New Southland football team faces challenges in Southern Premier League
The new combined Southland football team will face plenty of challenges when they enter the 2017 Southern Premier League this year.
The new-look combination will be the first Invercargill-based side to compete mainly against Dunedin club teams since Waverley Park club team Old Boys in 2013.
Coach Luis Paiva is under no illusions as to how difficult it is going to be for the young Southland side.
"The main challenge will be to build a team from the beginning," he said.
"We have a very young squad, some of these guys haven't played Donald Gray," he said.
"We have two or three who played in the Dunedin Premier League last year for Green Island, but the biggest challenge is trying to build a team mixing most of this youth with a couple of experienced players and starting to create something."
The standard of the Football South Federation's top flight will be a step up from Southland's Donald Gray Cup competition, but will provide a necessary pathway for Southland players.
"It will be a big challenge, I think we are aware of that, nothing will be offered to us, we will need to earn every point in this league," he said.
"There are two or three teams we believe we can challenge, the other teams will be very difficult especially to play away, because when we play at home we play on the turf, which will be something new for them, it is a different surface and we may have some advantage here."
Having a combined team representing a region will also make things difficult according to Paiva, with plenty of time spent on the road to both training and regular away games.
"To have players from such a big region that have to meet two or three times a week in Invercargill sometimes travelling for an hour before and after training it is a challenge for these guys," he said.
"For me it is a challenge to try to keep the motivation high and pass onto them the ideas of the type of game we want to play."
An initial training squad including a handful of youth players have been meeting since January and features a mixture of Southland-based players from various clubs, along with a sprinkling of former Southlanders who have recently shifted to work or study in Dunedin.
Donald Gray Cup golden boot Atain Halley from Old Boys is in the team, along with Southern United youth team players George Edwards, Anton Fitzgerald and Dylan Vander Schuit.
The squad also features a handful of players from the vastly improved Gore Wanderers club team.
Other players involved include Bob Cox and Jack Boland who were studying in Dunedin last year, but have been training with the squad this year.
James Tucker has been overseas in Austria and played part of the 2016 season with Dunedin club Green Island.
Goalkeeper Elliott Binks from Christchurch, has been studying at the Southern Institute of Technology and has played at National Talent Centres in the past.
The Southland team will have their first pre-season match against Donald Gray Cup holders Old Boys on Thursday night at 7pm, with players pushing their cases for selection in the final squad.
At a glance
Southland football training squad: Elliott Binks, Ben Rea, Joel Fletcher, Juan Juarretche, Nikz Khan, George Edwards, James Tucker, Darren Cripps, Ryo Okuyama, Anton Fitzgerald, Jack Boland, Atain Halley, Frank De Jong, Bob Cox, Kyle Schins, Cody Kinraid, Dylan Vander Schuit, Sean Angus, Xavier Meurier, Calem Castle.