Opportunities needed for southern players

Opportunity can often be the biggest barrier to making a national team.

Living in the right city to get in front of a coach can be a bigger factor than how good you are.

It seems to be a factor in the lack of southern representation in national women's football squads.

The ones who make teams tend to be those who move to Auckland.

The trend did not change when a New Zealand A squad - featuring a mix of Football Ferns and others - for a training camp this week was announced. There were 28 players named in the squad but not one player from the south.

That comes despite Dunedin Technical winning the Kate Sheppard Cup final 4-2 last year.

The side it beat in that final, Forrest Hill Milford United, has three players in the squad.

Not one player from the champion Tech team has played in either a senior, under-20 or under-17 New Zealand side.

Former Dunedin Technical coach Graeme Smaill, who stepped down after last year's win, said breaking into the senior squads could be tough.

Those tended to be fairly settled and were full of quality players.

It was in the age grade teams he felt the south could be at a disadvantage. The players were not viewed by national coaches as often as those in Auckland or Christchurch.

That left them having to perform at camps, which could come down to form over one or two days.

An example was a trial that had been held last year in Dunedin, giving those in the south one chance to show themselves.

In comparison, those in bigger centres could do that several times a week.

The quality of a star would still be seen, but the mid-lower squad players could struggle.

In those spots if there was a toss up, more often than not a big city player would get the nod.

Coaches naturally chose players they could work with regularly in order to develop them, teach them systems and get them to gel within the squad.

It has left talented players slipping through the cracks, while others have been forced to move north.

A tweak in the system could help change that.

Smaill said having coaches working in conjunction with New Zealand Football in the regions could be a way forward. They could track players, work on developing them and test them throughout the year.

That would allow players aspiring to national teams to remain at home.

From an emotional standpoint, it was a big move to ask a teenager to move to the other end of the country by themselves.

It would show younger players it was possible to make those teams if they saw someone from their club or region making one.

That had flow-on effects, as the most notable pathway to making the senior New Zealand teams was the age-group system.

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