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New door opens for local talent

Wairarapa United captain Tui Dugan, left, and fellow Phoenix Academy member Macey Fraser at the launch of the Phoenix Australian W-League side at Sky Stadium. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

W-League tempts Dugan to remain


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The inclusion of the Wellington Phoenix in the Australian W-League could be enough to keep Masterton’s Tui Dugan in New Zealand.

The Tumu ITM Wairarapa United captain joined the Phoenix Academy this year. She and fellow academy player Macey Fraser were the faces of the launch of the W-League team at Wellington’s Sky Stadium last Friday.

Since the Capital Football W-League finished in August, Dugan has been weighing her options to further her football career, including a US university scholarship, a strong possibility because she holds dual New Zealand-American citizenship.

Dugan has been named in the New Zealand Under-20 squad and combined with the news that the Phoenix’s women’s team has been given the green light, that could be enough to keep the talented 18-year-old in New Zealand.

“It’s definitely thrown a spanner in the works,” Dugan said.

“I’ve made the New Zealand Under-20s camp for October, and that will probably be my look-in if I was to have a go at this year.

“There are only 11 spots for Kiwis in the [W-League] team, and it will be very competitive to get into that, so I doubt whether it will be this season. But it’s really cool for it to be there, and it’s just something else telling me to stay in New Zealand – but we’ll see.”

Dugan said with the Phoenix and NZ Football working closely together, most of the W-League squad will be made up of Football Ferns international players.

“Of course, there are people playing in other professional teams, so there will be quite a few spots in my age group, but I’m quite new into the New Zealand football scene so my chances probably aren’t that great.”

Wairarapa United women’s coach Paul Ifill. PHOTOS/FILE

Wellington Phoenix legend and Wairarapa United women’s coach Paul Ifill feels that Dugan, who he coached for the past seven years, has the attributes to take the step up.

“It might not be now with her, because she’s young. It might be that she’s in and around that squad and doesn’t make her mark until a later date,” Ifill said.

“Like I always say with her, never put anything past her, because she’s worked so hard to get to where she is, and she certainly won’t leave any stone unturned, that’s for sure.

“Realistically she’s one of the best under-20s in the country, and if the club are doing it the right way, which I’m sure they will be, they’ll be looking to develop players and build for the future.

“Obviously she’s already gone down to the academy there, so they know exactly what she can do, and I think she’s put herself in a great position.”

Ifill said that if Dugan can make it in the professional league, it would be a boost for football in Wairarapa.

“That could be massive for our area because it’s a direct pathway. You can see that you can turn up at 10 or 11 years old and you can play in my academy or Wairarapa United or Douglas Villa, and then you can go on to the next stage, and that’s really important.”

Ifill said there are other players from Wairarapa United such as Samoan international striker TJ Lyne-Lewis and midfielder Kennedy Bryant who could have the potential to make the grade.

“It gives them something realistic now, rather than just coming and playing and it’s all good fun. You can actually say if they have a good season, you can go and knock on the Phoenix’s door and try and get them a trial.”

Tui Dugan, left, challenges a Victoria University player in a W-League game.

Ifill is excited about the flow-on effects now that the Phoenix and NZ Football finally got the go-ahead from the Australian Professional Leagues after being denied at the last minute at previous attempts.

“I think the big thing is that is all the kids out there now looking up to these people, and when we’re coaching in the academies, and at these grassroots, you’re going to create 11 role models straight away, which is really cool.”

He said the inclusion takes on even more importance with Australia and New Zealand co-hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

“You’ve got Australia, who are already big hitters on the world stage, and they regularly get decent results against anybody.

“I think we’ve got to try and find a way to bridge the gap because I don’t think the New Zealand team was probably where it should be in terms of results and performances at the Olympics.

“We need to be better, and this is one of the things that we can do.

“You’ve got a professional team on your doorstep, somebody to shout for, somebody to watch, somebody to aspire to be, and all these role models – I think it’s massive for the game in New Zealand.

“I hope it works out, and I hope they do a good job, and I’m certainly looking forward to watching it myself.”

Like the men’s side, the women will be based in Australia for the early part of the 2021-22 season because of the travel restrictions around covid-19, but Ifill hopes there will be some home games at Sky Stadium.

“Obviously it would be better if it was based here but given the covid implications I think it’s the only way they can get running with it straight away.

“I don’t know how long that’s going to be, it could be for the foreseeable future unfortunately, but that’s the same as the men’s right now, isn’t it? There’s not much we can do, and it is what it is.”

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