On-and-off the pitch, 2019 is shaping up to be a year of big steps forward for Tauranga City AFC.
Promotion to the Northern Regional Football League Premiership is the major focus for the club’s senior men’s team, while the women’s side are gunning for the Northern League after missing out in the promotion playoff last year.
Talent development programmes are also marching on in youth and junior areas.
For the Bay of Plenty's most prominent football club, performances in recent years have plateaued, and club president Brendon McHugh is intent on seeing it move up a level.
He’s stoked the high-powered coaching group, appointed last year to guide the club’s overall coaching strategy and support its lofty ambitions, have hit the ground running.
The group is led by Barry Gardiner as director of football and includes Maia Ririnui (head of youth development), Nic Millichip (senior development officer) and Cameron Grieve (head of junior development).
Barry and Nic, who will take on the club’s Northern League Division 1 team, have got into their work nice and early, Brendon says, with pre-season training and squad selection going well ahead of schedule and pre-season friendlies booked in.
“We want to be in a position to either fight for promotion or be up there challenging,” he says.
Most, if not all, of last season’s players are back, and an influx of new talent is encouraging too, Brendon says.
“We've seen a few new players coming in from different areas both outside and inside Tauranga. Some are players from other clubs who are maybe thinking they want to challenge themselves in a higher league.
“We've also got a lot of good youth. At the training session I watched, I was really quite chuffed to see a lot of really good youth players.”
Brendon believes it’s time for Tauranga City to compete with the top clubs in the country, not just at premiership level for its senior men’s and women’s teams, but in its Talent Development Programme as well, which is essential to support its ambitions for the future.
He says clubs like Hamilton’s Melville United, which last year earned promotion to the Northern Premier League, are showing the way.
“You have to look at clubs like Melville. A few years ago they completely changed their model and put a lot of focus into their youth programmes.
“Our coaches talked to their coaches quite a bit. During this whole process we’ve kept open communication with those guys, and they've been very helpful.”
Brendon acknowledges programmes on this level come at a cost, but says the club is intent on delivering value for money.
“We believe what we’re offering this year is a higher spectrum of coaching available across the board, not just one or two teams having good coaches. We want all of our coaches to be good, qualified and working together.
“I'm really impressed so far with the guys we’ve got on board – they’re all speaking the same language, they’re all very keen and ethically like doing the right thing.”
While all of this is going on at the elite level, the club is not taking its focus off the regular Saturday football that the bulk of its members participate in and enjoy.
“Saturday football is so important to us,” says Brendon. “That’s the backbone of the whole club. That will always be there, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re paying attention to those guys as well.”
The top coaching group has a big part to play in that area too, he says.
“They’re not just there to coach talent development, they’re there to coach the coaches.”
Another indicator of the feel-good factor around the club is the appointment of iconic New Zealand football figure John Adshead as Patron, Brendon says.
“That's a good sign for us – he’s a guy who’s been around a long time, and here he is lending his name to our club.”
Players and coaches at all levels can expect to see John dropping in to matches and training sessions to offer his priceless mentoring input.