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Golden opportunity

Wairarapa United goalkeeper Scott Morris is playing for Hawke’s Bay in the national league. PHOTO/FILE

New competition a chance for Wai United to grow and keep local talent

FOOTBALL

CHRIS COGDALE
[email protected]

Wairarapa United legends Phil Keinzley and Paul Ifill said the introduction of a new national league could provide the club with massive opportunities.

NZ Football confirmed on Tuesday the biggest changes to their domestic national leagues in a decade, with the priority put on youth development and sustainability.

The men’s league will change to three club-based conferences from the 2021 season.

The top four teams from the northern conference, three from the central conference, two from the southern conference, and the Wellington Phoenix development side will progress to the national championship.

Teams must field at least two players aged under 20, and are limited to four foreign players, plus one other from an Oceania Confederation member nation.

The women’s league will introduce an eighth team and become a hybrid competition of clubs and federation teams.

Keinzley, who coached Wairarapa United to victory in the 2011 Chatham Cup, believes the move is a godsend.

“Now a [local] player doesn’t have to go to play for Hawke’s Bay or somewhere else,” he said.

“They can stay with their club, and there’s a definite pathway right through to the world club competition. That’s a unique opportunity for a province such as ours.

“I think we have to show that we have aspirations of making that top three, but if it just looks like we’re in survival mode, we’re going to really struggle.

“So, we must be really proactive in our thoughts, and the limit on overseas players means that it does put a lot more importance on your Kiwis.”

Women’s coach and veteran playmaker Ifill, who operates the Paul Ifill Football Academy [Pifa] at Rathkeale College, agreed that the changes provide “a little bit of a carrot for the players”.

“You don’t just want a youth league; you want a competitive senior league that young players can play in,” he said.

“It’s around youth development. That fits with what I’m doing and with what we’ve been doing at the club over the past couple of years,” he said.

“We are well set up to transition into that whereas some clubs probably aren’t.

“You look at what we’ve had to do this year, with Scott [Morris] going to Hawke’s Bay, Jonty [Roubos], and Noah [Boyce] have gone to the Phoenix, and in the past, I’ve had to send players down to Tasman.

“Now, if we’re good enough, we get the opportunity to keep them and play national league football at the end of the season.”

The former Phoenix star, however, warned about diluting the competition.

“I’m hopeful that NZ Football have thought about this, that there needs to be some sort of loan system at the end of the season as well because there will be too many good players not playing national league.

“Take the Central League – if Napier, Olympic and Miramar, were the top three, you’ve got all those very good players at Western Suburbs not playing national league.”

Ifill said that the younger players needed the good senior players to learn from.

“I know from coming through as a kid I learned just as much from watching how the senior players did things than what I did from being coached because the coach can’t spend all his time just on you.

Ifill was confident that Pifa and Wairarapa United had done enough over the past few years to retain most of the 2020 squad and build on that to make a serious challenge in next year’s Central League.

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