By Mark O’Donnell
Every footballer at every level longs to win a championship title. Indeed, some of the best footballers in the world never achieve that honour. For the 11 players on the pitch, 4 substitutes on the bench and all the management at Waiuku AFC they are 90 minutes away from achieving that prize. It has been a long time between titles for this small South Auckland club, about 20 years in fact.
The squad have trained lightly this week, looking to rest knocks and be fully fit for today’s challenge. The weather has played its part and we are greeted with a semi sunny day and a pitch that is heavy and will test every players fitness level.
What a backdrop then to be playing our penultimate season’s game against Pukekohe, a true derby match and our fiercest rivals. There will be no love lost today by either side and that’s exactly how it should be. Pukekohe have had a disappointing season without a single win. They will want to spoil our party, stop us winning today and this is their cup final. Waiuku need to win today and clinch the title. The scene is set then for 2018’s best Championship match.
The game is an arm wrestle from the beginning with Pukekohe matching Waiuku for endeavour and team spirit. Indeed half way through the first half the locals are cheering as a defensive mix up allows the Pukekohe striker to waltz through a flimsy defense and calmly slot the opening goal. Cue mass celebrations on and off the pitch as Pukekohe take an unlikely but really well appreciated (by their supporters), lead.
The game see saws for the next 20 minutes until a neat diagonal pass from Brad Holmes splits the square back line and finds Derek Sinclair in a one on one with the keeper. The striker keeps his nerve and drills a low hard shot across the keeper which swishes the vacant net. Just for a moment everything stops but then Sinclair is enveloped by relieved team mates. Not before he gives his Pukekohe marker a gob full though. The cheers are both filled with relief and celebration and the canny scot struts back to the halfway line chest out. The half ends soon after and both teams stride to their respective changing rooms.
The second half begins with Waiuku hot on attack. From a neat 4 pass movement Sam van Pomeran (the flying dutchman) beats the desperate lunge of a Pukekohe wide back and sends a sizzling low cross behind the defender and in front of the keeper into the “corridor of uncertainty”. Legs flail from both sides but the crucial touch is supplied by Caine Robble and his face is etched with joy as the ball thunders past the keeper into THE BACK OF THE NET.
The Waiuku stalwart of 8 seasons has supplied the coup de gras and both the Waiuku bench and every player rushes to congratulate the tough uncompromising defender.
The rest of the half is played out with both sides looking to score. Pukekohe manage to do so but they are correctly ruled offside. Such are the fine margins in football between success and failure. Both sides manage numerous chances but neither can add to the scoreline.
So at 4.47 pm on the 18th day of August 2018 the blast of the referees acme thunderer signals wild celebrations for all associated with Waiuku AFC. Pukekohe provided great opposition and a stern challenge. They sportingly cheer and clap the Waiuku team after this bruising and enthralling encounter. The Waiuku team gather in the centre circle and celebrate their success fittingly. The local Waiuku Post paper is there to record the moment and players, management and supporters alike hug in response to the achievement.
We have a small squad of between 14-16 players and have only used 21 players all season. They are mostly local lads and have not received a cent for their toils but I have never witnessed a team this dedicated or loyal to a town nor football club. Waiuku AFC should indeed be proud of these lads.
I’ve personally had the privilege to coach higher ranked Northern League sides in University, Ellerslie and Onehunga Mangere over 10 years. I’ve been fortunate enough to win promotion and coach in all three NRFL divisions, Premier, First and Second. However, I have never enjoyed myself as much as I have this season.
People asked me at the beginning of the season, why oh why Waiuku? The answer is simple……. why not? They are a club with real spirit and passion and show that NZ football is alive and well for all the right reasons.
Categories: Other NZ Federation Leagues
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.