Last week’s Kia Orana Youth Football Festival has been touted as one of the best yet after a week of high intensity, entertaining football wrapped at the weekend.
The third edition of the bi-annual event didn’t feature any international participants, but with teams from five of the Cook Islands’ outer islands participating, Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro, the Rarotonga-based clubs were far from guaranteed an easy run to the finals.
The Kia Orana Youth Football Festival usually features just the U-15 age division for boys and girls, however this year expanded to include U-18 men’s and women’s teams.
Cook Islands Football Association (CIFA) competitions manager, Pauline Dean, said this year’s KOYFF was exciting and memorable.
“I would say this year’s festival was more intense than the last two festivals in terms of the outer island teams bringing their ‘A’ game this time,” she said.
Dean said that intensity from the teams representing the outer-islands meant some of the results weren’t what she’d expected.
“In the U-15 boys division, I was expecting one of the Rarotonga-based clubs to take it out, but it went to Atiu. As expected in the girls, Puaikura showed dominance from the get-go and proved too strong for any of the other teams to defeat.
“In the U-18 men it was an outer-island affair. The two Raro teams did give them a run fo their money however only Nikao Sokattak made it to the finals. In the U-18 women it was a fair balance between the Rarotonga and island teams.”
Supporters from across the Cook Islands flooded the capital throughout the week to support the young footballers, with the stands especially packed for the final on Saturday.
In the U-18 women’s division, Tupapa Maraerenga confirmed their dominance of domestic football in the Cook Islands after seeing off Aitutaki 2-1 to claim the title.
Puaikura finished in third place following their 3-0 victory over Mangaia in the third place play-off.
In the U-15 girls final at Takitumu Field, Puaikura defeated Auau Enua 3-0 to lift the silverware. Mauke finished in third-place after beating Mitiaro 3-1.
Dean was so impressed by the quality of the participating teams and the engagement throughout the festival from the teams and their fans, that it’s hard to pick a highlight from the week of football.
“Everyday was a highlight I must say, because you see different teams playing each time. We had people who flew over from their respective islands to support their island teams and the match venues were buzzing,” she said.
The festival also plays a role in the player development pathway for CIFA, as young footballers have an opportunity to put their best boot forward in the hopes of catching the eye of the association’s coaches and scouts.
“You had standout players, natural and raw talent, which I believe our technical team have been identifying for our academy programme,” she said.
“The festival definitely contributes to the growth of women’s football and players.”
Across each of the categories there were 31 teams participating in the 2021 edition of the KOYFF, which included seven teams in the U-18 women’s competition and eight in the U-15 girls.
U-18 Women: Puaikura, Atiu, Mangaia, Nikao Sokattak, Tupapa Maraerenga, Takitumu and Aitutaki
U-15 Girls: Puaikura, Atiu, Mangaia, Avatiu, Tupapa Maraerenga, Takitumu, Mauke, Mitiaro
2021 Kia Orana Youth Football Festival Results:
1 – Tupapa Maraerenga FC
2 – Aitutaki FA
3 – Puaikura FC
1 – Puaikura FC
2 – Mangaia FA
3 – Mauke FA