You couldn’t accuse Women’s U-17s coach Leon Birnie of easing himself and his coaching staff into the 2021/22 U-17s cycle.
After holding talent ID games across Aotearoa New Zealand, an initial group of around 250 players was eventually whittled down to the 34 who attended the recent first camp of the cycle in Auckland.
“We've taken in an extra six players than we normally would at this stage due to the quality on display in the ID games. It’s a real credit to all the environments and the work that's going on around the country – which admittedly has made it a lot more challenging to do selection, but this is a great problem to have,” he chuckles.
Casting the net as wide as possible at this stage of the cycle is key, says Birnie, who selected players from each of the six federations for this camp.
“A really important component of the U-17s cycle is making sure the ID process is done correctly. To achieve this we need to make sure that players are given the same opportunity to be seen across the country. So that's why now we're trying to increase the amount of ID we do and the amount of contact we have with all federations between camps.
“That way it doesn't matter where you play, where you live, where you're born in New Zealand, you get that same initial opportunity to be viewed, to be seen, to come into these environments.
"This time it just worked out that there were players of the level required from all of the federations, which is fantastic and obviously shows that there's really good work going on in this space.
“It also allows all regions or federations to have role models for the future players coming through. They can see that there are opportunities and a pathway for their journey regardless of where they live in the country.”
The focus of this first camp has been around players showing courage, as well as team building, introducing players to the mindset and standard needed to move into international football and identifying the support the players need to continue their development. With this being the beginning of a new two-year cycle, for most of the players this is their first time in an international environment.
Western Springs midfielder Lara Colpi relished the opportunity to be at an age group national team camp for the first time.
“This is my first time going to a camp like this, and it's honestly been a great experience so far. The girls and staff here are amazing, the standards are really high, so it's good to be a part of.
“Coming into an environment like this where everyone’s obviously at the top of their game and very competitive, that kind of thing has been a really enjoyable space to come into.”
This was echoed by Olivia Ingham, a former North Wellington player who now trains with Wellington Phoenix Academy and played for Capital Football in the 2020 ISPS Handa Women’s Premiership. She was involved in the previous U-17s cycle that was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel like we’ve all bonded as a team really well,” she says, noting that the group’s pre-camp preparations had helped the members to bond before getting on the training pitch together.
“We've been talking about courage on the Zoom calls and throughout this camp and how it's about taking risks and not being afraid to make mistakes. And if we do make mistakes just learning from them and encouraging everyone to be like that and just to enjoy the opportunity that we’ve been given and to give it our all.”
Article added: Monday 17 May 2021. Photographs courtesy Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz
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