It was described as a watershed moment for women's football and believed to be a world first for the code.

May 8 was the date, the day New Zealand Football agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement which will give the Football Ferns parity with their higher-profile All Whites counterparts.

Hawke's Bay youngsters hoping to crack the Football Ferns can embark on a pathway overseen by the New Zealand under-17 girls team's head coach, Leon Birnie, in his role as Central Football's women's development manager.

With the support of Unison and Hawke's Bay clubs Central Football are offering girls-only competitions for the first time.


Birnie, who has been involved with the national coaching scene for six years and is a former New Zealand under-20 team head coach, said the competitions will be implemented in a staged approach during the next five years.

"By offering girls-only environments we are looking to not only grow the game, but ensure we retain our players and they stay committed to football in the future. The new structures will provide more touches, more opportunities, increased enjoyment and increased retention of players to help support clubs and grow the women's game."

Birnie pointed out the new structure gives girls a clear pathway from sixth grade to 13th grade. Identified players will have the opportunity to play mixed football from ninth grade onwards.

"There is still a lot of benefit to girls playing in mixed grade comps. But by offering girls-only competitions we find girls enjoy the experience a lot more and keep going longer."

Players are exposed to three activities which are designed to develop players in a fun environment before playing their matches. Two hubs are being used for the comps: Park Island, Napier and Frimley Park, Hastings from 9am until 9.50am each Saturday.

"The Hawke's Bay clubs have been excellent and through increased promotion we have seen an 80 per cent growth of sixth grade female players this year," Birnie said.

Hawke's Bay has 122 sixth grade female players this season. Last year there were 65 and in 2016 there were 63.

"It's an exciting time for female players and I see the new formats as a positive step forward to help grow the female game across our region," Birnie said.


Unison, which supports many codes in the Bay, is also the main sponsor of the annual junior tournaments in the province which attract more than 1000 players to Park Island. The first of these will be staged on June 2 and the second one is on the final day of the season on August 25.

Earlier this month former Hastings Girls' High School student Sarah Morton was named in the Football Ferns squad to prepare for next month's match against Japan. The defender was one of two newcomers in the 21-strong squad.

In 2016 Morton played for New Zealand at the Under-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea. Birnie coached that New Zealand team.

That same year the then teenager from Tikokino moved to North Harbour's Northcote College to complete her Year 13 studies and enhance her chances of national selection. Before that move she had played for the Maycenvale Misfits club team in the Bay.

In the wake of the new girls-only comps being introduced in the Bay more Bay football players should go on to emulate Morton's feat.

New Zealand Football's revised Collective Bargaining Agreement offers four key factors: Pay parity, equal prize money, equal rights for image use and, most notably, parity across travel while representing New Zealand.

This means the women's players will be entitled to business class travel for flghts of six hours or more, giving them the same privileges as their male counterparts.

"The Football Ferns, who are ranked inside the top 20 in the world, are the flagship of women's football in New Zealand. They are role models for the 30,000 female players throughout our country. It is important to recognise their contribution and form a revised agreement alongside the Professional Footballers Association," New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin said at the time.

"This has been a positive negotiation and I would like to thank the PFA for the manner in which these discussions have taken place. We come out of these discussions well-aligned and excited about what our national teams can achieve in the next three years under this CBA," he added.

It's fair to say Hawke's Bay's girls-only comps could prove just as significant to the growth of the female game in the province as the May 8 announcement in the success of the Football Ferns on the international stage.