Ian Foster has been part of plenty of special occasions at Eden Park across his career, but what is about to unfold on July 20 will be hard to top.
And there won’t be a rugby ball in sight.
The All Blacks coach will be in the stands for the opening game of the Fifa Women’s World Cup, with a chance of seeing his daughter Michaela take the field for the Football Ferns.
Her magical recent rise continued on Friday, when she was confirmed as part of the 23-strong New Zealand squad for the tournament.
It caps a remarkable 12 months, where she has quit her job as a teacher, picked up a Wellington Phoenix contract, impressed for the capital side, then gained a Ferns debut in February.
Off the back of four international appearances, Foster has risen rapidly up the pecking order.
“It’s very special,” Foster told the Herald. “You have a daughter who has walked a journey like all of them have and chased a dream, without really knowing how close it is going to be. It’s pretty special to see what she has achieved.
“Like any parents, you see the best in your kids. We’ve seen the talent she has and how she has gone about her work and she has always seemed to take the next step up with a degree of comfort. But you never know. I’ve been in the selection business long enough to know that you have to get your timing right, got to do the right things that coaches want and clearly she has shown that.”
Michaela’s mental toughness has been a defining factor of her career so far, as she has overcome considerable setbacks to make the top. She was a teenage star – captain of the New Zealand Under-17 team – but was then an unused substitute at the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in 2018.
From there she watched many contemporaries get Ferns opportunities, as she toiled away at San Diego University, before moving home at the end of her degree in 2022.
“As a family we talk a lot about the challenges that each of us have and how we go about it,” said Ian. “She has clearly seen, she knows a little bit about the ins and outs of international sport and pressures that come with it and has probably learnt a little bit along the way watching what I go through. But she is strong, focused and hopefully the best is yet to come.”
Mother Leigh was equally proud, as she watched her daughter being interviewed by numerous media outlets on Friday.
“Whatever she put her mind to, you could see her really persevere and work at it,” said Leigh. “There has been a few hard phonecalls – ‘yeah, I missed out on this’ – and they tend to be a bit longer with Mum and a bit shorter with Dad, but that is when Dad is usually running from one meeting to another. But you treasure those times too, because after a while they probably don’t talk to you that often and that long.”
Ian bought six tickets for the Norway game a month ago, figuring it would be a great occasion. It’s a busy period, as he left for Argentina on Saturday ahead of the test against the Pumas on July 9 before the Springboks game at Mt Smart on July 15.
“The Norway game is in a bye week on the Thursday after we play South Africa at Mt Smart - so that works well,” said Foster. “After that it gets a bit niggly. So I’ll probably miss the next two (v Philippines, July 25, v Switzerland, July 30) but I’ll be there in spirit and hopefully there is something beyond those games.”
Michaela admitted the speed of her elevation was hard to take in.
“It’s been crazy really,” she said. “Twelve months ago I was playing for Northern Rovers in the northern league, obviously that team and club was strong and helped me get into that Phoenix group, which was the goal. [But] to be in this position I am - I wasn’'t really thinking about it last year.”
She is also adjusting to being the second public figure in the family.
“I’m used to Dad being recognised,” laughed Michaela. “Once you make the Ferns you become a role model for those younger girls and boys. To understand that responsibility is huge, to know that you are in the media more, they see your face more. I enjoy it, the pressure and the responsibility.”