Exposing emerging talent to elite leagues and tournaments around the country is the secret to supremacy in football.
Birkenhead United are the proof of that assertion after claiming their fourth crown in the top boys’ division of the annual Lotto National Under-19 Tournament in Napier today.
“We were pretty fresh and we felt pretty confident,” Birkenhead coach Paul Hobson said, after they beat Waitakere City FC 2-0 in the main-draw final at a sun-drenched Bluewater Stadium, Park Island, this afternoon.
Hobson revealed he had a lion’s share of players from last year and their stint in first-team football, including time in the Chatham Cup campaign, was the difference.
The 52-year-old fulltime mentor suspected half of the champion squad would return to the Napier City Rovers-hosted tourney next year.
“We love coming here. It’s our favourite. It’s just as important to us as winning the Chatham Cup, you know, on a par.”
The victors took ownership from the opening whistle while Waitakere seemed content to just shift the ball around without taking much initiative or urgency to find a goal.
Maybe, just maybe, the boys in black were showing the effects of three days in the balmy Bay weather of the all-Auckland affair.
In just the third minute, Birkenhead drew first blood from Jackson Woods who had stabbed the ball into the net at the far post after a crisp cross from the far side.
A John Clout cornerkick from the wooden stand side of the hockey-turf end of the park stunned Waitakere in the 60th minute when it curled past everyone in front of the goalmouth to hit the roof of the net for a 2-0 lead to Birkenhead.
An air shot from Waitakere goalkeeper Lev Prokofyev summed up the runners-up day, displaying a similar body language to what Papakura City had shown in their 5-0 loss to Havelock North.
In the semifinals, Waitakere beat Petone FC (Wellington) 2-0 and Birkenhead overwhelmed Melville United (Hamilton) 3-0.
A composed Hobson said a teeming squad offered the luxury of rotating players in trying to tailor their game plan over a three-day tourney in Napier.
In claiming the bragging rights, Birkenhead became the side to win the elite division title here the most times.
Hobson said all four times were memorable because they had enabled the club to groom and gauge the worthiness of quality players over the years.
He commended the coaching structure and staff at Birkenhead where fitness also was a given.
Hobson felt the players at the tourney were a mature crop in their formative years so they were left to work on their own constitutions for a collective gain.
“We’re a fit team because we train three to four times in a week.”
It has been a start from the scratch for Hobson since he brought Birkenhead here for the first time in 2008 when they won the satellite division.
“So this is our 10th year and, I think, we’ve had eight finals in those years or something like that.”
Hobson was delighted to see Havelock North was in the main draw and perhaps the Rovers would follow suit after just missing out today after they got demoted three years ago.
“We’re really grateful to the people who put on this brilliant event because it’s an important event on our calendar for the young boys coming through,” said the affable coach who declined to join the photo and celebrations “because it’s their moment, not the coach”.
Republished from New Zealand Herald