The question had to be put to Hawke's Bay's Aleesha Heywood, coach of the history-making Central under-14 girls' football team.

How big an influence did the Leon Birnie-coached New Zealand under-17 girls' team which won bronze at last year's Fifa World Cup in Uruguay have on her troops?

"I did talk about Leon's motto 'Dare to dream' to the girls in the buildup to our final game against Auckland," head coach Heywood replied as she reflected on her team's six-game unbeaten run at their national tournament in Wellington last month.

"It was the first time any team from Central had won any of the age groups in the 14-year history of the tournament and we were the only team across all age groups to win every game at the tournament," Heywood explained.


Central beat Southern 5-1, Waikato-Bay of Plenty 1-0, Northern 2-0, Mainland 2-1, Capital 2-1 and Auckland 3-2. Despite this success only two of Heywood's players, Hawke's Bay keeper Anna McCaw and Taranaki striker Holly Kleinsman made the tournament team.

"I thought another couple were unlucky not to make it," Heywood said.

McCaw was one of eight Hawke's Bay players in the side. The others were fellow keeper Jaimee Gerbes, captain and midfielder Milla Green, centre backs Brooke Calder and Stella Marshall, right back Sarah Tong, right winger Jaimie Evans and left winger Hollie Gee.

Heywood, who like Birnie has a development officer's role with Central Football, was in her third season as head coach of the side. She had Leah Gubb of Taranaki as her assistant coach.

In 2017 Central finished fourth and six of those players returned with the team last month. Ten of the national title-winning side will be eligible for this year's campaign.

"We've got a good chance of going back-to-back," said Heywood, who will coach the team again this year.

The fact Central only had three training sessions before the tournament added to the significance of their feat. After their last training they had a match against the Manawatū under-12 boys and in their only other warm-up game they drew with Capital.

"The Central region is so vast geographically and that restricted the number of our trainings. But the girls still gelled together so well. They all had good personalities and were easy to coach," Heywood added.


In addition to each age group title up for grabs at the tournament points are accumulated to determine the top region. Central finished as the third best region.

Central has won the top region award in the past.

■ Following confirmation of the OFC Champions League draw and Auckland City's participation in the Lunar New Year Cup several changes have been made to the ISPS Handa Premiership draw for the remainder of the season. Two of the six changes are games Hawke's Bay United will play.

Hawke's Bay United's week 18 fixture against Waitakere United will be played at The Trusts Arena in Auckland on February 24 with kick off at 4.35pm. This match will be live on Sky Sport.

Hawke's Bay United's week 19 match against Tasman United will be played at Napier's Bluewater Stadium on March 3 with a 4.35pm kick off. This game will also be live on Sky Sport.