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No one really wanted it to end this way. Not really.

90 minutes of toil. Crunching tackles and lung-busting runs. The type of game that leaves the crowd exhausted.

With extra time beckoning in the ASB Women’s Knockout Cup, a long ball deflected higher than any Christchurch building and fell into the Glenfield Rovers goalkeeper’s arms.

She fell into the goal.

Game over. 1-0.

That’s how Coastal Spirit’s exceptional season finished.

After a season of training sessions on bitterly cold evenings and Saturday morning matches on unforgiving frozen soil, who wants to win it like that?

Coastal topped the Women’s Premier League, winning 13 of 14 matches. In the first round of the knockout cup, they demolished Waimak United 17-0. Three girls were selected for their age group at national level over the course of the season.

Dunedin Technical and Seatoun AFC, acknowledged to be decent sides, were dispatched 7-0 and 4-0 respectively on the road to the English Park final.

Coastal Spirit had never won the knockout cup before. They had come close but fell in the semis in 2012, and finished runners-up the year before that. This was their greatest season.

The final was a sellout. It was supposed to be an advertisement for the women’s game and a group of players that usually plays in front of crowds numbering less than two-dozen.

For 90 minutes, it was.

The football may not have been the most technically proficient, but tactically, the two sides were a fair match.

The crowd soared with every half-chance and jeered when a refereeing decision didn’t go the way of their favourite team. There wasn’t a mention of the men’s looming Chatham Cup final during the game.

Coastal full-backs Laura Merrin and Meikayla Moore played inspired. School on Monday but who cares?

Lily Alfeld was in defiant form between the sticks, beating away everything Glenfield had to offer.

At the final whistle, the Coastal players came together and celebrated on the halfway line, joy sprawled across their young faces.

Pamela Yates, Glenfield’s unfortunate goalkeeper, hung her head.

“You’ve got to feel sorry for her,” a woman in the stands muttered.

She could have just as easily been talking about women’s football.

_Max Towle