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Reaching the pinnacle

East Coast Bays 1, Onehunga Sports 2
Bay City Park, Auckland, August 12 2017

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The first NRFL trophy of 2017 was handed over at Bay City Park on Auckland’s North Shore yesterday, and this year it was men’s premier that was decided first. Onehunga Sports took the lead in this league way back at the conclusion of round six, and have never looked like relinquishing it since. They now have an unassailable eleven point advantage over the chasing pack with three league games left to play, and with that they get to take home their first top flight trophy since the club was founded as Cornwall AFC in 1956.

But it wasn’t easy. East Coast Bays seriously threatened to put the coronation on hold for another week and I almost totally jinxed it by turning up quite bullishly announcing on Twitter that I was hoping the weather would hold so I could get some good pics of champagne spray!

By the fifth minute it was raining, and East Coast Bays had the lead…

Right from the get go Bays were out hustling and out bustling Sports in many respects, and their reward was a Dylan Stansfield free kick that curled over the wall, well out of Louie Caunter’s grasp and into the back of the auld onion bag.

The league leaders, who let’s face it were always going to be champions at some stage this year, Birko’s challenge was mathematical at best, got themselves back on level terms in the 20th minute with a penalty. Keeper Liam Anderson rushed off his line and was adjudged to have taken out attacking player Boon Ozawa. The keeper was incredulous and my pic of the incident below seems to show why. Nonetheless Andrew Milne converted the subsequent spot kick to make it 1-1 – a scoreline that took us through to half time.

Twenty minutes into the second half there was another controversial penalty decision from the man in the middle. This time it was Milne himself who went down, Bays players and fans alike thought a little too easily, Anderson arguing the toss particularly passionately and seeing yellow for his troubles. But when the dust settled, Milne slotted again and Sports had the advantage they required.

Sports spent the rest of the match living rather dangerously, to the point where I was quite convinced that an equaliser would come. Very fortunately for them it didn’t though, and when the three blasts on the whistle that signalled the end of the match finally arrived, raucous scenes of celebration ensued. Sports had won on penalties without a shootout!

Not to take anything away from them though. It may not have been a particularly flash performance on this occasion but over the course of the season they have been head and shoulders the best team in the league, and this was a crucial milestone for an club with serious national league ambitions.

They now have a Chatham Cup semi-final in Christchurch to look forward to with total focus. If they can lift that cup, it would be impossible for New Zealand Football to argue they aren’t a “pinnacle club”!

It’s also a great achievement for coach Hiroshi Miyazawa, another in a long list of coaching legacies gifted to us by the otherwise pathetic Kingz and Knights. Miyazawa, a veteran of over 100 club appearances at the top levels of Japanese Football, joins the likes of Neil Emblen, Darren Bazeley, Mauro Donoso and others who came to New Zealand as professional players and are now giving so much back to our game.

And as for what this victory means for the league itself, one of the things that makes the NRFL so much more interesting than the National League to me is that Sports are the sixth different champion team of the last six years. The others being Central, Eastern Suburbs, Glenfield Rovers, East Coast Bays and Bay Olympic.

You can criticise the Northern League for being a lot of things, but predictable isn’t one of them!

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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