Monday night’s Varsity Hockey semi-final between Tuks and Wits was a true personification of guts and passion as both teams refused to accept defeat right to the bitter end.
After the whistle blew for full time, the scoreboard at the Tuks Astroturf showed the score tied at 6-all. Tuks were only able to secure a victory after a penalty shootout, which in itself was another suspenseful drama, before Steven Paulo secured a Tuks victory with the sixth penalty-goal attempt.
That set up the final against Maties next Monday in Stellenbosch.
There aren’t enough adjectives to do justice to the heroics by the players of both teams. Giving up was never an option.
Wits were first to score and, after about 12 minutes, were leading 3-0. Then, with pure grit and determination, the Tuks players started to play themselves back in contention and Bradley Sherwood levelled the score with 11 minutes left to play.
The real battle for Astroturf supremacy started with five minutes left on the clock. Sherwood scored during Tuks’ power play to give his team a 5-4 lead. Still, the drama continued. Wits countered during their power play to take a 6-5 lead. Many would have thought that was it, game over for Tuks. There were literally just seconds left to play.
But miraculously the Tuks players were somehow able to force one last penalty corner with only 11 seconds left. It’s said that ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’ and Tuks captain Peabo Lembethe did not disappoint. As the ball was played to him, he whacked it past the Wits goalkeeper to level the scores once again.
‘The moment we lined up for the penalty corner, I said to myself, “This is it. Somebody has to come up with something amazing.” When the ball was played to me, I realised that it has all boiled down to me. I hit the ball with a drag flick and, to my utmost relief, saw it flying past the goalkeeper. It meant that the fight continued,’ said Lembethe.
Guy Elliott (Tuks head coach) ascribes his team’s never-say-die attitude to the influence of Sir Alex Ferguson, legendary former Manchester United coach.
‘I call it “Fergus time” when we kept on pushing, trying to “knock down the door”. When Manchester United were at their best, they always believed they could win, no matter how many minutes or seconds there were left on the clock. I got the Tuks players to believe the same.
‘Since I started to coach the team, it was never about signing individual stars. I’m always looking for players who don’t know the meaning of the words “giving up” and who believe in the team.’
Elliott added that he genuinely felt sorry for Wits as they were worthy of a win, but it was just not meant to be for them.
Hendrik Kriek, who had to stave off the Wits attacks during the penalty shootout, refused to take any credit for his performance. ‘I owed it to my teammates to do something special because I wasn’t at my best during the second half. My teammates were tonight’s true heroes; I’m just glad that I could play a small part to secure the victory.’
Maties beat the Northwest Pukke in the other semi-final with a penalty shootout also deciding the game.
Photo: Tuks’ hero Lembethe in Monday action, by Reg Caldecott