Words: NZF Media
Saturday 31 March 2018
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Oceania champions Auckland City FC are generally regarded as the benchmark team in this part of the world.
So it’s easy to forget they have not claimed the national title in their own country for the past two years and will therefore be desperate to finally lift the ISPS Handa Premiership trophy again when they take on Team Wellington in the final on Easter Sunday at QBE Stadium.
Victory would be made even sweeter by the identity of the opponent, who Auckland City FC have come up against in the two previous finals but been denied by on both occasions.
Having just enjoyed a breakthrough debut season, forward Callum McCowatt was not around for those earlier disappointments but has picked up on the determination of his team mates to get their hands on the symbol of national supremacy once more.
“Every player in the team wants the trophy because of the drought we’ve had,” he admits. “I think it’s important for us but also for the Auckland City FC fans – they will all want to see the trophy come back to Kiwitea Street.”
Despite the magnitude of the occasion, McCowatt is approaching Sunday’s match with a calm level-headedness that belies his tender years.
“I’m feeling fine, it’s just another game,” the talented 18-year-old says.
“In every game you play you have to try 100 per cent so the effort is not going to be any different. I’m just going to work hard and any nerves I have will go within the first few minutes anyway so I’m not too worried about the game,” he adds.
“It’s just been a typical week for us, we’ve just been going over the game plan, getting everything sorted and making sure everyone is fresh for the game.”
Prior to the season kicking off, most observers would not have expected McCowatt to play a prominent role in the final as he was clearly a youngster with huge potential but had yet to make his mark at senior domestic level. But his eye-catching form has been one of the many bright spots in Auckland’s record-breaking season and he is now very much a player Team Wellington will have identified as a major threat.
The 2017-18 #ISPSHandPrem final between @AucklandCity_FC and @TeamWelly at QBE Stadium in Auckland is 24 hours away.— Andrew Voerman (@andrewvoerman) March 31, 2018
Preview stories from me, here: https://t.co/RPkhZuNvNm and @ByPhillipRollo, here: https://t.co/1APG19K0g9.
Those include the 18-man squads for both teams.
With the talismanic Ryan De Vries having now been lost to the professional game in Japan, City’s attacking potency is likely to come from McCowatt, golden boot winner Emiliano Tade and skilful Solomon Islands international Micah Lea’alafa. That will make McCowatt a marked man on Sunday but, again, he is approaching that prospect in a maturely philosophical manner.
“I’m not really thinking about it at all, there’s lots of players in the team that Team Wellington have got to worry about and everyone in our team can be a dangerous player. So I will just look to play how I want to play in every game, it’s been working so far,” he says.
COMPETITION | @NZ_Football have named the winners for the 10 double passes for the #ISPSHandaPrem Final - James Angelo Deslauriers, Gail Burgess, Angela Trbuhovich, Timothy Kilkolly, Emma Gibson, Mike Corbett— New Zealand Football (@NZ_Football) March 29, 2018
Kelvin Paul Holbrook, Stanisław Szostak and Tracey Hodge - well done! pic.twitter.com/5BmjtDy9oI
Originally from Auckland, the midfielder moved to the capital in 2015 to be part of the Olé Football Academy and has developed well under the watchful eye of technical director Declan Edge, appearing for New Zealand at both the U-17 and U-20 levels. Having been part of the residency programme at Olé, McCowatt is relishing being back in familiar surroundings and living with his family again.
That contentment off the pitch is sure to have been a factor in his splendid performances this season, as has the supportive set-up at Auckland City FC.
“I feel like I’m doing everything more consistently and playing just as well in every game, not slacking off in some games,” he says.
“That comes from the players around me as well, all the senior players have been pushing me to do my very best and that’s why I love Auckland City as an environment – everyone is pushing you and it gets the best out of you I think. It’s very enjoyable, I love training and go to every session with a smile on my face.”
That smile will be even broader if he can cap off an outstanding first season at this level by earning an ISPS Handa Premiership winners’ medal. But that will be far from straightforward against Team Wellington, the side that has proved the Navy Blues' nemesis for the past two years.
“I’ve watched most of their games this season and they’re a really good team,” McCowatt says. “We’ve had a couple of tough games against them this year and I think everyone always brings their best against Auckland City FC. I’m really looking forward to it.”
A win for Auckland City FC would give them a record-breaking seventh national league title, taking them past Mt. Wellington and Christchurch United on the all-time list.
ISPS Handa Premiership Grand Final
Sunday 1 April 2018
Auckland City FC v Team Wellington
QBE Stadium, Albany
Kick-off: 4.35pm NZST
Live on SKY Sport 4
Children Free (with a paying adult)
Referee: Campbell-Kirk Waugh
Assistant Referee 1: Gareth Sheehan
Assistant Referee 2: Edward Cook
Fourth Official: Nick Waldron
Auckland City FC: 1. Enaut Zubikarai (GK), 3. Takuya Iwata, 4. Mario Bilen, 5. Angel Berlanga (c), 6. Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, 7. Cam Howieson, 8. Albert Riera, 9. Darren White, 11. Fabrizio Tavano, 13. Alfie Rogers, 15. Dan Morgan, 17. Reid Drake, 19. Micah Lea’alafa, 20. Emiliano Tade, 24. Conor Tracey (GK), 25. Owen Parker-Price, 26. Callum McCowatt, 27. Dalton Wilkins.
Coach: Ramon Tribulietx
Team Wellington: 1. Scott Basalaj (GK), 2. Justin Gulley (c), 3. Scott Hilliar, 4. Mario Ilich, 5. Liam Wood, 6. Taylor Schrijvers, 7. Eric Molloy, 10. Nathanael Hailemariam, 11. Mario Barcia, 12. Andy Bevin, 13. Roy Kayara, 14. Jack-Henry Sinclair, 16. Angus Kilkolly, 18. Sekou Diane, 19. Ross Allen, 20. Daniel Mulholland, 21. Hamish Watson, 22. Marcel Kampman (GK).
Coach: Jose Figueira
v Al Ahly, Tangier, Feb 1 2023, KO: 8pm local