The pathway from dreams to reality is always there so you can say 15 years ago a group of Napier Marist FC members was sharp enough to spot it when it started a junior club at its Park Island base.

It's that sort of vision and commitment that has resulted in the Jamie Dunning-coached Marist team entering the Central Federation League for the first time this winter.

"We had quite a bit of input at the time and we had an association with Wynton Rufer so the young kids went up to tournaments in Auckland and we developed a programme here," says club secretary Kevin Murphy of the former All Whites striker and arguably the country's most successful professional in the beautiful game.

However, the club established an academy this year that took the development programme to another plane from the pilot one.


Add to that a sister-city relationship with Celtic FC in Scotland over the past four years and the Napier outfit is beginning to realise the results of that collective vision that has yielded six senior teams and four Hawke's Bay United youth squad members who progressed to the national Premiership last summer.

The association with Celtics is on hold this year as the Napier club tries to mentor about 80 youngsters in their academy, believed to be the largest in the Bay.

"Our whole philosophy is to develop our own players and to give as many of them as possible the opportunity to play at the highest level that they can so competing in the Federation League is a step up for us as a club," says Murphy, revealing that ascendancy has given it some power to pull talent from outside the club.

Not relying on imports is a Utopian ambition because homegrown talent gravitate to universities around the country so additional marquee players from outside the province — akin to what rugby and basketball do — is inevitable in football, he says.

Dunning, who graduated with an A licence early this year, will be at the helm of his Alexander Electric-sponsored team when they take on fellow Fed League campaigners away against New Plymouth Rangers in a midday kick off in the first round of the Chatham Cup match tomorrow.

Title contenders Building King Havelock North Wanderers kick off at midday against fellow Fed League side North End (Palmerston North) at Guthrie Park at midday today before Central League defending champions Thirsty Whale Napier City Rovers begin their campaign away against Palmerston North Marist (Fed League) at 2pm.

All three Bay sides should progress to the next round.

Dunning said the Napier academy opened its doors in late March.


"We're just trying to bring the elite bunch through plus give the other ones a stable base to develop their skills, something the club has been doing for the last few years."

The assistant Bay United coach says Marist is in a great space with six players progressing to the national summer league in the last four years.

Two elite players in Ben Lack and Jorge Akers, who played for Bay United, are representing the Miramar Rangers club while studying in Wellington.

Napier Marist player Tai Barham is among the players in the Federation League this year who will help pave a pathway to Central League promotion in three years or so. Photo/file
Napier Marist player Tai Barham is among the players in the Federation League this year who will help pave a pathway to Central League promotion in three years or so. Photo/file

"Kids and parents can see that now so if we can start developing the rest of these boys it'll be great."

In three years or so, the plan is to gain promotion to Central League in the mould of the Wanderers.

Ask what the goal was in their debut Fed league season, the Englishman says it's a basic desire to compete to see where it takes them.

After a first up 8-2 whipping at the hands of defending champions Palmy North Marist the Ethan Dent-captained newbies have done well in a league where some teams appear to be making up numbers.

They have yet to play the derby against the Chris Greatholder-coached Wanderers but Dent last weekend was upbeat about their chances of keeping the so-called favourites honest.

"Look we've gone four on the spin so we're just going to give it a good go to see if we can finish in the top two in pushing Havelock and [Palmy] Marist all the way," Dunning said.

Last winter, Napier Marist came agonisingly shy in their semifinal Federation Cup (knockout) match to Eltham FC (Taranaki) when they lost 3-2.

Two seasons ago, the youthful side had competed in the Chatham Cup.

The club proudly live streams its games, including Bay commentators, from its Fed League matches on Bond Field, on the backdrop of Bluewater Stadium, at Park Island.

Napier Marist squad: Ryan Todd (GK), Lee Jackson, Joel Restieaux, Vinnie MacKirdy, Harry Mason, Luis Toomey, Tommy Tidy, Josh Murphy, Tai Barham, Ethan Dent (c), Mustafa Can, Ethan Ladd, Jonty Underhill, Yeshnil Naiker, Ian Cutler, Jayden Gordon, Bongani Sikupa, Mitchell Dick, Harry Lack, Jackson Durrington, Wilson McCullough (RGK).

Coach: Jamie Dunning.
Manager: Martin Akers.