By SAM DARROCH
THE Gippsland Soccer League’s newest addition to its Emerging Talent Program received a glamorous baptism this month with a week-long visit to the Central Coast Mariners.
Following the precedent set by Baley Row and Lachie Galea through Gippsland zone development officer Mark Cassar, the Gippsland ETP under 16 boys spent a week exploring the A-League club under the gaze of former Morwell local John Hutchinson.
The squad watched the senior team’s training sessions during the week, played against the Mariners’ junior academy teams and met the senior playing group.
After watching a Friday closed-door training session, Hutchinson took the boys on a tour of Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford, and to cap off the trip they watched the Mariners defeat Western Sydney Wanderers 1-0.
Program ambassador Hutchinson appears set to occupy a coaching role at CCM next season, and Cassar hopes to see the relationship between the region and the A-League entity continue to grow.
“It really hit the mark in the respect that it’s opened up further doors that we originally established two or three years ago sending Baley up,” he said.
“It was all positive again as far as the football experience and we’re hoping to maybe send teams moving forward… with Hutch potentially going into a coaching role next year who knows where it can develop.”
Hutchinson, who has previously expressed his interest in helping develop Gippsland juniors, took time out through the week to pass on his experiences and educate the boys in what it takes to be a professional footballer.
“John is a great example of a boy from the country who worked hard to live the dream and play professional football,” Gippsland ETP under 16 head coach Michael McAuley said.
The GSL’s ETP program has grown from two to three teams this season, incorporating under 13s, under 14s and under 16s boys in A grade metropolitan competition.
The league was aiming to include under 20s youth and an under 16 girls ETP squad this year, but was unable to get it off the ground.
Cassar said the addition of one new side was a step in the right direction, as the league continues to build toward a National Premier Leagues viable junior structure.
“The ultimate goal I suppose is to have a structure that is potentially in line with the NPL, (but) there’s still a fair bit of work to do before that actually happens,” Cassar said.
“It’s heading in the right direction… from an operational sense it’s probably not a bad thing we’re not biting off more than we can chew.”
Football Federation Australia has endorsed the GSL to run skill acquisition programs across the region to feed into the ETP, culminating in programs for south, central and east Gippsland.
“Moving forward at least we’ve got now an established feeder into that (ETP), and given we haven’t got an NPL club… they’ve actually recognised the work the ETP is doing and given us the licence on that proviso,” Cassar said.
In another boon for the region’s juniors, Gippsland’s under 12s squad team was joint winner of the country championships in Albury this month.