Genders come together for national leagues launch

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A historic footballing moment has taken place in Auckland as representatives from both the National Women’s League and ISPS Handa Premiership came together to launch the upcoming seasons of both competitions.

It is the first time the two competitions – New Zealand Football’s leading men’s and women’s national football leagues – have received a joint launch and players from all teams were on hand to take part in the celebrations.

Flying the flag for the National Women’s League were Jane Barnett (Northern Lights), Stephanie Skilton (Auckland Football), Kelli Brown (WaiBOP Football), Mikaela Boxall (Central Football), Sarah Gregorius (Capital Football), Annalie Longo (Canterbury United Pride) and Mikaela Hunt (Southern United) while the ISPS Handa Premiership was represented by Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi (Auckland City), Tim Payne (Eastern Suburbs), Nick Draper (Waitakere United), Tommy Semmy (Hamilton Wanderers), Birhanu Taye (Hawke’s Bay United), Justin Gulley (Team Wellington), Willem Ebbinge (Wellington Phoenix Reserves), Alex Ridsdale (Tasman United), Gary Ogilvie (Canterbury United Dragons) and Garbhan Coughlan (Southern United).

With a ground-breaking season of the National Women’s League – it is the first time two full rounds of home-and-away matches will be played – about to kick off this weekend and the latest instalment of the ISPS Handa Premiership set to follow from October 14, excitement levels were high.

Hunt was still coming back down to earth after scoring two goals in Dunedin Technical’s 4-2 upset over Forrest Hill Milford United in the Football Foundation Kate Sheppard Cup final on Sunday and is looking to continue that success in the opening round of the National Women’s League this weekend with Southern United.

“Half of the squad is made up of Tech players so our focus has been on the cup and it will be good to now have a week where we’re focusing just on Southern,” she says. “But it’s a bonus that most of our squad have been training and playing together regardless of the brand that it’s been under. So we’re really looking forward to getting into it this weekend and hopefully carrying on the momentum we’ve built up.”

Team Wellington captain Justin Gulley is just as excited about the ISPS Handa Premiership, which kicks off with a Charity Cup clash between the men from the capital and defending champions Auckland City.

“We’re really looking forward to getting started,” said Gulley, whose team lost their ISPS Handa Premiership crown in finishing runners-up to Auckland City last season but have a first ever FIFA Club World Cup to look forward to in December after winning the OFC Champions League.

“You can tell at training that all the boys are really excited about this season and it’s been really lively – we can’t wait to get underway. We’re definitely looking to get the ISPS Handa Premiership title back and to also finish top of the league because that’s something we haven’t quite ticked off yet. We want to win it all and I don’t think that’s unachievable but it will be a tough competition this year.”

The players firstly met up at the Heritage Hotel in downtown Auckland to appear before the cameras as New Zealand Football and SKY Sport gathered content to promote the upcoming seasons before heading down to Victoria Park where they were interviewed by members of the media.

Then it was on to a ceremony across the road at the Air New Zealand Customer Innovation and Collaboration Centre, where representatives from Air New Zealand – a preferred supplier of New Zealand Football – were joined by Midori Miyazaki, Executive Director for International Affairs for ISPS Handa, New Zealand Football President Deryck Shaw and other stakeholders to officially launch the upcoming seasons.

Shaw spoke of the importance of the National Women’s League and ISPS Handa Premiership to New Zealand Football’s aim of developing the game even further over the coming years.

“New Zealand Football holds two strategic objectives – our elite teams winning on the world stage and more New Zealanders loving and playing football. The ISPS Handa Premiership is important because it links these two strategic goals,” he said.

The taglines for the respective competitions are ‘Where All Whites Are Made’ and ‘Where Football Ferns Are Made’ with both ringing true in recent times.

A batch of Football Ferns – including Annalie Longo (Canterbury United Pride), Sarah Gregorius, Anna Green (both Capital Football), Malia Steinmetz (Northern Football) and Stephanie Skilton (Auckland Football) – will all be in action from this weekend in the National Women’s League while the ISPS Handa Premiership will feature the likes of All Whites Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi (Auckland City), Tim Payne (Eastern Suburbs) and Justin Gulley (Team Wellington).