Shooting for goal with Tauranga’s football talent

Tauranga City AFC head of youth talent development Maia Ririnui and director of football Barry Gardiner. Photo: John Borren.

At the relatively new playing fields at Oceandowns Reserve, Mount Maunganui, Maia Ririnui and Barry Gardiner are getting set up for a pre-season training session for Tauranga City AFC.

As players trickle in, the two NZF/OFC B licensed coaches are placing cones on the turf for the evening session. As always, starting from the ground up.

The Bay of Plenty is a hotbed for football talent and in no place is that talent pool more evident than at TCAFC.

The club’s U17s won the national title in December, defeating a Wellington Phoenix youth side which serves the country’s only professional football team. The U19 side were winners in 2019 and beaten finalists in 2020.

Much of the success is down to the club’s junior and youth development programmes. The TCAFC Skills Centre and Talent Development Programme were first launched in 2018 and the winning results of the club’s youth teams showcases their success. Now, the programmes are being officially accredited by New Zealand Football.  

It is the first of its kind for such a programme in the Bay of Plenty and something the club are clearly proud of.

“It’s great to have this recognition,” says Barry, the club’s director of football. “A lot of work goes into these programmes, on and off the pitch. We have the support of some very good coaches and feel we’re making good progress with youth teams achieving at national tournaments and young players progressing into senior football at our club and elsewhere.”

Maia is head of youth talent development. He coached the under-17s side that won the national title at Western Springs, Auckland, in December.

He points out that the accreditation is a welcome reward for the club’s hard work.

“We’ve been doing the same thing for two years now. It will help us in terms of a bit more profile, possibly attracting a few more players.”

He says the pathway for talented youngsters at City does not necessarily stop at Links Avenue, their home ground.

Currently, seven young players on the books of the Wellington Phoenix have come through the BOP club’s system, another testament to the level of coaching on offer.

But two or three have turned that chance down in order to remain in the current programme.

“We can provide that programme to cater for them here,” Barry says. “They don’t have to go anywhere.”

It is not just the elite pathway the club are enthusiastic about. They want to ensure anyone who comes under their umbrella gets the best out of the coaching on offer.

“We want to make sure that no matter what level that player is we cater for them in that system,” says Barry. “If we can make them have a really good experience with us as a club and stay in football for the rest of their life, then that for me is a win as well.”

TCAFC’s SKC and TDP programme resume this month. TDP is back from February 9, with the programme open to all interested players for a free, three-week identification phase. SKC starts on February 15. For more information, contact:


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