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Onehunga Sports 3, Birkenhead United 5
Waikaraka Park, Auckland, April 20 2013

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Maungakiekie, otherwise known as One Tree Hill, presides over everything you do in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga. World famous because of the U2 song that bears its name – written by Bono following the death of a kiwi roadie and featured on the album ‘Joshua Tree’ – for Aucklanders it is one of the most important icons of our city.

Before colonisation, One Tree Hill was the site of a Maori pa, or village. There it’s said that the original tree that gave the mountain its name came about following the birth of the son of a chief. After the child was delivered, the umbilical cord was cut using a Totara branch, the placenta was buried on the summit, and the branch was planted in the ground to mark the spot. There it flourished into a large tree.

Many years later, following the arrival of European settlers, a colonist cut the sacred tree down to acquire the timber to build a log cabin. A few years after that a fellow pioneer by the name of John Logan Campbell tried to make amends by planting a replacement, but the spot is very exposed to the elements. In order to give it the best possible start, the Totara was surrounded by several pine trees to act as shelter. The Totara died, but one lone pine survived and grew to become the new ‘One Tree’ on the hill, beautifully symbolising the colonisation of these shores for over a century. That was, until a Maori activist took to it with a chainsaw in 1994, ring barking it and causing its eventual death and removal.

All that remains on the summit now is a lonely concrete obelisk marking Logan Campbell’s grave.

What does this have to do with football, I hear you ask? Well, call it a long bow, but the enduring theme of that story for me is renewal. The old replaced by the new. And that’s what appears to be happening in the Northern Premier League as we speak.

With today’s win, new kids on the block Birkenhead who were promoted from Division 1 at the end of last season, have announced their arrival to the rest of the league. They appear to be living up to the pre-season hype so far as they now sit alone at the summit of the table as the only unbeaten team after three matches.

Just like the tree, Onehunga made a couple of comebacks. Birkenhead shrugged off the miserable rainy conditions to play a pretty expansive game and they deserved to hit the lead midway through the first half, even though it was only to see that lead cancelled out seconds later by the plucky home side. The visitors restored the one goal advantage just before the break and doubled their lead just after it. But again Onehunga came back at them, taking the score to 2-3 and looking more than capable of levelling things up once more. But the visitors were too good, scoring again to effectively end the contest. A penalty apiece in the dying stages was all that was left as Onehunga were consigned to receive the same number of points from this fixture as there are trees on the mountain that overlooks the venue.

The result was fair. Onehunga showed a lot of guts, they fought hard to the end and they should win more games than they lose this season. But Birko were clearly the better of the two sides from kick off to the final whistle. They look to have all the class they’ll need to seriously challenge, and perhaps more, at this level.

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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