14th Grade NRFL Boys Season Review

Head Coach and Junior, Youth & Community Manager Jamie Smith reflects on the 2021 season with our 14th Grade Boys in the NRFL

2021 was a season of transition for Northland FC, developing our TDP programme and club philosophy for the next 5 years, and the 14th grade boys’ season can be seen in a similar vein. New teammates Ethan Peterson and Tom Lydiard joined us from the inaugural development programme; both have shown the ability, commitment and passion expected of those representing their region and have raised the game to the level superbly. The team were also able to compete in the NRFL league for the first time, having had last season cut frustratingly short, and test themselves against some of the best youth teams in New Zealand.

Despite changes, the team started the season well with a resounding win against Western Springs. Matthew Philander and Will Gross scoring some fantastic goals, showing their clinical edge and creativity in front of goal. This was followed by a close game against Melville and victory against Auckland City, where the team demonstrated their tactical intelligence and adaptability by successfully executing a new formation. Two cut-in goals from Archie Knox, assisted by some killer passes from Lucas Lawton, were enough to ensure the result. It was great to see the camaraderie and friendships formed over the last few years continue to grow, particularly during the off-field activities, van journeys and the trip to watch Wellington Phoenix!

The following game against Northern Rovers was a challenging one; failing to achieve a result the boys expected, bookings galore and frustration clearly visible on the field. Whilst the teams were evenly matched for ability, Northern Rovers were able to remain calm and seal victory. Football being 90% mental and 10% physical is a much-overused cliché, but the sentiment behind the words rings true and goes a long way to explaining the teams results in the succeeding period. Overcoming obstacles and learning how to deal with defeat is a difficult but necessary step in any players development. After some tough results, I was incredibly proud to see the team begin this process and overcome this challenge collectively. Captain Toby Hynes was instrumental in this regard; pushing the team to continue to train hard, commit to the team values and highlight the teams progress even when the score-line did not reflect their performance. The importance of remaining united as a team during these periods is essential and it was impressive to see Blake Farmiloe and Max Eckstein support the group and remind everyone the value of being part of a team!

This increased perseverance was demonstrated in a very impressive first half performance against Auckland United at Trigg Stadium. The team put in a monumental defensive display, lead by Jacob Jackson and Connor Bryham and we were unlucky to not be ahead at the break from a brilliant counterattack initiated by Frojer Frobel. Frojer’s skills and pace have always been a huge asset to the team and it has been pleasing to see him apply both to create deadly counter-attacks and scoring chances throughout the season. Whilst the eventual result did not go the team’s way, it showed the incredible character and determination of the group of players and was a huge improvement on the performance against the same opposition the previous year. This was followed by another improved performance against East Coast Bays, where the team managed to remain composed despite conceding an early goal and battled hard, with a particularly notable attacking display from Charlie Kelly on the wing.

The return fixture against Melville saw the team finally achieve the rewards for the effort they had shown since the Auckland United game. They gained a hard-earned win with control exerted in both the offensive and defensive moments of the game – a real ’90-minute performance’. Shakeal Pickering and Aidan Killeen had stand-out performances, both players improved immensely over the season and became essential to the team’s style and success in the later stages of the year. The relief at the final whistle was palpable and drew a line under a difficult but valuable period for the boys.

Performances at the back end of the season continued to improve despite results eluding the team. The return games against Auckland City, Northern Rovers and Eastern Suburbs were all tight and a huge step forward from the first round. James Trye’s transition to playing at centre back continued to assist the team defensively whilst also creating a critical threat from deeper positions, going as far to successfully take on players in his own 18-yard box, which is a heart stopping moment as a coach! The addition of Harry Gritt, Fionn Howard and Nico Reynolds to the team certainly added quality and passion, further demonstrating the depth and success of our development program. It was bitterly disappointing to have the season cut short for a second year in a row, particularly with the performances going from strength to strength each week, but I know that the team will continue to build on this moving into the 2022 season.

It has been a pleasure to coach the team over the last 2 seasons and to see the boys grow, both as a team and individuals. Boys, thank you for allowing me to be part of your team and for all the passionate performances, the cracking van trips and (awful) music, the willingness to improve and learn, the hard work, the persistence in the face of challenges and most importantly for being a fantastic group of young men.

The transition to 15th grade and beyond will bring its own set of challenges and new lessons to learn, I am sure that they will meet these head on. I will be watching their progress with a lot of interest and cannot wait to see the success that will certainly be part of their future. Thank you to Causeway Panelbeaters, our team sponsor for the last two seasons, and Dickson’s Transport and Quarry – who sponsored the team with hoodies and contributing toward the players fees. Finally, I’d like to give a massive shout out to the parents in this group for their help and support and my manager this year, Donna Ferriman. Onward and Upward!

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