where I’ll just make a move as soon as I see it.
Ryan Hope is 28 years old going into the third season, and I’d like to be on to Africa and out of my warm-up leg in Oceania for the proper Pentagon Challenge before I hit my mid-thirties, because of my artificial limit of “retirement age” for the length of the challenge. After all, there’s plenty of work to do that I won’t get to do from the top tier of a competition that won’t get me any continental games.
And, as an off topic note: Unlike in England, where loans can be done for a month or so after the transfer window closes, in New Zealand, the loan window closes with the transfer window, which means that unexpected injuries that you lack cover for can be a headache. I’ve had a handful of injuries that I had to deal with having, because the perfect loan opportunity from Hawke’s Bay couldn’t be accepted because the transfer window was closed.
That’s all for now. I’ll return eventually with an update on the happenings in the third season of the Pentagon Challenge.