Crackerjack 90th Chatham Cup Final proves football in New Zealand deserves more attention

The biggest day in New Zealand’s winter footballing calendar came with little fanfare.

A few promotional posts on the NZ Football social media pages, some commentary on Twitter from the usual ex-players and vanquished semi-finalists and a standard highlights package from Sky of past finals.

The game was so under the radar that for 45 minutes I struggled in vain and ultimately failed to find a suitable stream anywhere online. I missed the entire first half. Realising I would have to part with some cash to witness people I knew/had played with compete for our countries highest domestic honour I reluctantly downloaded FanPass in order to witness the game. Five minutes of form-filling and over 300 bucks later (I got the six-month pass so I can watch the Nix and Arsenal in the Europa League this season too). I contented myself by watching the highlights of the first-half during the break.

First time finalist Onehunga Sports were aiming to do the double.

Having won the NRFL Premiership for the first time this season, the AFF side were aiming to use their philosophy to secure a historical first Chatham Cup as well. They wrapped up the NRFL Prem title with four games to spare and cruised to the cup final with a 3-0 away shutout over Christchurch’s Cashmere Technical. Onehunga head coach Hiroshi Miyazawa had inspired his team to their first league championship win, could he do the unthinkable and lead his team to a maiden double?

It was the 2017 league winner against AFFs 2016 league champion. However the gulf of experience was evident. Central United had been to the big time on many occasions and they were aiming to put yellow and blue ribbons on the Chatham Cup for a monumental sixth time. Beaten finalists in 2012, Aaron McFarland’s charges had set their sights on winning the final from the very beginning of the winter season. They had marched into the final with a clinical 5-0 mauling of fellow Aucklanders Bay Olympic.

With both clubs sets of fans packed into a small section of the sunny QBE stadium in North Shore, NZ’s most anticipated event got underway in inauspicious fashion at the slightly late kickoff time of 3:45pm.

In the opening stages of the 90th iteration of the Chatham Cup, Central were holding possession and looking for attacking players Nicolas Zambrano and Emiliano Tade to get behind Onehunga’s deep defence. Onehunga, who’s impressive defence throughout the season was the bedrock on which the title was won, were content to let Central dictate and aimed to hit them on the break.

All of Central’s pressure finally told when Zambrano powered home in the 20th minute, after Ignacio Machuca was played in down the right and sent in a pinpoint cross. The first half continued to be dominated by Central, with corners and crosses aplenty for the yellow yellow. They failed to find the net again though, and with the score only at 1-0, Onehunga were still very much in the contest at the break.

Onehunga made a tactical switch at halftime, pushing up Andrew Milne to support striker Sean Lovemore, who had been isolated and well marshalled by Central’s defenders in the first-half. The change proved to be an inspired one, with the duo linking on the hour mark, Milne sending Lovemore through on goal and the striker making no mistake with the finish, despite a touch from Central’s goalkeeper Danyon Drake.

Central hit-back ten minutes later after another cross, this time by wingback Regont Murati, and his cutback gave substitute Seamus Ryder the time to shoot into the net with keeper Caunter caught out.

The yellows didn’t hold their lead for long. Two minutes later Tom Boss scrambled home yet another equaliser after a penalty decision was turned down for Onehunga’s Milne and the ball had seemingly dribbled out of play (with replays confirming the Assistant had made a mistake), however Boss made the most of the officials mistake, swooping in to fire home from close range. 2-2.

The entertainment continued as Central took the lead yet again five minutes later with Ryder supplying a second. After Reid Drake’s sumptuous turn he fed Tade, who jinked and jived in the box, sold two defenders and chipped a ball to the back post where Ryder headed the ball down and into the net again.

Onehunga’s counter-attack paid dividends for them again as they equalised for a third time moments later. It was Boss again, scoring his second from just inside the box to secure parity. 3-3.

With extra time proving the only goalless period of the game as players legs tired, the only way to decide a victor was through the lottery of penalties. And, with only the experienced Albert Reira missing his spot-kick, the winners were Onehunga Sports.

The fairytale had been completed – the double was Onehunga’s.

So, four days on, let’s remember this Sunday’s epic encounter for what it was – a goalfest and worthy cup final that went the distance and provided a fantastic spectacle.

The two teams were worthy adversaries, and the game had everything except a red card. This cup final proved that the Chatham Cup deserves a whole lot more eyes on it, and plenty more fanfare in future iterations, as we build to the 100th anniversary of the competition in 2027.