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The paradise derby

Beachlands Maraetai 1, Onehunga Mangere 1
McLennan Park, Auckland, March 4 2018

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If Onehunga Mangere and Beachlands Maraetai had a longstanding football rivalry, and you weren’t overly keen on calling it ‘the double barrelled name derby’, it could be dubbed the ‘paradise derby’. Because both of these clubs occupy home grounds that are amongst the most idyllic places in New Zealand to watch football.

Mangere Domain sits atop a volcanic cone with panoramic views the Manukau Harbour and South Auckland while Te Puru occupies the shores of the Hauraki Gulf with Waiheke Island presiding over a glittering backdrop.

Sadly only one of these magnificent gems will grace the Northern League in 2018. And to find out which one of them will join Division 2, we have a two legged ‘home’ and ‘away’ playoff with both legs played at… wait for it… McLennan Park in Papakura!

Whhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyy???? I hear you all scream in unison. The answer is quite simply because it’s summer, and booking football pitches in summer when cricket and softball take priority is not as simple as “oooh let’s go where it’s pretty.” Even though it should be. Not that McLennan Park doesn’t have a certain beauty all of its own…

And why is there a Northern League playoff happening in the first week of March at all? Well I’m glad you asked. It’s because Mangere United’s amalgamation with Manukau City to form Manukau United created a vacancy, and in order to fill it we have to find a worthy champion between last year’s relegated side (OM) and the team that lost to Cambridge in last season’s promotion playoff (BM).

Capisce? No? Don’t worry, just roll with it.

Whether it makes sense or not, the most important thing is there was genuine, bona fide, meaningful, Northern League football on yesterday and that in itself is cause for celebration regardless of how we got there!

It was an engaging little contest too, with lots of thrills and spills and everything left to play for in the second leg next weekend.

The first half of leg 1 ended without either side troubling the scorers but both enjoying their share of chances. The brightest of them was an Onehunga Mangere shot that looked in from the moment it left the player’s boot from distance but instead it clipped the underside of the crossbar bar and ricocheted out for a scrambled clearance.

It felt to me like Beachlands Maraetai were enjoying the majority of possession but we all know it’s what you do with it that counts, and it was the Brian Turner coached Mountain Men who hit the lead first at around about the 50 minute mark when Michael Bruce nodded in the tie’s opening goal.

The equaliser came 15 minutes from the end and relied on a fairly significant dollop of fortune. Onehunga Mangere keeper Danyon Dvorak got himself caught in possession and couldn’t recover the situation before Nick Reid rounded him and slotted. I hope the young keeper isn’t beating himself up too badly because by the same token he pulled off some lovely saves to protect his side’s lead while they had it.

The pat on the head he received from his opposition number nine after the goal (see photo) was surely consolatory rather than gloating. These things happen.

There is a whole other 90 minutes (plus extra time and penalties if it’s another draw – there is no away goals rule in operation for these games) for one side or the other to take this tie by the scruff of the neck, and I predict that one of them will. Just don’t ask me which one! It’s there for the taking for either of them.

The second leg is sure to be exciting and I’ll certainly be back at McLennan at the same time next week to see which slice of paradise I’ll be visiting again before the year is out.

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2

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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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