The Best Sporting Moments of 2014
Another fabulous sporting year! For Auckland teams, not so much…
Originally published in Metro, December 2014.
Lydia Ko’s professional debut
Was Lydia Ko’s first season as a pro a disappointment? No majors, and a ranking which got very high very quickly, then seemed to stagnate? My, we ask a lot of our heroes. Ko pulled in $US1.4 million, missed no cuts in professional tournaments and made a seamless transition to new coaching and management. She did great. The milestones — and majors — will come.
Redemption at Eden Park
Black Caps vs India
Brendon McCullum’s brutish 224 at Eden Park in February helped New Zealand to a 301-run first-innings lead, and this match looked over on day two. But capitulation in our second innings, followed by imperious batting from Virat Dhawan and Shikhar Kohli, saw India come within 40 runs of chasing us down. Only the emerging power of our balanced seam attack saved a second straight Eden Park test what-if (see Western Springs below), and delivered a thrilling win over the world’s cricket giants.
League’s Big Day Out
The NRL Auckland Nines
Crowds at day-long sporting events skew binarily towards the hopelessly boozy (ODI cricket, Sevens) or plain dull (test cricket, golf). The debut of Auckland’s sold-out Nines, also at Eden Park in February, showed us a third way, with a huge, Pasifika-dominated throng mostly eschewing the beers (matchday product: Wild Buck, of all brews!) in favour of a celebratory atmosphere. It helped that the league was often scintillating, too.
Test cricket ground?
Late summer 2013: the biggest Auckland crowd in years watched one of the great draws in test cricket history, with England limping doggedly to safety on a baking-hot afternoon. Unfortunately, that still left 50,000-odd seats empty, with correspondingly diminished atmosphere. Eden Park is manifestly a disastrous test cricket venue. Western Springs would be delightful. Moving test cricket there is part of a larger stadium plan being cleverly fought by its opponents — but ultimately it must go through, to fix this city’s sporting infrastructural disaster.
A Sneak Attack
Phoenix v West Ham
Eden Park was mostly empty again in July for the football, and those gathered were more excited than expectant. But within half an hour, Andrew Durante’s header and Alejandro Gorrin’s scything follow-up gave the Phoenix a shocking two-goal advantage. West Ham never shook off their lethargy, and a rare victory was stolen over a genuine Premier League power.
Wheels on Fire
Cycling at the Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games are mostly silly, a pantomime of real competition. Track cycling is dominated by Australia and England, though, so our 15 medals — highlighted by a tactically immaculate gold-silver in the men’s mountain bike — was a huge achievement. It even (or maybe almost) made up for the indescribably painful could-have-been that was Jack Bauer’s being pipped at the line on stage 15 of this year’s Tour de France.
A Team Destroyed
All Blacks vs Wallabies
The All Blacks were clearly as mad as hell about conceding a draw to those puffed-up little shits across the Tasman, and further irked by talk of the Australians potentially breaking their long unbeaten streak at Eden Park. On August 23, led by Brodie Retallick, destroyer of worlds, they unleashed hell on the whimpering Wallabies, stacking on a half-ton in memorably brutal style.
Hope Glimmering on the Water
Burling and Tuke, 49er world championships
Lost in the agonies of last year’s America’s Cup blowout was the continued emergence of Peter Burling, who skippered us to an easy victory in the youth wing of the competition. He’s now a full member of the squad, battling Dean Barker for the helm, and in September he showed what an asset he will be with a dominant victory alongside fellow Team NZ debutant Blair Tuke at the 49er world champs.
Kiwis v Kangaroos
When Lance Hohaia was pummelled into oblivion by giant Wigan turd Ben Flower in October’s Super League grand final, NZ league fans knew how he felt. The Warriors had stunk again, and a run of eight straight Kiwis defeats, stretching back four years, continued through the Anzac test. Then, late in October, Suncorp happened: a 30-12 victory highlighted by the effortless glide of Shaun Johnson, whose kick, regather and score helped to put the match beyond doubt.
The Ultimate Prize
Valerie knows only victory
2014 saw Valerie Adams in cruise mode, her distance continuing to dip slightly from her peak form, but still leaving her riding that epic unbeaten streak. She won our 600th Commonwealth Games medal, crushed the Diamond League and was again shortlisted for IAAF female athlete of the year. Hopefully, this time good sense will let her take that one prize, which somehow eludes her.
Tarnishing the Silver Ferns
The retirement of Irene Van Dyk. Long-term injuries to Maria Tutaia and Casey Kopua. Still, surely we’re better than this? Nine straight losses to Australia, and one to England — the brilliant side of the late 00s is a swiftly fading memory.
The JK experiment
John Kirwan and Jerome Kaino. Both anointed potential saviours; both now playing for their Blues legacy. Kirwan’s first two seasons as coach have almost made us nostalgic for Pat Lam, while Kaino’s return to the side failed to arrest their slide to irrelevance. Next year, he takes on the captaincy, and how he goes will determine whether his coach has a future in this city. The squad looks weaker than it has in years, but if anyone can turn things around, it’s Jerome.