Football Ferns Development 4, Birkenhead United 4
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, April 2 2017
It was a tough call, no doubt about it. Pros and cons were carefully weighed up. Would the chosen league provide the best challenge? Would the move weaken the Northern League? What about player welfare? Would somebody please think of the children?
And that was just me agonising over which game to attend this weekend!
Being day one of women’s NRFL 2017, I felt a bit guilty not covering one of the several season openers taking place across the city but ultimately the lure of this fixture was just too strong.
It was the first game of a controversial new plan that sees our domestic based Football Ferns looking to close the gap with their overseas based professional teammates by playing in the Under 17 Boys’ Conference.
I was really keen to check out how it looks and feels as soon as possible, and looking at the draw I saw that they will be playing under lights next week. So it was either go this week, or put it off indefinitely as the season gets into full swing and other priorities compete for my attention.
Go this week it had to be.
Once that decision was made, I asked around about this Birko conference team to get a sense of what I should expect. The general consensus was that I shouldn’t expect too much. If you’re 17 and talented at Birko, so the conventional wisdom goes, you are probably playing reserves if not knocking on the door of the first team! “The Ferns will win by five” was one prediction that seemed to encapsulate the mood of my focus group…
And when the first goal of the game went in I thought I understood what they meant. It was a gem of a back pass from a Birko defender that looped in over his own keeper’s head. Hmmmmm…
Shortly after that, Aimee Phillips broke free of her marker and drove in a nice goal to make it 2-0 and all predictions were well and truly on track.
But then the boys found their mojo and slotted two goals of their own by Louis Grey and Mohammed Tammin respectively to send us into the break with the scores level.
The Ferns took the lead back early in the second half when Meikayla Moore got on the end of a free kick and nodded home. But then Birko struck again when Byron Hollington drew Anna Leat off her line and lifted the ball over her outstretched arms to bring us to 3-3. “Come on, they can’t handle it!!” was the jubilant claim of one of the Birko players.
Leat managed a stunning save at the feet of Hollington 1v1 shortly after his goal, but she couldn’t do anything to stop a corner ricocheting its way in off a Ferns defender to give Birko their first lead of the game with about half an hour of the match remaining.
The Ferns fought hard to create more goals as the match wore on, even though they looked absolutely buggered in the Auckland humidity, and they finally got their deserved equaliser at around about 75th minute mark when Jane Barnett found herself in some space and made no mistake to complete the scoring.
All in all it was a thoroughly interesting match. One of the stated aims of the exercise was to get the team scoring more goals and they certainly did that. And it wasn’t just even on the scoreboard – I thought the two teams were well matched physically and if this was anything to go by the Ferns management have chosen the right league to play in. There is of course a long way to go before that can be said with any certainty though.
The big question in my mind is whether or not my informants were right about the strength of this Birko team and whether the Ferns will struggle against the stronger opposition they are likely to face.
At the risk of being carted off to The Hague for using the most annoying cliché in sports writing – time will tell! I will certainly continue to follow this project with great interest.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.