The competition supports White Ribbon, a campaign to raise awareness of men’s violence against women - which in New Zealand is generally directed at wives, girlfriends and other intimate partners.
Waikato FC coach Declan Edge was delighted to be lining his young side up in a cup final in just his first season back with the Hamilton-based franchise.
“Any cup final is a cup final, it’s special – we spoke about this game at training this week and only Michael Mayne has experienced what that is like. Cup finals don’t come around that often, it doesn’t matter if it’s the Milk cup, Yoghurt cup or White Ribbon cup final, it’s what we came here to do,” he said, ”We dominated this game from start to finish. We scored three great goals but we were a wee bit sloppy at set pieces.”
YoungHeart Manawatu took the lead after 18 minutes when Seule Soromon headed home a Michael McKnight corner but it all went wrong when referee Nick Waldron sent off defender Barry Lewis ten minutes later for deliberate handball.
Waikato FC immediately levelled the scores courtesy of Thomas’ superb free-kick and were in front after Thomas scored on a fast-break counter attack before chipping the goalkeeper for his second five minutes before the break.
Thomas then had a hand in Waikato FC’s third when he set up Mohammed Awad for an easy tap in five minutes into the second half. A dismal day for YoungHeart Manawatu was compounded when Michael Sheridan was shown a red card on 67 minutes to reduce his team to nine players.
The result means Waikato FC seal the Northern Conference title and face Team Wellington, winners of the Southern Conference, in the White Ribbon Cup final on April 1.
Team Wellington, who thrashed Otago United 6-1 and Canterbury United 3-0 in the Southern Conference, have also qualified for the ASB Premiership semi-finals in an impressive debut season for coach Matt Calcott.
But Edge believes the role of underdogs will suit his young side.
“We’re happy and if we can get a good result in our final ASB Premiership game with Otago United then we’ll face Team Wellington as underdogs. We’ll adapt to that quite well,” Edge said.
While there was joy for Waikato FC, YoungHeart Manawatu now has only one match left in which to register a win, an achievement that has so far eluded them in all competitions this season.