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Youth talent on NZ stage

Gisborne Thistle will add to its illustrious history at the Lotto National Under 19 Youth Tournament in Napier this holiday weekend.

A Garrett Blair-coached Thistle team will contest the satellite section of the Napier City Rovers-hosted tournament.

“From my investigations, this is the first time Gisborne Thistle has entered a team into the prestigious national under-19 tournament, and only the second time a team from Gisborne have entered,” said Blair.

The first, he understands, was coached by Lenny Cudd, who played National League football for Gisborne City and Central League football for Thistle during his heyday.

“Lenny (Blair’s second cousin) took a raft of boys from the various schools, transferred them to Gisborne City and then transferred them back upon the conclusion of the tournament.”

Blair does not need to go to that trouble for his team to be eligible as 90 percent of the players represented the club this year.

The majority were involved in Thistle’s firsts team, who were second in Central Football’s Pacific Premiership won by fellow Gisborne club United.

“We’re excited about the squad,” said Blair.

“We have some good players in George Andrew, Matt McVey, Andy Brott and our English contingent, who will make up the core of the team.

“We’ve pulled in club players like Kyle Frazer and Brohdi Curtis from the Gisborne Conference league-winning ITM Thistle team and they don’t look out of place in this squad.”

Teams are allowed two guest players.

“We’ve kept our two guest spots local — Travis White, from Lytton High School, and goalkeeper Sasha Drain, who is plying his trade for Wellington United in the Central League, but is ex-Lytton High.”

Blair will be assisted by Gisborne Vehicle Testing Thistle firsts team goalkeeper Mark Baple, whose wife Amy will look after the physiology side of things.

“Fletcher Stewart-Hill has also helped out immensely with training but unfortunately won’t be able to travel with the boys.”

Blair said one of their main aims for entering was to give the boys opportunity to pit themselves against quality players of their own age.

“Obviously, we’d love to win the tournament, and that is one of our goals, but ultimately it’s about getting the boys playing good football and getting exposure on a much bigger stage,” he said.

“We have some exceptional talent who were unlucky to miss out on national youth league squads.

“This tournament gives them the opportunity to put themselves forward.”

There are 21 teams in the satellite section, 24 in the main section and eight in the women’s section.