By Harrison Ryburn
Two ambitious clubs with title aspirations — Cashmere Technical and Auckland United — meet in the opening round of the Men’s National League on Sunday.
They go head-to-head at English Park in Christchurch in a game that will be live-streamed by FIFA+.
Cashmere Technical return to the National League after qualifying as the second-placed side from the Southern League.
They lost only two league games this season, concluding the regional phase with an encouraging 3-1 victory over league winners Christchurch United, to finish seven points behind their rivals.
Meanwhile, Auckland United take back their place in the National League after qualifying as the third-placed side from the Northern League.
They always trailed the top pair, Auckland City and Eastern Suburbs, and lost five games, but proved a difficult team to break down and will have their eyes set on contending for a first national title following their formation in 2020.
Neither club were pushovers in the National League last season, with Auckland United finishing third and Cashmere Technical seventh, separated by only five points in a congested mid-table.
Auckland United claimed the spoils when they met at Keith Hay Park in 2022, turning around an early deficit to record a 2-1 victory with the help of a Nicolas Zambrano double.
Cashmere enter the 2023 competition after a heartbreaking English Cup final loss last weekend, ending their six-year grip on Mainland Football’s premier knockout tournament and falling 2-3 to Christchurch United in a pulsating final.
One man springs to mind if they are to put that final defeat behind them.
Talismanic Irish striker Garbhan Coughlan has earned himself the reputation of being one of the best marksmen in New Zealand in recent seasons, and finished with 28 goals in 18 games in the 2023 Southern League.
He scored nine goals in the National League last season too, including a goal against Auckland United, and will be a handful for opposition defences right through the competition.
As always, central defender Tom Schwarz can be relied on, having amassed more than 300 appearances for Cashmere Technical. He provides another experienced head to the side and will look to shore up a defence that hasn’t kept a clean sheet since July.
Auckland United finished their Northern League campaign with four wins and three clean sheets from their last six, although there was a slightly concerning 1-4 defeat to Western Springs on matchday twenty.
Captain and centre-back Ross Haviland missed the game against Western Springs, but will be the key figure for Auckland United.
The Scottish-born former New Zealand U-17 international started in 20 of his side’s 22 Northern League games, and offers plenty of experience, having featured on the national stage for over a decade.
Main photo: Auckland United’s Ross Haviland … a key figure. Photo: Shane Wenzlick / Phototek.
Player to watch
Keep an eye out for new under-20 signing Everton O’Leary.
He joins Auckland United from Birkenhead United for the National League season. O’Leary (18) is one of New Zealand’s most promising defenders, featuring twice at the U-20 World Cup for the Junior All Whites, and is sure to offer plenty of exciting talent to an already strong side.
Both sides will want to begin their National League campaigns on a positive note, and with the talent at both teams’ disposal, this promises to be a competitive, hard-fought affair.
Cashmere Technical squad
Matt Foord, Alex Boomer, Danny Knight
Danny Kane, Sam Richards, Andrew Storer, Tom Schwarz, JJ Richards, James Brittain, Lachie McIsaac, Daniel Metherall
Caleb Cottom, Alex Ballard, Aidan Barbour Ryan, Yuya Taguchi, Phoenix Coursey, Sam Lapslie, Yusi Van Dam, Cory Mitchell, Luke Tongue
Garbhan Coughlan, Zander Edwards, Lyle Matthysen, Declan Tyndall
Auckland United squad
Mack Waite, Hayden Stubbings
Ross Haviland, Sione Fa’apoi, Noah Billingsley, Everton O’Leary, William Stephen, Semi Nabenu, Hideto Takahashi, Fumiya Ito, Alexander Hale, Cameron Siebert
Yousif Al-Kalisy, Dré Vollenhoven, Nicolas Zambrano, Oliver Middleton, Daniel Atkinson, Benjamin McCarthy
Joshua Redfearn, Xavier Green, Ishveer Singh-Dhillon, Zachary Chung, Bronson Brown, James Ray, Hiroyoshi Kamata
How to watch
The game will be one of 46 Men’s National League games to be live-streamed under the new content partnership between NZ Football and FIFA+.
Game to be played on Sunday September 24, 2023
Cashmere Technical v Auckland United
English Park, Christchurch. 3pm
Harrison Ryburn is a Canterbury-based football writer.