NORTHERN SPIRIT v AUCKLAND HEARTS
10.30am | Saturday 14 March 2020
Free admission at Seddon Park, Hamilton
Come what may in today's national one-day Grand Final, Northern Spirit Felicity Leydon-Davis is going to look back on a very special season.
The 25-year-old from Hamilton has represented the Spirit throughout her Domestic career, from the day she debuted as a schoolgirl 10 years ago through to her 76th match for the team today - and, like most of her teammates, it's the first time she has played in a Grand Final, let alone hosted one on her home turf.
Not only that, but it's Northern Spirit's 20th anniversary season. Leydon-Davis has been around for half of that history, "and I can honestly say the group we have now is one of the best I have experienced, which is very special. A mix of young players around an established core. To be able to turn around the results we have experienced over the last few years has been very cool."
There's no subtle way to say it: they were used to coming last. This season, they are the top qualifier. What's been behind the dramatic turnaround?
Leydon-Davis says the investment and planning started way back in May last year.
"We’ve had a squad of more than 20 players this year and everyone has worked really hard which has been fantastic, creating some good depth.
"The nature of our region is it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare, but we’ve made it work. Going into this season, we've had our full-time coach available all of last winter basically - so we could start training a lot earlier, with a few trainings in May and June.
"Then we had had the full squad together pretty much every week since July. We would have one Sunday training at the Mount, then the following Sunday one in Hamilton, and the next week one would be in Auckland and continued that rotation. We’ve got those strong hubs now, and everyone is training together weekly as well within those smaller hubs."
The benefit was practical in terms of oiling the skills, but it also gave the players - including a number of new faces - a chance to get to know each other as a squad, which Leydon-Davis says has been key.
"Getting to know each other outside of cricket, as well, to have that deep level of understanding of each other which gives each of us a greater respect for the people who are out on the park, and gives each other so much more support.
"We’ve done a lot of work on our team culture, getting really good buy-in from all the players and each of us being clear on where we fit in to the team and our roles. We’re out there playing for each other as well as playing for our district and the support we have shown each other within the group has been fantastic this summer."
Behind the scenes, the support structure also saw former Australian international - a veteran of 60 one-day internationals and 10 Test matches - and Sydney Thunder coach Jo Broadbent come over from Australia in as Assistant Coach to add even more to the experience of Spirit's coaching staff.
"And, having a physio available, having structure around our S&C programme, having our manager available supporting us — it’s been a good all-round package. The support from NDCA has been fantastic, the added support from the staff outside of our immediate coaching staff. This has been the best summer yet and it's really exciting to see that translate into our first ever Grand Final - and we’re playing it at home which is really special for all of us."
Northern Spirit dropped only one game from 10 rounds en route to today's final showdown against a well-performed Auckland Hearts side that has all its guns back from the WHITE FERNS. Leading the Hearts will be Leydon-Davis's former Spirit teammate Anna Peterson (below) who will meanwhile be looking to take the city side back to the top after having surrendered the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield title to the Central Hinds in last year's Grand Final.
That the Hinds broke a decade-long title drought to overcome the well resourced Hearts - who have effectively held the title for half of the last decade - should give the Spirit plenty of, well, heart going into the big game, at Seddon Park today from 10.30am (free admission).
"It’s been a fantastic season for us in the 50-over format so we’re really look forward to it," says Leydon-Davis whose side won a thriller against the same opponent at the same venue in the last round, on 23 February. A dress reheasal? Mental prep for the Finals footy, the unfamiliar pressure?
"I think naturally there are going to be s few nerves about it, but the overall feeling is excitement and we’ve just got to go into the game and play the game that we play. If everyone performs their individual roles, do what we have been doing all season, the result will follow.
"The majority, if not all of our players have stepped up at different times. I think that’s been the big difference this season: everyone has played a part at some stage in getting us here, a real team effort the whole season. We’re not just relying on one or two players.
"If someone doesn’t step up one day, someone else will, and we all prepare to do our best. Anything’s possible in cricket at the end of the day. We’ll definitely go out there to give it our all and play to our game plans — and hopefully come away with a win."
Felicity Leydon-Davis (captain)
Anna Peterson (captain)
RECENT SEASONS: THE HISTORY
2018/19 Auckland Hearts - 2nd Northern Spirit - 6th
2017/18 Auckland Hearts - Winner Northern Spirit - 6th
2016/17 Auckland Hearts - 2nd Northern Spirit - 5th
2015/16 Auckland Hearts - Winner Northern Spirit - 6th
2014/15 Auckland Hearts - Winner Northern Spirit - 6th
2013/14 Auckland Hearts - 2nd Northern Spirit - 5th
2012/13 Auckland Hearts - 2nd Northern Spirit - 5th
2011/12 Auckland Hearts - Winner Northern Spirit - 4th
2010/11 Auckland Hearts - 5th Northern Spirit - 4th
2009/10 Auckland Hearts - 4th Northern Spirit - 5th
Road to the Final
Round 1 Beat Canterbury Magicans by 5 wickets - Spirit's 5th highest team total (all-time)
Round 2 Lost to Canterbury Magicans by 29 runs
Round 3 Beat Otago Sparks by 9 wickets
Round 4 Beat Otago Sparks by 1 wicket - Spirit's 4th highest team total (all-time)
Round 5 Beat Central Hinds by 53 runs (DLS) - Spirit's 2nd highest team total (all-time)
Round 6 Beat Central Hinds by 8 wickets (DLS)
Round 7 Beat Wellington Blaze by 121 runs - Spirit's 6th highest team total (all-time) and; ND record victory by margin of runs
Round 8 Beat Wellington Blaze by 4 wickets
Round 9 No Result versus Auckland Hearts
Round 10 Beat Auckland Hearts by 5 runs
Road to the Final
Round 1 Lost to Wellington Blaze by 66 runs
Round 2 Beat Wellington Blaze by 10 runs - Hearts' 13th highest team total (all-time)
Round 3 Beat Canterbury Magicans by 124 runs - Hearts' 12th highest victory by margin of runs
Round 4 Beat Canterbury Magicans by 3 wickets
Round 5 Beat Otago Sparks by 8 wickets
Round 6 Beat Otago Sparks by 8 wickets (DLS)
Round 7 Beat Central Hinds by 8 wickets
Round 8 Lost to Central Hinds by 8 wickets
Round 9 No Result versus Northern Spirit
Round 10 Lost to Northern Spirit by 5 runs