By Harrison Ryburn
Wellington Olympic have announced themselves as the 2023 National League champions with a 2-0 win over Auckland City in the Grand Final.
It’s the club’s first National League title, having finished runners-up in the title decider to the same opposition last season.
Second-half goals from Kalian Gould and Jack-Henry Sinclair proved the difference, with Olympic backing up their win over City two weeks ago to claim the top prize.
It was the Navy Blues who looked the better for long periods of the game though, creating a number of big chances, but failing to convert.
City dominated much of the opening stanza, dictating with their trademark style of possession-based football.
Captain Cam Howieson came closest to scoring in the first half following a long-range strike from the top of the box, that smashed off the underside of the crossbar and deflected away.
Olympic were living dangerously and Gerard Garriga should have scored at least one of two big chances towards the end of the half.
The first saw him latch onto a long ball through the middle, with Olympic defender Ben Mata caught out.
He found himself with just keeper Scott Basalaj to beat, but poked inches wide of the right post.
A Manickum cross to the back post off the left saw Garriga involved again, but his header bounced into the turf and up towards the top of the net, forcing Basalaj to tip over.
Olympic worked Conor Tracey into action on a couple of occasions through the first half, most notably through a strike from Stevens off the left flank, which saw the keeper dive down to divert away from the bottom right corner.
Their powerful attack was largely kept quiet through the opening stanza though, with Golden Boot winner Gianni Bozoukis a passenger.
Olympic’s strikeforce wouldn’t be kept quiet for long in the second half.
A wicked pinpoint cross off the left flank from Stevens picked out the right foot of Gould in front of goal.
Tracey got a hand to his effort, but couldn’t stop the ball from trickling into the bottom right corner for the opening goal against the run of play.
City grew increasingly desperate and coach Albert Riera turned to veterans Emiliano Tade and Ryan De Vries off the bench.
The two combined almost immediately, with Tade picking out De Vries in front of goal following a strong run into the box, but the latter could only prod his effort straight into the arms of Basalaj.
Tade continued to pull the strings, thundering a free kick effort into the left post which left the woodwork shaking.
Mitchell hit the same spot with a header moments later too, following a cross off the left flank from Tade once more.
Olympic had the chance to make sure of it when Watson was handed possession at the top of the box following a mishap from the City defence.
He struck his effort straight at Tracey, but Olympic would eventually make sure of it with the last kick of the game.
With Tracey up off his line as City made one final push for the equalizer, Olympic got the ball away Sinclair sealed the deal with an open net at his mercy.
His goal sparked wild celebrations, with the Olympic players rushing across to the sidelines to celebrate with their travelling fans.
Joel Stevens picked up the Steve Sumner Trophy, awarded for Player of the Match in the final.
It was a lesson in attacking accuracy and ruthlessness from Wellington Olympic, making their opponents pay for their missed chances and claiming a coveted first National League title.
Game played on Sunday November 26, 2023
Men’s National League Grand Final
Wellington Olympic 2 (Kailan Gould 58′, Jack-Henry Sinclair 90+5′)
Auckland City 0
Watch full replay here:
Scott Basalaj, Jack Cawley. Joseph Hopper (Tamupiwa Dimairo 79′), Justin Gulley, Tor Davenport Petersen, Kailan Gould (Hamish Watson 61′), Joel Stevens, Gianni Bouzoukis ( 85′), Jack-Henry Sinclair, Ben Mata (captain), Gavin Hoy
Subs not used: Nathanael Hailemariam, Theo Ettema, Samuel Mitrakas, Jacob Daly
Bouzoukis (84′), Petersen (90+5′)
Rupert Kemeys (head coach), Scotta Roche, Taylor Hall-Jones (assistant coaches), Steve Dimakis (goalkeeper coach), Brogan Treanor (physio), James Keegan (physical trainer).
Conor Tracey, Mario Ilich, Adam Mitchell, Cam Howieson (captain), Gerard Garriga (Regont Murati 76′), Angus Kilkolly (Ryan De Vries 71′), Dylan Manickum, Nathan Lobo, Jordan Vale (Emiliano Tade 76′), Joe Lee (Liam Gillion 63′), Michael Den Heijer
Subs not used: Takuya Iwata, Tong Zhou, Joe Wallis
Albert Riera (head coach), Ivan Vicelich (assistant coach), Eñaut Zubikarai (goalkeeper coach), Craig Panther (doctor), Matt Payne, Adria Casals (physiotherapists),
Referee: NIck Waldron
Assistant referee: Edward Cook
Assistant referee: Gareth Shennan
Fourth official: Cory Mills
Canterbury-based Harrison Ryburn is a writer for Friends of Football and travelled to Auckland to be part of our coverage team for Grand Finals day.