By MATTHEW MCKEW
‘‘I CAN’T play football tomorrow, I’ve been called into work’’.
It’s a familiar convo in amateur football, particularly in Queenstown, where Rovers’ men rely almost entirely on overseas players working casual contracts.
For stalwart manager Jamie Whitmarsh, Covid-19 was something of a watershed — his skilful foreigners disappeared home or became ever more reliant on last-minute work.
It meant the Rovers boss and his assistant, Steven ‘Hendo’ Henderson, had to bring their
long-term plan forward and chuck the youngsters in.
Rovers finished the season top of the ‘Bottom 5’ in the Otago Daily Times Southern Premier
comp, beating Caversham 3-1 at their place and sealing revenge after a poor reverse fixture.
On the face of it, it’s a disappointing position for a team that prides itself on a top-four
finish, putting pressure on the likes of Dunedin’s Green Island.
But with an exodus of players, injuries and three 16-year-olds in the starting line-up, it seems more like a miracle.
A Year13 and three Year 12 high school students are the blueprint for a new era in
Queenstown football, with Whitmarsh aiming to put the resort on the sport’s map.
Rising star Will Ebbinge, 19, is heading to the All Whites’ under-20s training camp this week and the gaffer wants to see more players head down that route.
‘‘I have been really clear to all our lads, that we need to be successful on the pitch to give our 11- and 12-year-olds the same opportunities as Willem — because when you live down here, you are out of sight, out of mind.’’
Whitmarsh wants New Zealand Football to sit up and take notice by building a consistent team of locals.
‘‘The only way we can show people what we’re about is having more and more Kiwis in our team and making a better fist of our seasons, trying to win the league.’’
That’s not to say overseas players won’t play a part in the team, but the aim’s to make them the cherry on top of the cake, not the staple.
Players who have come in include Paulo Bjorck, Finley Husheer, Todd Vermeir and Tasuku Yoneto.
Bjorck’s a man to watch, slotting seamlessly into a central position and dominating men’s
football in a way that belies his young age, Whitmarsh says.
For young left back Vermeir, it’s all about developing confidence, and the teen’s coming on in leaps and bounds, learning to push forward for the overlap and even bagging a goal against Roslyn.
Husheer’s not short of positive thinking, acting as an advanced playmaker, and Yoneto’s shown great resilience to come back after two achilles injuries.
The development’s put Whitmarsh in a ponderous mood, eager to take advantage of the
chance to develop both male and female young footballers.
But, he’s also cast a little doubt on his own future, telling Mountain Scene he needs to see
the club advance.
Next season’s already become interesting.