Ahead of two epic Auckland-versus-Wellington Chatham Cup semi-finals on Sunday, one of the final four clubs is happy to have slipped under the radar.
With Miramar assuming the mantle of favourites, double-chasing Wellington Olympic staying unbeaten this season and cup upstarts Three Kings United going from dark horses to serious contenders, Manurewa are tipped as outsiders to lift the 86-year-old trophy.
That suits their coach Mark Armstrong just fine.
“I think it’s a fair call to say the attention has been on the other three sides and there’s been talk of an all-Wellington final, and we’re happy with all that,” Armstrong said.
“I think we’ve been the quiet achievers in the Chatham Cup this year.”
Armstrong, a member of Manurewa’s Chatham Cup winning sides of 1978 and 1984, said staying in the Northern Premier League after winning promotion last season had been the main focus this year, but knocking the Chatham Cup holders out in round three changed his perspective.
“Beating East Coast Bays really gave us some confidence. By taking them to extra time and winning the penalty shootout, you suddenly feel like you’ve got the rub of green.”
“We’ve quietly got a few results in the cup and have been helped by having four of five games at home – where our support has been fantastic.”
However, the South Auckland side will be on the road when they take on Olympic at Wellington’s Newtown Park, and Armstrong is fully aware of the league and cup carrot dangling in front of the Greeks.
“They’ve done amazingly well to go unbeaten through the season. They’ve drawn quite a few but to remain that consistent for an entire season is some achievement.’
“We’d love to be the first team to burst that bubble.”
“The can win the Central League the week after playing us so there’s a lot of pressure on them. It could be a great two weeks for them, or it could be a very sad two weeks.”
In the other semi-final, Northern League first division leaders Three Kings will hope that the presence of members of Eden and Mt Roskill respective Chatham Cup winning teams of 1950 and 1964 inspire the club to its first final since being formed in 1997 by the amalgamation of those two former winners.
Dramatic wins over Northern Premier League minor premiers Lynn Avon and Dunedin’s Caversham, both away from home, ratified Three Kings’ cup credentials and the clash against Miramar – a side equally blessed with New Zealand Football Championship players shapes up as a classic.
New Zealand’s top referees, both of whom are shortlisted to officiate at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, have been appointed to the semis with Michael Hester in the middle for the Wellington fixture and Peter O’Leary holding the whistle at Keith Hay Park.
It’s also semi-final weekend in the Women’s Knockout Cup with Upper Hutt City the latest club charged with the tough task of stopping Lynn Avon’s seemingly relentless charge towards a ninth title.
No Wellington side has made it past the semi final stage since Petone lost four straight finals in the late 1990s and the Wendi Henderson led side will start as firm underdogs at Auckland’s Ken Maunder Park.
Meanwhile Christchurch’s Western FC can earn a return to the final – they lost 6-2 to Lynn Avon at North Harbour Stadium last year – by defeating Claudelands Rovers who reached the final four on the back of an impressive cup run that has seen them rack up a 46-0 scoring record over three matches.
The final of both competitions is scheduled for the weekend of September 19 and 20 and has been pencilled in for North Harbour Stadium unless contested by two non-Auckland teams.
Story courtesy of NZF Media
For the full draw of the Chatham Cup and Women’s Knockout Cup Semi Finals visit www.nzfootball.co.nz