By TRACEY ROXBURGH
Queenstown Rovers’ junior football season’s ended on a high, with some of coach Jamie Whitmarsh’s charges going up against the best in the country — and holding their own.
Whitmarsh’s under-11s and U12s were first up at the Christchurch International Cup tournament over the first weekend of the school holidays — the U11s battled their way to the semi-finals where they lost to home side SAS FC on penalties when the score was tied 2-all at full-time.
‘‘We [dominated] them and ended up losing on penalties, so at the end of the game … my kids are gutted, and SAS FC football club lined up in front of us and gave us a round of applause.
‘‘It was an amazing gesture.
‘‘That’s the level of respect that we gained on that weekend, and that’s part of why we do it, I suppose.’’
Last weekend, the U13s made it to the final in the same tournament, losing 3-0 to Maori Hill, in their sixth game over three days, but Whitmarsh couldn’t be prouder of his charges, five of whom were Year 7 and had never played on a full-sized pitch before.
‘‘Their attitude and their commitment and everything about what they did was amazing.
‘‘We talk about determination a lot, but by the end of it my kids were running in treacle.
‘‘They couldn’t give me any more.’’
Whitmarsh says the tournament’s recognised as one of the top two or three in New Zealand and normally includes international clubs, but always attracts some of the top rising talent from around the country.
While the Rovers sides were classed as the underdogs from the get-go, Whitmarsh isn’t surprised, given the depth other clubs have to pull from — one coach he spoke to had 2700 kids in his club.
While stoked with all the sides’ performances, he says it highlights the need for competition locally to improve.
‘‘We have a lot of work to do to be able to dine at the top table — our local league isn’t strong.
‘‘Somehow we’ve got to find a way to bridge those gaps.’’