St Pat's Town carry favourite's tag

TRIUMPH: St Pat's Town athletes enjoy the moment after their McEvedy Shield win last year.
TRIUMPH: St Pat's Town athletes enjoy the moment after their McEvedy Shield win last year.

Now comes the hard part, with St Pat's Town seeking successive McEvedy Shield wins at Newtown Park next Tuesday.

Town have won the shield three times in the past 20 years but have been unable to defend their title in that period.

However, Town won by a substantial margin last year, gaining 202 points, 45 more than runners- up Wellington College.

It was the biggest winning margin in the past seven years and the only time a school has topped 200 points in that time.

As a result, there is an expectation that Town can defend their title, something the school last did when completing a hat-trick of wins in 1988.

"We are excited about the opportunity," Town head coach Leigh Lidstone said. "We won't be as dominant as last year but, if we get everything right, we can be successful again.

"We have a good team and have been putting in a lot of hard work. I'm predicting we can dominate on the track again but the key is whether we can match the others in the field events."

The McEvedy meeting, which is held on the first Tuesday in March, has a history dating back to 1922 and 15 schools have taken part. But, since 1981, it has been confined to St Pat's Town, St Pat's Silverstream, Wellington College and Rongotai College and is a high point of the sporting calendar for the four schools.

There are 14 events, staged over four age-groups -under-14, under- 15, under-16 and open.

Schools are restricted to two entrants per event with points awarded on a 4-3-2-1 basis. With no significant premium for a win, minor placings can have a major impact on the outcome.

Town emphasised their prospects this month when winning the Old Boys' Cup clash with Silverstream, which serves as a McEvedy leadup for both schools.

"From what I saw [in the Old Boys' Cup], it would take a very good day at the office to head them [Town] off," said Silverstream's head of PE, Dave Cournane. "But it can happen."

Town had an imposing group of under-14 athletes last year and will be strong in the junior ranks again this year.

Talented twins Fa'aolataga and Mafutaga Tau are eligible for the under-15 grade but would be competitive at any level and Siosaia Paese, who won five under-14 titles last year, will make his mark as a sprinter and jumper.

It will not be much easier for Town's rivals in the under-14 grade this year, with Zane Edwards, Yasheek Rosario, Billy Proctor and Joshua Nairne all expected to be prominent for Town.

Aleksander Noble-Campbell, who won the under-16 200m last year, will captain the Town team, which will be relying on the likes of Marcus Karamanolis, Warkina Tujuba, Patrick Roche and Matt Ford to provide points in the senior middle-distance events, while Alex Haye is a form sprinter in the under-16 grade.

Wellington College has provided the McEvedy benchmark over the past 20 years, winning the shield 14 times and never being further back than second.

"We have a reasonable side but I think St Pat's Town still go in with the favourite's tag," Wellington College athletics convener Chris Wells said. "St Pat's have have so much speed and a lot of that can be channelled into the field events.

"We [Wellington] carried a lot of injuries into the meeting last year but the team is in much better shape this time. We should be a bit more competitive."

Sprinter Jack Hocking will captain the Wellington team and Ryan Saunders is also likely to be competitive in the open sprints.

Ollie Boyd, the defending open 800m champion, Finn Mahon, Riva Williams and Hamish Ware give Wellington a solid team of senior middle-distance runners, while the likes of Isaac Letoa, Phillip Wilson and Benson Oosterbaan add to the depth in the squad.

Rugby star Nelson Asofa- Solomona is expected to demonstrate his athleticism in the throwing events for Wellington.

Silverstream suffered a setback when top 400m runner Fletcher Greaves injured a hamstring at the Old Boys' Cup but Jack Shipp, the team captain and the defending champion in the open 100m and 200m, and Mitchell Bialy should be prominent in the open sprints.

Ryan Scaife is better known as a boxer but won two middle- distance titles last year and, along with Tom England, should make an impression in the under-16 grade.

There will be a poignant element to the meeting for the Silverstream athletes, many of whom will have their late schoolmate Zelius Venter in their thoughts. Zelius, the winner of the under-15 800m title last year, died following a mountainbike accident in July.

Rongotai have struggled to make an impact on McEvedy in recent years but have made a conscious effort to lift their game this year. More coaches have been used and many of the athletes have been training since October.

"We have lifted the bar and expectations in terms of training and the boys have responded," Rongotai sports co-ordinator Scott Richardson said.

Thrower Denny To'o, sprinter Malachai Unasa-Knox and middle- distance runners Jake Tennent and Karl Brownlie will be among Rongotai's leading hopes. Brownlie won the under-14 1500m last year.

The Dominion Post