Two Hawke's Bay futsal players, Ethan Martin and Aidan Robson, will have a huge carrot in the back of their minds when they represent New Zealand for the first time at the Oceania Youth Championships in Auckland next month.
They know if their under-18 boys team wins their seven-team division they will be eligible for a berth at next year's Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires Argentina. That's providing the New Zealand under-18 girls don't win their five-team division at the October 4-7 championships being played at Bruce Pulman Park.
"Futsal rules only allow one team per country. But we will just focus on trying to win in Auckland first before we worry about who is going to Argentina and who isn't," 17-year-old Napier Boys' High School Year 13 student Martin said.
Like Martin, Hastings Boys' High School Year 12 student Robson, 17, was in the Hawke's Bay-dominated Central Region team which won the national under-19 boys title in July. Both will be representing their country for the first time next month.
"Putting on the silver fern for the first time is going to be pretty special. It's one thing to be selected and it's another to stay in the side for Argentina if we make it," flanker Robson said.
Joining the Kiwis in the boys division in Auckland will be Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Solomon Islands.
"We'll be going into the Oceanias a bit blind as we don't know how the island teams play. But what I've seen of the other players in our team at national tournaments we should have a strong chance," Robson said.
A member of the Hawke's Bay under-14 team which won the national title in 2014, Robson, has been playing futsal for seven years.
While he will have the luxury of being Hawke's Bay-based in the buildup to Argentina, if selected next year, defender Martin will have to juggle national commitments with his mechanical engineering studies at Waikato University. Martin pointed out this weekend's training camp in Wellington will give them an indication as to where they are ranked in their respective positions.
Martin said with training and playing commitments with the Hawke's Bay National League team in recent weeks they couldn't have had better preparation for their first taste of international duty. The Hawke's Bay team beat Manawatu and Wellington in pre-season outings last weekend.
Futsal Whites interim player-coach and futsal development officer for Auckland Football, Marvin Eakins will coach the boys under-18 team. Oceania tournament rules allow for the selection of 10 players instead of the usual 14.
"The most challenging part was not being to select the usual squad of 14 and that has meant some very good players have missed out," Eakins said.
Although both teams are age-restricted, most of Eakins squad has already starred at senior level for their federations.
"For example, Logan Wisnewski was a standout for WaiBOP in the national league last year. The balance of the squad is flexible and it will need to be with small numbers. Each player brings key strengths relative to their position and will all play an important part in our success."
As a Futsal Whites veteran, Eakins has been involved with the international scene for a while and still has to pinch himself at the remarkable progress that has been made in that time.
"To now have a clear pathway with the under-18 teams through to the Futsal Whites and Futsal Ferns is only going to create more growth and opportunities for players wanting to play at the highest level.
"Looking back to when I started my career to the opportunities now, it's hard to believe we have come this far as a futsal nation already. What I am looking forward to over the next couple of months is seeing all of the New Zealand representative players going out on the court and believing we can achieve great things," Eakins added.