The Heilala Manongi Challenge Cup concluded this week with eight teams consisting of Tonga’s best and brightest young footballers from Vava’u, ‘Eua, Ha’apai and Tongatapu participating in the inaugural event.
The Challenge Cup concludes the first edition of the Heilala Manongi programme which saw mini-tournament’s run across Tonga’s island groups in an effort to boost participation in women’s football.
From the mini-tournaments, coaches selected the top players to form two teams from Vava’u, one from Ha’apai and two from ‘Eua to join three Tongatapu-based teams to compete in the Challenge Cup at the Loto-Tonga Soka Stadium.
In the final, Tongatapu Vahe Hahake took on Tongatapu Vahe Loto in what proved to be an enthralling encounter that came down to the wire. Inseparable at the end of the game, the match went to a penalty shootout in which Vahe Loto triumphed 7-6.
Organisers said the event, which ran over one and a half weeks was incredibly successful, with the players fully focused on doing well.
“For many of the girls it was their first time coming to Tongatapu so we organised a one-day tour of the island,” said Tonga Football Association Women’s Football Development Officer Adelaide Tu’ivailala.
“We discussed doing more, but when they arrived they were concentrating on their football training. The teams from the outer islands were very competitive, and that really showed that they followed the Heilala Manongi curriculum.”
For Tu’ivailala, the Challenge Cup has been the culmination of a lot of hard work behind the scenes, to see women’s football in Tonga return to form.
“As an organiser, I am so pleased to see the teams from the outer islands, Vava’u and Ha’apai, performing so well on the pitch! Now the teams in Tongatapu are shocked to see there is a lot of outstanding young girls out there and they’re challenging for their place in the U-17 national squad, and booking their places at the Centre of Excellence,” she said.
“I think, we are now bridging the gap being the main island and the outer islands.”
The event was also an opportunity for the young players from Tonga’s outer islands to gain competition experience.
“One of the highlights was having these teams experience what a tournament is like. When they marched in with the FIFA flag together with the FIFA anthem, they felt so emotional, some of them even cried!”
Tu’ivailala said from the Challenge Cup, 48 girls have been selected to kick-start the Centre of Excellence, which will get underway in March 2021.