Bay’s Leon Birnie reappointed to national soccer coaching role
Hawke's Bay App
Monday, March 04, 2019 10:41 AM
ISPS Handa Halberg Awards nominee Leon Birnie has been rewarded for leading New Zealand to a ground-breaking third-place finish at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup by being reappointed to his head coach role for the next cycle.
Hawke’s Bay-based Birnie and his young charges captured the hearts of the sporting public with their heroics in Uruguay – where they became the first ever national team from this country to earn a medal at a FIFA event – and received four Halberg nominations as a result, including in the Coach of the Year category.
Those feats made it difficult to ignore the claims of Birnie to take charge of the team again and he is delighted to have signed on through to the next edition of the U-17 Women’s World Cup, to be held in a yet-to-be-confirmed country in 2020.
"It’s really exciting, as a player or a coach it’s an absolute honour to be involved at national level," he says.
"It’s something I love doing and to be reappointed is pretty special for me. I’m just excited to get underway with the next crop of players."
New Zealand Football Interim Technical Director Andy Boyens is just as pleased to have secured the services of such a highly-regarded figure.
"He is a coach I believe has a big future in the game in New Zealand," Boyens says.
"It’s great he is going to be able to continue to add to the development and performance of the next group of women’s U-17 players. We’re also excited to continue to support Leon on his journey as a coach and provide opportunities for him to continue to excel on the international stage."
Signing on for another crack at the U-17 Women’s World Cup was a straightforward decision for Birnie, who also acts as a Football Development Officer for Central Football. But he admits it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to a group of players he had formed a close bond with and played a such a key role in their development.
"That was hard because we had come through such an amazing experience together," he says.
"And it’s going to be a completely fresh start because, from the team we took to the last World Cup, none are eligible for this next cycle. The way it’s panned out this time means we’ll be starting from scratch and hopefully having a similar impact."
The exploits of Birnie’s previous side in Uruguay last November mean there are now big boots to fill for those that follow but he is confident the talent is there to successfully do so.
"I’m hoping it’s not a one-off and that we can showcase what good work is being done across the country and really highlight that on the world stage," he says.
"I think we have players coming through now that are good enough to make a statement and have an impact at that level. It’s exciting, I watched the national age group tournament for this next cycle at the end of last year and there’s some really good players coming through. I’m sure we can go over to the World Cup and continue to do good things."