Short, sharp test for youth

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

WIN all games and you are in the play-offs - it's as simple as that for just about any competition in any code.

While that may be the edict in sport parlance, it's certainly not a given when it comes to the annual Under-19 Youth Championship in Napier.

Just ask Rovers stalwart Roy Stanger who has been involved as a coach with the Football Central (Wellington clothing company)-sponsored tournament for more than a decade.

"It's difficult for a team to qualify. You can go through undefeated and still not make the cut," says the 62-year-old who will be accessible at Park Island from today to coach Vincent Latham and his assistant, Terry Parkin.

"Look, I've been doing it [coaching] for about 12 years and no game has been an easy one.

"No teams are going to lie down and say have the points. You'll have to earn every point to qualify," Stanger says after Rovers failed to make the cut last year with Lower Hutt going on to win.

The hosts kick off their campaign in group B at 10am today against Auckland powerhouses Three Kings on pitch 1 in games that will be played for 25 minutes each way.

The Rilley O'Meagher-captained Blues will then face Wellington Olympic at 1pm on pitch 2 before taking on another Auckland powerhouse Waitakere United at 4pm on the same pitch.

Tomorrow, they will foot it with Albany United (Auckland) at 9.30am on pitch 1 before the last pool game against Tawa (Wellington) at 12.30pm.

Quarterfinals will be played at 3.30pm with semifinals from 9am on Monday before the final at the Bluewater Stadium from midday.

The only other Bay team in the premier grade, Maycenvale United, are in arguably the toughest pool, group C, kicking off on pitch 1 against defending champions Lower Hutt at 11am today.

The Dion Adams-coached Vale face Petone (Wellington) at 1pm on pitch 3 and they finish the day against East Coast Bays (Auckland).

Tomorrow, the Hastings club side, with BJ Christenson, play Glenfield Rovers (Auckland) at 9.30am on pitch 3 and at 12.30pm they take on Papatoetoe (Auckland).

O'Meagher, who is in his third tournament but returning after overcoming a torn hip flexor muscle, says the abbreviated time means scoring first is vital as teams are adept at defending.

No doubt for the centreback, there's an element of gambling involved in letting their midfielders and strikers surge forward to score a goal but, at the same time, ensuring the opposition don't slip one past them in counterattacks.

"There's a lot to give but also a lot to lose," the 17-year-old Napier Boys' High School head boy says.

Midfielder Luke Chapman, who savoured Central League glory in winter with the Grant Hastings-coached Bluewater Napier City Rovers side, sees himself as one of the seniors who will help the youngsters.

"They are all talented players but being a little more experienced we'll be helping them out."

While he isn't sure what it will take to make the cut, Chapman, 18, a Mainfreight storeman, says Rovers are a decent team "so whoever can turn up can win".

The Blues finished fifth in a tournament at Upper Hutt a fortnight ago.

O'Meagher says: "We only lost a game in a warm-up to Karori on penalty kicks [5-3] so turning up on the day is a huge factor in the tournament."

He feels while Park Island is habitually blustery, the fresh westerlies will be important come the coin toss.

While he and Chapman feel there are many coaches who have helped them in their budding careers, O'Meagher says father and son Jeff and Rob Doolan are instrumental in moulding his pathway as Bay age-group mentors.

O'Meagher says Wellington Phoenix school of excellence midfielder Tom Biss has shown what players from the region can achieve.

"Phoenix is just one team from New Zealand [in the A-League] so I wouldn't rule out moving to Australia where there are more opportunities," says the former New Zealand under-17 (2010-11) representative who hopes to nail a berth in the national under-20 squad for the 2015 World Cup in New Zealand.

Vale assistant coach Ritchie Howard says his lads, who won the satellite tourney last year, have been training for the past five weeks in their historic debut in the premier division.

"On the day we can make anyone work for a result," Howard says.

"We've set our targets and shouldn't be afraid of anybody."

Ole Academy (Wellington) player Harry Morton and Corey Adams, who belongs to the Kevin Fallon-run Mags Academy (Auckland), are their marquee players with Hawke's Bay United Academy trio Christenson, Tuhiwai Kennedy, who has returned from a Phoenix training stint, Mitch Webber, a New Zealand futsal representative, and Angus Kilkolly forming the backbone of their campaign.

"Apart from Harry and Corey, we've been playing together all year so we have set our standards pretty high," Howard says.

Havelock North, Napier Marist and Taradale teams are in the satellite section of the tourney.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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