Tauranga take positives as football season ends
The Northern Region Football League season has been cut short, meaning Tauranga City AFC’s first-team have played their final game of the 2021 campaign.
With Auckland still at Alert Level 4 the NRFL made the decision this week to finish the season early.
The league standings at the time of the initial lockdown are now the final positions for the 11 teams in the Northern Region Football League Division One, with Tauranga City finishing eighth.
"This isn't how seasons are meant to end, but it shouldn't take away from the quality of football played and hard work put in by players, coaches, officials and administrators," says NRFL competitions manager Mike Corbett.
At one stage this season, it seemed City were in the promotion hunt. Unfortunately, a late-season dip in form has resulted in a mid-table finish. That said, only 10 points separate deserving league winners Waiheke United and Tauranga City in the table.
City’s director of football Barry Gardiner believes the team sometimes lacked the experience and killer instinct necessary to pick up points in tight games this season. It's hoped this learning curve will shape a promotion push next year.
“The disappointing thing for us this year, as a coaching staff, is that we thought this was a really good opportunity to go up,” he admits.
“We do want to make sure we get up to that top division for our players to be playing at the best level. The goal again next year is to push forward and use this year as a bit of a stepping stone and get across the line.”
Tauranga City AFC director of football Barry Gardiner, right, alongside head of youth talent development Maia Ririnui, left. Photo: John Borren.
Despite coming up short in a promotion bid, Tauranga City still have highlights to celebrate this season.
Tauranga City deservedly defeated Takapuna at Links Avenue back in April. The visitors on that day have since gained promotion to the NRFL Premier by finishing second in the table.
Trailing Bucklands Beach 3-1 in May, Tauranga scored three goals in the last 10 minutes to secure a stunning comeback win, with striker Jordy Langton bagging a hat-trick.
A Chatham Cup tie against Auckland City, newly crowned NRFL Premier champions, ended in a spirited defeat in June. The experience of playing against one of the best sides in the country, and internationally capped opponents like Cameron Howieson, is appreciated.
An eighth-place finish does not do this young City side justice. The future continues to look bright, with the club’s under-23 side, whose season has also been curtailed due to the current Covid situation, finishing second in the NRFL Division One Under-23 league.
Barry admits the club are likely to lose a handful of younger players. One talent is in talks over a potential opportunity with the Wellington Phoenix youth academy. Others are considering college opportunities in the United States and at universities across New Zealand.
Whilst finding the right balance between youth and experience is key to the club's first-team success, Barry is still keen to ensure the youngsters are getting the chance to thrive.
“They are definitely quite strong, the younger players we have got coming through,” he says.
Meanwhile, as for having a second season in succession truncated due to Covid, Barry shuns pessimism.
“At least we got to play more football than we did last season,” he jokes.
“That’s the way I like to look at these situations.”
Whilst the NRFL season may now be over, WaiBOP football returns this weekend, under Alert Level 2 restrictions, with the federation determined to have a fully competitive conclusion to the 2021 season.