18 March 2024

Wollongong to host national boys' football showcase after girls' tournament kicks goals

| Graeme Burrill
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Soccer team celebrating a tournament win

Winners of last year’s U15 boys’ tournament, Victoria Blue. Photo: Damian Briggs/Football Australia.

Wollongong will again be on the national football stage when it hosts the National Youth Championships Boys’ tournament in July.

After hosting the national girls’ under 14 and 16 tournament last October, Football Australia announced this week (14 March) that Wollongong and the Illawarra will welcome 32 teams featuring some of the best emerging football players from across the country.

As part of Football Australia’s talent identification program, the championships serve as an important stepping stone for young players, with many past and present Socceroos tracing their beginnings back to the tournament, including Brett Emerton, Harry Kewell, Lucas Neil and Wollongong local Luke Wilkshire.

Wilkshire said he had good memories of his time playing at the championships and for the players involved this year, it was a good opportunity to test themselves.

“It’s a reward for where they’re at and what they’ve been doing to be selected in these squads and for these sorts of tournaments,” he said.

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“It’s a good accomplishment and one that I’m sure that all those who are involved are going to be really excited about and perhaps even a little bit nervous and anxious, which is part of football.”

As a former local junior and now running his own soccer academy, Luke said hosting the tournament was fantastic for the region.

“It’s a region that’s striving for football with over 20,000 participants, so it’s great from that perspective,” he said.

“As a local boy, it’s great to see these sorts of things coming. We had the girls down here not so long ago, which was successful, and now it’s returning for the boys.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson said the organisation was looking forward to being back in Wollongong.

“We’re delighted to be returning to the Illawarra this July, where the best of the country’s emerging young talent will be looking to impress for future honours,” he said.

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While most of the action will be on the football field during the tournament, off the park the championships will bring strong economic benefits to the region.

Destination Wollongong general manager Mark Sleigh said the region was excited to welcome the nation’s most talented up-and-coming male footballers back to Wollongong.

“It’s a proven pathway event for junior players which will showcase Wollongong’s premier football fields and seaside stadium,” he said.

“This six-day event will also have a significant economic boost to the visitor economy during our winter season.”

To be held over six days from 16 July, games will be played at WIN Stadium, J J Kelly Park and Ian McLennan Park, with NSW picking four squads in under 15s and under 16s. The squads will be officially announced in late June.

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