In a hugely exciting development for 2017, Queenstown Rovers and Southland United both join the Football South Premier League this season, bringing the league up to nine teams.
The Invercargill-based Southland United is a combined team of players coming together from various Southland clubs. Many Southlanders see the inclusion in the Federation’s premier competition as vital for the continued development of football in the province, and sharing this sentiment is the side’s coach, Luis Paiva.
“For us, it’s a pleasure for Southland to be back in this again”, Luis said. “It will be a big step up, especially for our young players, not just on the field but also off the field considering the commitment, effort, training habits, resting and eating habits, everything that can affect their performance. At the end of the day we have a great chance to build something new and build it well.”
It’s not just football in Southland that will benefit from their inclusion, however – Luis is adamant it’s a big move forward for the entire Federation.
“For this league it’s important that Southland and Queenstown are back, in my opinion. First, because it brings it up to a 9 team league and second because the quality of squads they can make every year including players from overseas will raise the challenge and level of the league. We are looking forward to starting and I honestly hope this can be one of the most memorable seasons in recent years.”
The experienced Portuguese, who was a member of the Southern United National League squad, is also Southland’s Football Development Officer and has been heavily involved in the set-up of the new side.
“We are building everything from ground zero and when I say everything I mean literally everything…structure, players, staff, habits, culture, etc. The last couple of months have been crazy and there is already a massive improvement. The Club’s committee members have been tireless in the last month and that’s good for the team to feel that everyone is paddling the same way.”
“I believe that the success of this season will be influenced by two factors especially…the players’ learning/understanding of the game of football and the quality of the football we play. We don’t want to be just one more team playing the league and travelling every second week”, says Luis. “We want everyone to recognise that we are a massive input to the competition, regardless of the results…there’s absolutely no pressure for our boys in term of position in the table, but we want to be competitive and we want to enjoy the game and this opportunity…I’m sure that if we do this, everything will happen naturally.”
Although understandably a bit nervous about how they will match up against the existing sides in the Premier League, Southland United scored an impressive pre-season victory last week over last season’s unbeaten champions Caversham – but Luis was staying grounded given the pre-season nature.
“We have a good bunch of smart boys but we know it’s still too early for Xmas…it was a gift. Caversham will be much more competitive than last Saturday and we know that. The 4 or 5 Southern United players they were missing last Saturday will start every game this season and will make a huge difference because they are exceptional players. They had some quality young players last Saturday with a brilliant future ahead but the ones who were missing they are National League players, with way more experience. Experience dictates a lot at this level. We are happy because we had a clean sheet and because we have been efficient…it’s good to finish with a victory but no more than that.”
Southland’s side features plenty of youth, with a number of squad members representing Southern United’s Youth side in the 2016/17 National Youth League. A few of these players have already experienced Premier League football last season for Dunedin-based clubs. Luis is excited about the potential in his side.
“Those who watched us last Saturday (vs Caversham) could see that we worked well as a team and the lads have been building a good team spirit and I strongly believe this is what will make us stronger. We have talented players of course, some already with good potential to aspire more, but they know that this is long road and they will need more than just the technical or physical skills…top football is much more than that. I believe we can have some surprises starting this season, but let’s wait for the plane to take off…”
Football South CEO Chris Wright has been keen to ensure the best players from across the entire Federation are facing each other on a regular basis. “We’re excited by the vision, desire and hard work from both clubs and can’t wait to see how the Premier League progresses this season”, Chris said. “This advancement is part an ongoing strategy to raise the level of the competition and have Federation representation – and we’ve made good progress in 2017”.
In an intriguing start to the season, Southland United face fellow newcomers to the league Queenstown Rovers this afternoon in Queenstown.
– Morgan Jarvis
– Feature photo credit Kavinda Herath/Fairfax NZ