Rovers look to youth

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Queenstown Rovers men’s football team will move leagues this year as they switch the focus to youth development.

The Rovers have spent 13 seasons battling for points in Dunedin’s FootballSouth Premier League, fielding teams stacked with overseas players living in the resort.

Coach Jamie Whitmarsh says that’s led to a revolving door of players and no natural pathway for Central Otago youngsters through to adult football.

This season, they’ve amalgamated with Queenstown Junior Football Club and will play in the less competitive Invercargill-centric Southland league - the Donald Gray Cup.

Meanwhile, Queenstown Rovers women’s team swap leagues in the opposite direction after back-to-back championships in the Southland league - regularly embarrassing rivals with massive victories, including a 26-0 against Invercargill’s Western last season.

Whitmarsh says: “The women’s football team have promoted youth successfully for a number of years and now the men’s team are on the same journey.

“It’s a fresh start. We’ll always have transient players through the door, because that’s the nature of Queenstown, but we’re filling the void between youth and junior football and the men’s team.

“On a training night we’ve got about 35 people with loads of promising youngsters from not just Queenstown but across Central Otago.

“They look good in training and relatively good in pre-season games, but I need to see that in competitive games. We’ll pitch them in, starting this weekend.”

Rovers men placed sixth in the FootballSouth Premier League last season. They competed 1990 to 2000 in the Southland league and won in 94, 95, 96, 99 and 2000.

Old Boys have won the Southland league the last four seasons, with Gore Wanderers, Queens Park, Southend, Thistle and Waihopai the other teams competing.

The youth policy has led to changes in the team, although stalwarts such as Ollie James, Luke Baldock and Steven Henderson remain.

Henderson says: “We’ve been training since January.

“It’s exciting to change focus and bring young players through.

“Training’s a bit different though - the average age has dropped by about 12 years, and is around 22 now.

“There’s still some old faces. We’ve got a first team squad about 50/50 mix of experience and youth, whereas in previous years we’ve only had three or four youngsters in and out of the team.

“But we’ve now got a little bit more freedom to give them a go - we think. It’s a little hard because we’re not sure what we’re wading into, the level of competition.”

Henderson says points deductions for fielding too many non-Kiwis last season soured the club’s relationship with
FootballSouth but wasn’t a driving factor in the change. And the club could return to the premier league down the track.

Rovers men kick off Saturday in Invercargill against Waihopai, 3pm. The first home game, at the Events Centre, is against Autotec Thistle on April 25.

Rovers women take on University in Dunedin this Sunday at 1pm.

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz