Anna McPhie in action against Upper Hutt last season. PHOTOS/FILE

FOOTBALL

CHRIS COGDALE
chris.cogdale@age.co.nz

Wairarapa United woman’s football team face a potentially tough start to their 2019 season.

United will play Wellington United Diamonds today in the first round of the Kelly Cup at Maidstone Park, Upper Hutt.

The Kelly Cup is a knockout competition involving teams within the Capital Federation and has previously been played later in the season.

Kelsi Rutene.

It has now been changed to a pre-season competition, and that is how Wairarapa United coach Paul Ifill intends to treat the cup.

“It is too early to play and we’re using it as a pre-season game” he said “Win or lose, we get another game as the competition also has a plate section,” Ifill said.

Ifill thinks the Diamonds are the better of the two teams entered by Wellington United, so the match could be an early gauge of the relative strengths of the two dominant teams from last year’s W-League.

Wellington United won that league unbeaten, with Wairarapa United in second place, suffering their only losses against the winners.

Regardless of the result, Ifill is focusing on the W-League.

“We’re firmly looking at winning the league, and we have a few younger players who don’t know the systems, so we won’t be stressing about the result” he said.

Ifill has assembled a squad similar to last season, although he expects to be without his influential captain Kelsi Rutene for the season because of a serious injury.

Capital Football’s 2018 Women’s Player of the Year, Meisha Boone, and the 2018 Young Women’s Player of the Year, Anna McPhie, are expected to have prominent roles in what is a young side.

Meisha Boone.

Ifill also said a player training at his Masterton football academy, 14-year-old Nina Kondo, would be “one to look out for”.

“She is a very good player, but because of her age we have to get dispensation for her to play.”

Kondo, who is from Nelson, is now studying in Masterton while training at the Ifill academy.

She was on holiday in Japan – her father, Tosh, is Japanese – in 2017 when she secured a trial with the professional Japan League club, Urawa Reds and was picked to train with their development squad for a few months last year.

Ifill has a full squad to choose from for today’s match apart from the injured Rutene, and Tui Dugan and Dylen Kingi, who are away at an Under-17 tournament in Auckland.

Meanwhile, Ifill was full of praise for former Wairarapa United player Callan Elliot, who made his A-League debut for the Wellington Phoenix last Saturday.

The 19-year-old came on as a substitute in the 8-2 drubbing of the Central Coast Mariners, and Ifill said his former teammate “didn’t put a foot wrong in the 30 minutes or so he was on the field”.

Elliot spent three years at Ifill’s academy and his mentor said it was “a proud moment as our first ever academy player made his professional debut”.

“I’m so pleased for him I hope there’s many more games to come” he said.

Elliot’s next opportunity could come on Sunday when the Phoenix host the West Sydney Wanderers at Westpac Stadium.