Chatham Cup final a long time coming for Birkenhead as they face Waitakere City
For David Parkinson and Birkenhead United, Sunday's Chatham Cup final against Waitakere City has been a while in the making.
With a history stretching back more than 50 years, the club from Auckland's North Shore is one of the proudest in the country, but it has had little in the way of top-level success.
This is the first time they have made it to the decider in club football's showpiece event, an achievement that follows several years of being there or thereabouts.
In 2010, they made it to the round of 16 for the first time, and since then, they have only exited earlier once. They made it to the semifinals for the first time last year, only to lose to Napier City Rovers on penalties.
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Parkinson, a fullback, has been at the club since he was a youngster, and he says it feels great to have made it this far.
"It's a pretty big occasion for the club as a whole, and the community really.
"We like to think of ourselves as a family club, so it's massive for everyone involved."
Birkenhead have had the tougher run to the final, playing - and beating - three of their fellow Northern Region Premier Division sides, as well as Wellington stalwarts Miramar Rangers. Waitakere, in comparison, played two premier division sides, and their only other notable opponent was Dunedin's Caversham.
Parkinson said the key to his side's good run in the cup had been their ability not to get thrown off course.
"We don't change our gameplan for anyone or anything like that. We just do what we do, we know how we like to play, and it has been working out."
Birkenhead's good form this season - they have been right in the hunt for the league title as well - has given them plenty of confidence, which they'll need on Sunday against Waitakere, who haven't lost a game all season.
"We believe in ourselves to be able to get the job done, but we know how tough it's going to be," said Parkinson.
"We know how good Waitakere are and we know how good they can be, but there's quite a bit of belief that we can go do it, especially after losing the semifinal last year. We want to take that extra step and give the supporters something to actually celebrate."
Jake Butler (left) says Waitakere City's unbeaten record has fuelled their fire. DAVID JOSEPH/PHOTOTEK.NZ
WAITAKERE CITY LOOK TO FINISH UNBEATEN
Waitakere are a club with a much more illustrious record than their opponents, which includes three Chatham Cup titles, won in a row between 1994 and 1996, and three other final appearances.
However, they are also a club that has just spent the year in the northern first division, after being relegated from the premier division last season. They have wasted no time in regaining their place, winning 17 of their 19 games so far and drawing the other two, which means they are technically yet to lose this season. Only technically, because they actually lost their third match, going down 2-1 to Hibiscus Coast, a result that was erased when the winners were later found to have fielded an ineligible player.
Waitakere's impervious form meant the league title was secured a month ago, allowing them to focus their energies on the business end of the cup.
"Wrapping up the league has probably helped us a little bit, we've been able to prepare quite well for it," said Jake Butler, the side's experienced player-coach.
"We rested a few players on the weekend, then we had training this week and the boys were enthusiastic and there was a lot of energy out there."
Butler said his team's unbeaten record has added a bit of fuel to their fire throughout the season.
"It's not something we planned on, but obviously it's something that's worked out for us. It's been a good tool to use for extra motivation.
"We really tried to make our home ground a fortress and no one came there and got any points, which was good. It's another target we set during the year, and we're on a nice run."
Waitakere are riding high at the moment, having produced the result of their season in the cup semifinals, where they beat Three Kings United - a team in contention for the premier division title - by six goals to one.
Butler has experienced a Chatham Cup final once before - in 2013 when Waitakere lost to Christchurch's Cashmere Technical - and he said his message to the team this week had been to control their emotions, and to not let the occasion get the best of them.
"We've really tried to enjoy the Chatham Cup and that will be no different come the final," he said.
"I just hope we can play our normal style - it's been good to watch, or so I've heard from people - and I just hope we go out there and aren't nervous at all and can have a bit of fun and enjoy the occasion."
AT A GLANCE
Chatham Cup final
Birkenhead United v Waitakere City
3.30pm; Sunday, September 11
Birkenhead's path to the final
Round one: Bye
Round two: 7-2 v Fencibles United (away)
Round three: 2-0 v Western Springs (away)
Round four: 5-3 v East Coast Bays (away)
Quarterfinals: 3-0 v Forrest Hill-Milford (away)
Semifinals: 3-1 v Miramar Rangers (home)
Waitakere's path to the final
Round one: 5-1 v Otumoetai (away)
Round two: 1-0 v Glenfield Rovers (away)
Round three: 1-0 v Hibiscus Coast (away)
Round four: 3-1 v Waitemata (home)
Quarterfinals: 3-1 v Caversham (home)
Semifinals: 6-1 v Three Kings United (home)