Heart shines spotlight on Gippsland

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At least one Gippsland soccer player will be invited to trial for Melbourne Heart’s national youth side when the A-League club’s scouts visit the area this month.

Selectors will consider the region’s top 17-20 year-olds, hand picked by zone development officer Mark Cassar, to advance to the next stage of trials after Heart approached the Gippsland Soccer League regarding talent identification.

GSL chair David Wilson said the initiative was part of a wider exploration of alternative player pathways to those offered by the eschewed National Premier League structure.

“One door shuts and another one opens,” Wilson said.

“We’re now developing relationships with national league teams like the Central Coast Mariners, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Heart… that will be our corridor we’re going to have to work through and develop those relationships, which we have been doing for over a year now.

“What essentially they’ve guaranteed us is that at least one (player) will be selected to go through to the next round of trials (but) we’re obviously hoping two, hoping three, hoping 10 (make the cut).”

The format has yet to be decided for the trial, but the date has been tentatively scheduled to coincide with the junior Victorian Country Championships in Gippsland from 29 June to 1 July.

In the interim Cassar will be scouring the region for its top talent and said players from Warragul and Morwell Pegasus would be eligible.

“The concept is in its infancy at the moment; we’re trying to work out the best format going forward,” Cassar said.

“What it will do for us as a region is kick start us in light of… the NPL (falling through)… this is possibly another avenue going forward.”

While the Heart trial is at this stage a one-off opportunity, Wilson said the GSL hoped to further develop its relationship with A-League clubs as a direct link for Gippsland juniors, and potentially women, to the elite level.

Already the GSL has sent one junior player to the Central Coast Mariners for a week-long camp under former Gippsland Falcons player John Hutchinson and is proactively working on similar programs for talented players.

A Melbourne Heart spokesperson said the club wanted to be more active in finding talent from regional Victoria.

“The arrangement will hopefully be the start of an initiative in talent identification in regional areas,” the spokesperson said.

“The club believes that when it comes to players in regional areas of Victoria, they tend to be overlooked for selection.

“The club has recognised this and is partnering with a number of regional associations to hold a talent identification sessions to give players from regional areas an opportunity to be looked at by our coaching staff.”

Cassar and the GSL are still in discussions with Heart to iron out the finer details.