As the rule of thumb goes, boys come to the park believing they know it all while girls turn up with a kitchen-sponge attitude to absorb the ins and outs of football.

That's what a jovial New Zealand under-17 girls' coach, Leon Birnie, of Napier, pretty much agrees to in explaining his passion and desire to continue mentoring his terrific teenagers.

"They just want to soak up all the information they can and they want to be as prepared as they can for whether it's training, a game or the world cup so I like to do that as well and it becomes a good challenge to provide them with that," says Birnie after New Zealand Football renewed his contract for another two years.

What also puts the 36-year-old coach's dedication into context is that he'll return to the drawing board with totally new players, as his current crop of high flyers graduate to the under-20 grade.


"The cycle before, when I took the under-20s, we had 11 available for the next cycle but this time just the way it panned out with player ID and players we felt were ready to go to the world cup there were none left for another cycle."

Birnie says with the fresh start comes a renewed vigour which is something he's looking forward to.

The ISPS Handa Halberg Awards nominee led the Kiwi teenagers to a ground-breaking third-place finish at the Fifa Under-17 Women's World Cup in Uruguay late last year.

Birnie and his squad, who became the first Kiwi national team to win a medal at a Fifa event, received four Halberg nominations as a result, including in the coach of the year category, but came away with the people's choice award only last month.

It wasn't easy for him to not want to progress to the under-20 with the outgoing class of talent.

"There was a part of me that wanted to continue with these girls to carry on with them to achieve more and help them with their career but, at the same time, I really enjoy the passion phase where it's transparent and making sure everyone gets an opportunity."

Birnie says his decision offers another mentor to work with the girls who also will hear a different voice.

Engaging with players and staff dedicated at an international plane to be successful is a joy to be around, he says.

A flashback to the then assistant Junior Football Ferns coach Leon Birnie with 4-month-old daughter Harper before jetting off to the Costa Rica Fifa World Cup in 2014. Photo/file
A flashback to the then assistant Junior Football Ferns coach Leon Birnie with 4-month-old daughter Harper before jetting off to the Costa Rica Fifa World Cup in 2014. Photo/file

"Working with females, specifically, is something I love because they just have the hunger and desire to learn," he says, as 5-year-old daughter Harper is into the beautiful game.

It never tires Birnie to inspire teenagers who always have questions so he relishes working alongside them to come to solutions.

"They always want to know why or how [they] can improve — you know, if we do that and do this, how is it going to have an impact so they are really hungry to get more information out of you."

The Central Football development officer suspects it has something to do with their age, where there seems to be a sense of awareness and inquisitiveness which lend to a challenging but equally rewarding result.

Birnie comes into the new cycle with one two-year stint as assistant coach and another two as head coach.

"It was something special over there and I was rewarded for my role and I'm happy.

"Absolutely, I love coaching at this level and I've got a hunger to keep going so to get this opportunity again is great."

He is embarking on another scouting mission around the country regardless of what catchment areas the code is divided into.

"It's exciting to try to piece together the puzzle of where everyone sits," he says. "That takes a bit of time but I'm lucky that I've got good networks around me and federations with programmes where these girls have been in so I can view them."

In December he had attended an age-group tournament where he had seen the talent available for the next under-17 cycle which will give him a head start.

However, he still intends to cast out wide his talent net to see if there is something they haven't picked up on.

The father of two isn't sure if he will retain his current stable of mentors who have aspirations to progress to the higher age-group levels but all the roles will be advertised.

He hopes to put his hand up for a role with the Football Ferns at the end of this tenure.

"If that doesn't work I have the option of going abroad to work with national teams or do I stay locally top move into something like Hawke's Bay United, which will be a new challenge in itself," he says, lauding employers Central Football for again releasing him to coach for another two years.

Birnie was a talented midfielder who represented Thirsty Whale Hawke's Bay United in the ISPS Handa-sponsored national summer league before becoming their assistant coach under incumbent Brett Angell in 2014. He embarked on a coaching career at 21, was the national U20 coach in 2015-16 before finding himself at the helm of the U17s to Costa Rica in 2014.

He has never been nominated for the Hawke's Bay Sports Awards, to be staged on May 25.