Hoani Edwards stands in front of his bench Photos: JC Photography NZ
By Bonnie Jansen, Te Rito journalism cadet
Tāmaki Makaurau will host both of the 2022 Chatham Cup semifinals this weekend and semi-finalist Eastern Suburbs AFC is stunned to have made it this far.
It’s the highest level knock-out football competition in the country, which showcases the top amateur football teams in Aotearoa.
Easterns Suburbs goalkeeper, Emmett Connolly of Te Whānau ā Apanui, says reaching this point in the competition means a lot.
"It's pretty big for us. The season hasn't been the best but it's something to look forward to. It's not every day your team makes a Chatham Cup semifinal."
Eastern Suburbs ahead of their quarterfinal match against Waiheke United
Eastern Suburbs have drawn Hamilton Wanderers at home and are seeking success after a rocky season.
The ‘Lilywhites’ failed to qualify for the National League after Covid-19 and injuries caused disruptions throughout the winter. But head coach Hoani Edwards (Ngāi Tūhoe) is excited about this opportunity.
"It's huge for our club. We've got a big history here of success in the Chatham Cup, and it's been a tough season for us so we're really looking forward to it."
Edwards, a prominent Māori athlete and coach who has been involved with Eastern Suburbs for almost 20 years, spoke on how he thinks more Māori could get involved in the world's largest sporting code.
"We’ve had some successful Māori footballers, the big ones like Winston Reid, Wynton Rufer. Rory Fallon's involved with the All Whites at the moment, so we need these guys to give back, and they do, and it's probably just getting it out there to young Māori."
Jake Mechell celebrated his Eastern Suburbs AFC goal in the quarterfinal.
Earlier in the Chatham Cup, Eastern Suburbs knocked out Northern League favourites, Birkenhead United, followed by an intimidating Waiheke United side.
Heading into the semifinal, while Eastern Suburbs may have the home advantage, they’re taking on a tough opponent in Hamilton Wanderers, a team ranked four places above them in the Northern League.
It will prove an even bigger challenge for captain Michael Built who will come up against his old club.
"It's going to be a good game. It's going to be a little bit emotional. There are a number of people I still know at the club. I'm sure it'll be a feisty game but obviously, I'm an Eastern Suburbs player so I'm going to do my very best for Eastern Suburbs and hopefully we are the ones who can check into the final.”
And as to whether coach Hoani Edwards thinks his side has what it takes to advance through to the grand final?
"Yeah…for sure, we've prepared well. The guys play to their potential and the level of what they can do … they’ve got a really good shot."
Eastern Suburbs will play Hamilton Wanderers at Madills Farm, Saturday August 20, 2pm, or tune in live on YouTube at ESAFC TV.