When the Cook Islands U-16 girls take to the field against Papakura City FC at McClennan Park on Monday 19 July, it will be the first time in 497 days since a football was last kicked in an international encounter in the Oceania region.
That was in the last match of Group D of the 2020 OFC Champions League between AS Venus of Tahiti and Ba FC from Fiji, held in Mahina, French Polynesia.
It’s been even longer still since we experienced international women’s football. In that respect it’s been an incredibly long 676 days since the final of the OFC U-19 Women’s Championship between New Caledonia and New Zealand in the Cook Islands.
Two Cook Islands squads have made the journey to New Zealand shores, the U-16 girls and an U-15 boys teams, and as well as taking on a number of Auckland-based clubs, they’ll also be taking on the Māori Football Aotearoa youth teams.
Cook Islands Football Association (CIFA) Technical Director, also U-15 boys coach, Tahiri Elikana said the tour serves as a reward for the players’ ongoing commitment throughout the domestic football season, and a crucial development opportunity given the association’s ambitious plans to see its youth teams qualifying for an U-17 or U-20 World Cup.
“CIFA President Lee Harmon was the driving force behind the initiative, without it I believe our player development programmes would suffer,” Elikana said.
Harmon himself said he’s pleased the teams are leading the way in getting football back in action across the region.
“With borders being closed and travel restrictions around he world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re grateful,” Harmon said.
“The teams have been training for the past three months and we see this as an opportunity for them to continue on with their personal football development.”
In addition to playing against Papakura City, Fencibles, and Central United, the U-16 girls, coached by CIFA Women’s Football Development Officer Tupou Brogan-Patia, will play a showcase against the Pounamu Maori on Friday, July 23 at Ngahue Reserve.