Claudelands Rovers 4, Te Atatu AFC 3
Centennial Park, Ngaruawahia, March 2 2013
For as long as I can remember there has been a gloating Waikato Draught billboard situated on the left hand side of State Highway 1 as you drive into Huntly, the gateway to the Waikato District. It is usually dedicated to bragging about some or other sporting trophy the region holds and it’s usually pretty predictable what you’ll find there as you drive past. But as I left home yesterday I wondered…
Such was the sporting supremacy of the Waikato in 2012, that they are currently spoilt for choice. Would they be boasting of the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic’s feat of becoming the first New Zealand team ever to lift the Trans-Tasman Netball Trophy? Perhaps it would celebrate the local cricket team, the Northern Knights, lifting the coveted Plunket Shield last season? I jest of course, there was little doubt it would be rugby. But would it be the most coveted New Zealand sports trophy of all – the Ranfurly Shield, currently held by the Waikato Rugby Union? Or would it be the most coveted international provincial rugby honour – the Super Rugby trophy, currently held by the Waikato Chiefs?
One thing was obvious – it wouldn’t be a football team being celebrated. As any regular reader of this blog should be painfully aware, football is not our sport in the Waikato. Perhaps that’s what Te Atatu AFC were thinking as they headed down the motorway for this all important playoff for promotion, for which they were red hot favourites.
The match came about due to the sad withdrawal of the Matamata Swifts from the Northern League Division 2. The Swifts suffered a large exodus of players over the summer and decided that the high cost of regular travel to Auckland was no longer worth the benefits of participation at this level. To find their replacement before the league commences in just a few short weeks, a playoff arrangement was put in place. The runner up (highest ranked club not already promoted) from last year’s Northern Football Federation/Auckland Football Federation Conference (Te Atatu) plays their Waikato Bay of Plenty equivalent (Claudelands) home and away. Then the winner of that plays a one-off winner take all match against last season’s relegated club (Papakura).
Te Atatu were by all accounts very strong in the conference last season and whether it was due to the Aucklandcentric nature of those doing the talking or they really were that good last year, everyone was picking them to win promotion. But if they thought this was going to be easy, they got the shock of their lives in their away leg yesterday. The red hot favourites went into the half time break with red faces after the team in red had run rings around them, scoring three unanswered goals in the process – and it could have easily been more as Claudelands failed to convert at least one golden chance.
To be fair though, Te Atatu never looked out of the running. They created chances of their own and at times really stretched a Claudelands defence that looked suspect under pressure. Even at 3-0 down, with the away goals rule they only needed one goal to be right back in it. But they did better than that. They came out of the sheds for the second half a completely different animal and stormed back into the match. At 3-1 the smirks on the faces of the local Claudelands spectators lost a slight edge. At 3-2 ripples of shock reverberated around the ground. At 3 all… luckily there wasn’t much time for stunned silence as the home side finally woke from their slumber and knocked one in at the other end.
All the goals in this clash with the possible exception of the first – a lucky deflection off the keeper – were beautiful to watch and both teams looked quite skilful. Claudelands in particular impressed me with the youth, vigour and sharpness of their team. They should head to Anderson Park in Mount Albert next weekend with a lot of confidence. So too should spectators – it promises to be a classic. A 2pm kick-off, it clashes with the second leg of the ASB Premiership semi-final between Waitakere United and Hawkes Bay United at Fred Taylor Park. I am in a real quandary as to which one to attend… Perhaps the Auckland Football Federation would consider moving to a 10 or 11am kickoff so mad buggers such as myself can get along and support both?
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.