The lesser lights of the local game will take centre stage in the ISPS Handa Chatham Cup over the next few days when one of the oldest and most prestigious trophies in New Zealand sport kicks off its latest edition.
The preliminary round of the 2017 competition will take place from tomorrow with seven games being held over the weekend and another nine fixtures set for Anzac Day on Tuesday.
The majority of the action will be in the Northern Region where 22 teams will fight it out to get their names in the hat for the first round proper while Central/Capital will stage three games. The Mainland and Southern regions will both play host to one match.
With each region’s more highly-ranked sides not coming into the equation until later, the preliminary round offers the chance for sides from federation-based divisions and Sunday leagues to enjoy their time in the limelight and potentially book a meeting with one of the cup’s glamour clubs.
That’s very much the aim of the Matamata Swifts, who will welcome Auckland Sunday Football Association (ASFA) outfit Internationale FC to Matamata Domain on Saturday.
Coach Paul Richardson is relishing the prospect of facing an opponent outside of the Loaded WaiBOP Premiership competition that is his team’s bread and butter.
“One of the big hopes when entering the cup is that we get drawn against opponents we don’t normally play,” he says.
“We certainly have that against Internationale as this is the first time our clubs have met. Both clubs will be wanting to go on a bit of a cup run this year and maybe claim a notable scalp or two. We certainly do, that’s for sure.”
The Swifts have started the season in good form – they have scored 13 goals in just three games and lie third in the league – but, as one of the unfancied teams in the 90th edition of the Chatham Cup, know they will have their work cut out to make the latter stages.
Richardson cites the 2016 event as proof that anything can happen though.
“If we look back to last season, we got knocked out by fellow WaiBOP Premiership side Otumoetai, who then took Waitakere City to extra time in the next round. Waitakere, of course, made it all the way to the final, only to lose rather dramatically to Birkenhead United.”
But, while the goal is to progress as far as possible, Richardson is keen for his players not to get too far ahead of themselves.
“Eventually matching up against one of the big boys, ideally at home, is the hope,” he says.
“But that’s in the future. We’ll focus on Internationale first and hope to bring some of our goal scoring form in the league into what should be a very entertaining match for our fans.”
Matamata are joined in the preliminary round by a host of other WaiBOP Premiership clubs with leaders Waikato Unicol, second-placed Taupo, Rotorua United, Cambridge, Otumoetai, West Hamilton United, Tauranga Old Blues and Te Awamutu also harbouring hopes of Chatham Cup glory.
In the Central/Capital region, Napier Marist, Gisborne Thistle, Marist, Seatoun, Naenae and Eastborne are all hoping to make round one while Nelson and Wakefield will do battle to progress in Mainland as West End and Thistle face off further south.
ISPS Handa Chatham Cup Preliminary Round
Saturday 22 April
Tokoroa vs Cambridge FC, 2pm, Strathmore Park
Taupo AFC vs Otumoetai FC, 2pm, Crown Park
Matamata Swifts AFC vs Internationale FC, 2pm, Matamata Domain
Waikato Unicol AFC vs Old Blues FC, 2pm, Jansen Park
Sunday 23 April
Auckland Wanderers vs Te Awamutu AFC, 2pm, Michaels Ave 2
Kiwi True Blues FC vs Central Brown, 2pm, Anderson Park
Rotorua United vs South Auckland Rangers, 2pm, Neil Hunt Park
Tuesday 25 April
Northern Wairoa vs Kerikeri FC, 12.30pm, Memorial Park
Warkworth vs Bohemian Celtic, 2pm, Shoesmith Reserve
Norwest United vs Waiuku AFC, 2pm, Huapai Reserve
West Hamilton United vs ASFA HNK Auckland, 2pm, Weka Street
Napier Marist FC vs Gisborne Thistle, 2pm, Bluewater Stadium
Marist AFC vs Seatoun AFC, 2.30pm, Kilbirnie Park
Naenae vs Eastborne AFC, 2.30pm, Naenae Park
FC Nelson vs Wakefield FC, 2pm, Guppy Park
West End AFC vs Thistle AFC (Timaru), 2pm, West End Park