Coach Milo Fernandez Araujo says mental attitude and focusing on making history drove Cambiaso and crew.
Polo legend Alberto Pedro Heguy, a member of the fabled Coronel Suarez team, called La Dolfina’s historic achievement in winning the Triple Crown back-to-back-to-back, with their 13-12 victory over Ellerstina, as “the best Open final there has been”. He also gave a ringing endorsement of Adolfo Cambiaso as “a monster” on the polo field.
Heguy, a living legend and one of the godfathers of polo in Argentina, who won the Argentine Open 15 times with the great Coronel Suarez team of the 1960s and 1970s, which included Horacio Heguy, and the two Harriots – Alfredo, and the great Juan Carlos, said: “The four of them are outstanding, but Adolfito is something else. Individually, he is a monster and he showed that in the first half of the match.”
The achievement of Coronel Suarez in winning two Triple Crowns in succession – Tortugas, Hurlingham and Argentine Opens in one season – has now been overtaken by four modern greats in Cambiaso, Pelon Sterling, Pablo Mac Donough and Juan Martin Nero.
These are four names etched into history and whose horsemanship, teamwork, and mental toughness has been unbreakable for three seasons in the land which produces peerless polo. “Full marks for La Dolfina. They are exceptional,” Heguy told PoloLine after the final.
The 122nd HSBC Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo went the way of the defending champions early on, dominance from La Dolfina. Yet just as the match looked one-sided, a sprinkling of rain from the Gods slowed the game down, with La Dolfina sitting tight on their lead, and Ellerstina stretching every sinew to spoil the party.
There were so many little moments which could have gone another way in the last 14 minutes, with La Dolfina’s quartet looking like clear winners until the start of the sixth chukker. Yet it is their big game qualities: calmness under pressure, efficiency and effectiveness near their opponents’ goal array, consistency in penalty conversions which saw them ride out the last two chukkas as Ellerstina threw everything at the barricades.
Five goals ahead at the midway point, were La Dolfina, yet they were still reliant on the brilliance of Juan Martín Nero’s hooking defence in the final chukka to thwart Nico Pieres in order to avert overtime. The Nero goal that chukka was also a thing to marvel at.
What a comeback, though, in the thrilling seventh chukka, from Ellerstina, with Gonzalito and Facundo Pieres fighting like their lives depended on it, to give the capacity crowd a tingle to the finish. Ellerstina may rue, too, Facundo Pieres’ missed 60-yard penalty shot, though his cousin Pablo Pieres scored shortly after to make it 12-11 as the clock wound down.
But the match was taken away from Ellerstina by none other than Adolfo Cambiaso, by a converted penalty, on one of his favoured ponies, Cuartatera. Fitting, indeed, even though Facundo Pieres pulled one back for the rivals who have been forced to teeter on the edge for three finals this season in South America.
But as old man Heguy so rightly put it – it was a near perfect finale in which to set a new level, in a match with few fouls, open play and some of the best horsemanship polo fans have ever witnessed.
So many wins, so close so many times, this record breaking season has seemed almost fated. The players themselves tell a different story, having spoken to PoloLine at a post-event party.
Hard work behind the scenes was one of the keys, acknowledged Nero. He reckoned the feat was impossible to plan. “They were three wonderful years. But you could not have dreamt that we would do this – none of us. It wasn’t easy. It was tough. There was so much hard work. But we came to the final with nothing to prove. Getting through the zonal stages was so important – then working hard every day – the things people don’t see.”
“It ended well for us,” he said. “We have a year to enjoy this now, and when we are old and we retire,” he said, “we’ll be able to look back on this with great pride.”
Mac Donough was also thrilled at the success. “It was so hard to imagine getting the Triple Triple. It started to come together under Milo (Fernandez Araujo) in 2012, and it just seemed possible that we could get the record set by Coronel Suarez. And when we did it twice, why not better it? But getting this was down to everybody, the players, the horses, the families, it has been a long road. We have to enjoy this. We won because we are a great team, everyone else is raising the bar and getting better – there are great players in all the teams and they are only getting better. The margin will narrow all the time. I made a couple of errors but it was an acceptable game for me.”
Masterminding it all, behind the shield of those three players, and the brilliance of Cambiaso, was team coach Araujo. The man who won the Argentine Open three times with Indios Chapaleufú II was delighted with the team.
“We had three brilliant years and it ended perfectly – exactly how it had to end,” he said. “I thought we’d win the first Triple Crown (in 2013). The second year – again we had the team. By the third year we were just focusing on making history – so it was all about the mental attitude we had to have. They are four men who played tremendously – the second half we didn’t play so well – but in the end, we won out.”
And the future? Will the quartet stay together? “Who knows about the future?” said Fernandez Araujo. “You’ll have to ask the four players…”
LA DOLFINA – ‘THE PERFECT TEAM’
First Open: 1992
PABLO MAC DONOUGH
First Open: 2002
First Open: 2009
JUAN MARTIN NERO
First Open: 2004