Wanaka's first priority is to stay in premiership

It may be the new kid on the block, but Wanaka Associated Football Club says it is keen to stamp its mark on the Southern Premier League this season.

The club will be taking part in the tournament for the first time, and is one of two additions to the league, alongside Grants Braes Football Club, which returns after an absence of about five years.

Wanaka AFC director of football Thomas Van Hees said the club was "very excited'' to be a part of the competition, even though it was still in its infancy.

"We had a vision for the next three years and [being in the Southern Premier League] wasn't one of our main focus points.

"The opportunity came and we took it. It came a little bit earlier than we wanted but it's actually better this way, to be honest.''

Football South chief executive Chris Wright said last week Fooball South was looking at introducing a championship league, which would act as the second tier to the premier league.

If the proposal goes ahead, the premier league would be reduced to eight teams and three premier teams would be relegated to the championship at the end of this season.

Van Hees said Wanaka's first priority this season was to stay in the premiership.

"We've got a spot and we're going to defend that spot. We want to stay in there.

"It's going to be a challenge but it's going to be a good one.''

The club has three senior teams going into this season, and with the top team heading into the premier league, the two other teams would move up a grade in the Central Otago League, Van Hees said.

"Our second team playing a division up in the Central Otago League will create better players here.

"Basically, the quality is going up as the level is going up for the first, second and third team.''

Playing at the highest level in the region would "put football on the map'' in Wanaka and also allow the club to keep its promising youth products, rather than seeing them leave for greener pastures.

"There's about six or seven players coming through the age groups.

"It's a very good step for us to keep them here instead of sending them to Dunedin,'' Van Hees said.

The premier league kicks off at the end of next month, and the club had "plenty of work to do'' before then.


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