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Clash of the Cultures

GISBORNE cousins Manaia Mill and Charlotte Morse have spent the week in Auckland preparing for an international football match.

The pair are part of the Aotearoa Maori under-14 girls team involved in today's Clash of the Cultures event at Papakura.

Aotearoa men's and women's teams, u14 girls and u14 boys are taking on their counterparts from Australian First Nations, putting indigenous football and culture in the spotlight.

The Clash of the Cultures transtasman event has been staged twice before but today is the first time the u14 boys and girls teams have been part of it.

Manaia's father, Quentin Mill, said the players had been in camp this week. They were learning a haka, their pepeha and preparing to play.

The u14 girls warmed up for their assignment with a 6-0 win over Eastern Suburbs this week, he said.

Manaia finished school at Gisborne Intermediate last year and will be starting at Lytton High as a Year 9 student this year.

Charlotte is a Year 11 student at Lytton this year.

Both girls were Gisborne football age group representatives last year and Manaia represented the Central Football federation in 2018.

Mill said the players had trials in October last year, a three-day camp in December and the girls received coaching in Tauranga.

Manaia also competed in athletics but enjoyed being part of a team in football, Mill said.

Clash of the Cultures is run by Maori Football NZ, which was created to attract more Maori to the sport and nurture success on and off the field.

Mill was pleased to see opportunities for Maori to play representative football and develop their game.

“Getting that experience is really awesome,” he said.

In the u14 girls' team, Manaia is identified as coming from Ngati Porou, Charlotte from Nga Ariki Kaiputahi and another girl with Tairawhiti connections, Anika Lomax, is from Te Aitanga a Mahaki.

Other players with Tairawhiti connections in the Aotearoa sides are men's team representatives Alex McGregor and Hone Fowler, women's player Alia Smith and u14 boys Emmett Connolly and Tamaho Perry — all Ngati Porou.

Fowler, who now works in South Auckland, played for Gisborne City under coach Kevin Fallon.

He said he had whanau connections to Gisborne and to Reporua Marae on the East Coast.

He has played for the New Zealand u23 side and recently teamed with Fallon again to build the sport in South Auckland with Manukau United Football Club, which plays in the premier division of the Northern regional league. He is chairman of the club.

Fowler said he knew a few players in the Aotearoa Maori men's side and it was “extremely encouraging to see so much new young talent coming through”.

“I've known since I started playing that Maori play an integral part to football in Aotearoa and this pathway through Maori Football NZ helps to highlight that and promote the game through a Maori lens.

“I believe there's a great untapped potential within our indigenous communities and initiatives like Clash of the Cultures are important.

“It builds a sense of belonging and community — combining culture and sport — and celebrates our unique and special space within the global game of football.”

Coach of the u14 girls, Kieran Mischewski, said a fun environment helped bring success.

“One thing which has been a real standout across our camps so far is the positivity and fun which the girls have.”

Representing Aotearoa: Gisborne girls Manaia Mill (left) and Charlotte Morse are happy to be in their Aotearoa under-14 kit, ready to play against Australian First Nations. Picture supplied