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Dawn of a new era for Ngongotaha

It’s the dawn of a new era for Ngongotaha AFC.

The top local side take on Auckland outfit Papatoetoe AFC, at Stembridge Rd on Saturday, in their opening game of the Northern League second division.

It will be the first time Ngongotaha have played at such a high level since the late 1990s, and last year’s WaiBOP Premier champions will also be under new leadership.

Defender Eamon O’Donoghue, 20, has been awarded the captain’s armband, taking over from last season’s skipper Dave Haua, who is out indefinitely through injury.

O’Donoghue, a first team player for the past five years, said he was excited by the new challenge ahead.

“I don’t feel pressure, I’m just excited,” O’Donoghue said. “I’ve got big boots to fill and Dave [Haua] has certainly left a big gap in the team. I expect it will take a couple of games to get into the swing of things. I’m just trying to get all the boys to keep up the good work from last year.”

O’Donoghue said he didn’t know what to expect from an “unknown” Papatoetoe team but stressed the importance of his team getting off to a strong start.

“We need a strong performance to show everyone else out there that we deserve to be in this league,” O’Donoghue said. “It’s in front of our home fans so hopefully we will get good support and get off to a good start.”

Ngongotaha coach Shane Davis added: “For us winning is a habit but we need a shift in mentality to compete in the Northern League. It’s very important. I will have to be a lot firmer on them because for everyone this will be a massive learning curve. They can’t relax on the field they just have to do their job.

“This is a whole new ball game. We can’t do guesswork about Papatoetoe AFC. All I’ve been focused on is what we have to do and what we can achieve.”

Ngongotaha have had a mixed preseason losing 4-2 to Auckland’s Manukau City AFC before beating WaiBOP Premier side’s Otumoetai FC 4-2 and Cambridge 5-2.

A few new faces have impressed including French right winger Alexis Pinto, and Cook Island defender Arus Sem. Ngongotaha have also recruited several players from Hamilton.

“They are looking really good,” said O’Donoghue. “It’s great to have them pushing to get those spots because everyone has to step up their game – you need that competition.”

Davis said fitness had been an “essential” focus in preseason.

“They never saw a ball for about six weeks. They’ve all been in a lot of running work, sprint work and hill work. It may have been very tough but that hard graft pays off believe me,” Davis said.

Loyal Ngongotaha supporters and Rotorua football fans alike will be hoping Ngongotaha continue their stylish brand of pressing football which saw them net 111 goals and drop just four points on their way to the league title last season.

Davis said Ngongotaha would play with attacking flair but stressed the importance of clinical finishing in a tougher division.

“We don’t hold back. We try to create as many chances as we possibly can. We need to be even more clinical,” he said. “We have to finish our chances when we get them because it’s a higher standard of football. If you don’t put it in the back of the net you’ll find yourself drawing or losing.”

Both O’Donoghue and Davis said Ngongotaha would “more than” compete at Northern League level and picked Waiheke United as a team to watch out for.

“The other teams are going to be a lot fitter than the opposition we faced last year and that makes a big impact,” O’Donoghue said. “But we are ready. We’ve worked on a lot of fitness and we are up for this.”

Davis added: “It is a bit unknown. The main side I know about is Waiheke United. They have a lot of talented players so they will probably be a quality side. A lot of Auckland players also chop and change clubs each year so you never know who you’re going to come up against.

“But we are fully capable of ending up in the top four,” Davis said. “Actually to be honest we are capable of taking out the league but the question is whether we can adapt to Northern League quick enough.

Story repoduced courtesy www.nzherald.co.nz and can also be viewed here.