There aren’t many honours in domestic football that haven’t already graced the Eastern Suburbs trophy cabinet. But one has so far eluded the Auckland-based club and that could change on Sunday when the NZ Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup final is held at North Harbour Stadium.
Suburbs will take on Christchurch’s Coastal Spirit and will look to finally add the Kate Sheppard Cup to a raft of other triumphs that include six ISPS Handa Chatham Cup wins, two men’s national league titles and eight Northern Women’s Premier League successes.
The last of those women’s titles came earlier this season, meaning Suburbs will complete a rare league-and-cup double if they can get the better of Spirit.
“Everyone at the club is really looking forward to it and we’re trying to get lots of people down there to give us some support because it will be awesome if we can win the double this year,” captain Rebekah van Dort says.
“We don’t know too much about Coastal Spirit which makes it exciting – it’s different to playing a team that we might have already played three or four times throughout the year. But we know they won their league down in Christchurch and are obviously a very strong team so we’re expecting a tough game.”
Suburbs have already come through a pair of those in making it this far, facing stern examinations of their abilities in both the quarter and semi-finals. They faced fellow top-flight opposition in both, firstly overcoming Forrest Hill Milford United on penalties before needing extra-time to finally see off the challenge of Hamilton Wanderers.
Defender van Dort feels the nerve-wracking nature of both those contests will stand her team in good stead for the threat of Coastal Spirit.
“Those games were very intense and there was a lot of pressure,” she says.
“But I think we showed as a group what a strong collective we are and it’s given us a lot of resilience. We know we’re capable of doing that and coming through those sorts of experiences.”
If the lure of claiming a double isn’t enough to motivate Suburbs, van Dort says the painful memories of their most recent appearance in the showpiece occasion of women’s club football should do the trick. Suburbs have made the Kate Sheppard Cup final on two previous occasions, in 2005 and 2017, and many of the current squad were involved two years ago in a heart-breaking 5-4 loss to Glenfield Rovers.
“There’s a few of us from that game who would really like to go all the way this time – we don’t want to have that feeling again,” van Dort says.
In order to avoid a similar fate this time, van Dort will need to play a skipper’s knock in the heart of the Suburbs defence but she has no shortage of faith in the team mates around her. On their way to the league title, Mauro Donoso’s side found the net a remarkable 70 times and conceded just 11 goals.
Goalkeeper Corina Brown has provided a safe pair of hands behind van Dort while the likes of Jade Parris, Tayla O’Brien and Hannah Pilley have gone on the rampage at the other end. Parris is the player Coastal Spirit will probably have paid closest attention to in their preparations as she struck over 20 goals in the league but van Dort says Suburbs have considerable talent in all positions.
“Collectively, we’re a very strong team across the board but I think players like Tayla and Jade up front have been really important,” she says.
“Jade has been golden boot in the league for the second time in two years while Tayla has also created a lot of options and Corina has pulled off some fantastic saves.”
Another trait of Suburbs is their sense of togetherness and van Dort feels that could prove crucial in the red-hot atmosphere of a cup final.
“I think we’re lucky in terms of the team that we’ve got, we’re like a big group of mates and I think that really helps when we go out and play. We really just enjoy playing together and Suburbs is a great place to play women’s football.”
Coastal Spirit (from): 1. Una Foyle, 2. Jasmine Donald, 3. Rebecca Lake, 4. Arna Roberts, 6. Chloe Jones (c), 7. Chloe Webster, 8. Cody Taylor, 11. Melissa Gallardo Mansilla, 12. Lauren Dabner, 13. Whitney Hepburn, 16. Katie Millis, 17. Maggie Anderson, 18. Junghwi Jo, 20. Ellena Firth, 21. Bel van Noorden
Coach: Juan Chang Urrea
Eastern Suburbs (from): 1. Corina Brown, 2. Kate Carlton, 3. Erinna Wong, 4. Leah Mettam, 5. Rebekah van Dort (c), 6. Annie Byrne, 7. Lucy Carter, 8. Tayla O’Brien, 10. Jade Parris, 11. Hannah Hoeksema, 12. Emily Gillion, 15. Shania Heath, 17. Hannah Pilley, 18. Caiti Adams, 19. Ella Findlay, 20. Eloise Robinson
Coach: Mauro Donoso
National Cup Finals Day
NZ Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup Final
Coastal Spirit vs Eastern Suburbs
Sunday 8 September, 12pm
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland
ISPS Handa Chatham Cup Final
Melville United vs Napier City Rovers
Sunday 8 September, 3pm
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland
Both games live on SKY Sport