Team Wellington playmaker Andy Bevin says the target of OFC Champions League glory made it easy for his side to pick themselves up after the disappointment of losing their New Zealand crown on Sunday.
A 1-0 defeat to domestic rivals Auckland City in the Premiership Grand Final thanks to a late Callum McCowatt goal put paid to Team Wellington’s hopes of a third straight national league title but Bevin says it’s the lure of a lifting the Champions League trophy for the first time that is driving the squad more this season.
“It was a tough one to take – it was a very well-contested game and there wasn’t much between the two sides,” says Bevin.
“As soon as we went into the changing room we already started saying the big carrot [of the OFC Champions League] is still there to play for and we need to take what we did really well out of that game against Auckland and try to implement it for even longer spells in the upcoming game or games.”
“We controlled good periods of the game but didn’t quite have the attacking verve to get that elusive goal on the night. For sure, the likes of me and Natty playing in number 10 roles really want to start to be more creative forces, more of a goal scoring threat so we can help out Ross Allen who did a tremendous job as pretty much a lone number 9. We need to find ways to create more goal scoring opportunities against strong structured sides.”
Finishing in the top two in the league component of the Premiership’s regular season meant that both Auckland City and Team Wellington had booked their OFC Championship tickets for 2019 and upon reflection Bevin said that fact may have helped take the sting out of defeat.
“Of course, on the night we were desperate to win and it would have been fantastic if we were able to manage that,” says Bevin.
“At the start of the season we said we want to win both but, at the same time, both teams had already secured qualification for next season’s OFC Champions League and so maybe the grand final of the national league didn’t mean as much.”
The former New Zealand age-group international believes the balance of Wellington’s squad is right to now press their claims for confederation supremacy beginning with Saturday’s quarter final against Papua New Guinea champions Lae City Dwellers.
“The team we have this year – we really believe we can go on and win the Champions League and it’s as good a chance as we’ve had given where we’re at.
“With the tighter eligibility rules we think we think we’ve got a great opportunity because we’ve got a fantastic mix of Kiwi talent and some really key overseas talent, so I think we’re going to be a really strong force in the rest of the Champions League.
“So, absolutely that is the big carrot and the big driving force this season and why we able to talk about refocussing after the match on Sunday.”
A veteran of over 70 national league games with Team Wellington, Waitakere United and Hawke’s Bay United – broken up by a four-year spell at West Virginia University in the United States – Bevin is taking on more of a leadership role in the Team Wellington camp this season, even captaining the side in the domestic play-offs while Justin Gulley was with the All Whites.
The 25-year-old is also shouldering greater responsibility in the attacking department with last season’s joint Champions League golden boot winner Tom Jackson out injured, Ben Harris returning to the United Kingdom and Joel Stevens signing pro terms in Sweden.
“Being asked to be more of a goal scorer when you don’t have the likes of Tom Jackson and Ben Harris up front – who are huge losses – naturally someone else has to take that on. We’ve been lucky enough to share that responsibility through a few of us – myself, Jack-Henry Sinclair, Angus Kilkolly and even a defender like Roy Kayara chiming in with some really crucial goals at times. And of course, Ross Allen has come in as well.”
Work commitments meant Bevin didn’t travel to Honiara for the OFC Champions League group stage and had to watch while his team mates saw off the strong tests presented by Marist and AS Magenta in particular. Naturally, he’s eager to get back involved.
“Firstly, I’m just stoked that the boys did the job over there. I followed it really closely while they were there and it looked like a really tough place to go and play but thankfully they secured top spot and a home a home quarter final.
“Now I’m raring to go and because they did the job I’m lucky enough to hopefully be able to step in and help us this weekend. Lae is a team we don’t know a lot about but they have a lot of international players so it’s going to be a good battle.”
Team Wellington take on Lae City Dwellers in the OFC Champions League quarter finals at David Farrington Park in Wellington at 2pm on Saturday (local time).