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Second-tier competition a buzz and boon for game

Date: March 17 2013

Craig Foster

The recent launch of the National Premier Leagues and, in particular, their champions playing each other for the title of national champion, is a tremendous boost for the game on many levels.

One needed to only attend the launch of the NSW Premier League during the week to see the buzz around the second tier of competition in this country, with a star line-up of Holger Osieck and Han Berger representing FFA and Sydney's two professional coaches, Frank Farina and Tony Popovic, taking the time to instruct the next generation on the demands of football at the top level.

A new sponsor, IGA Supermarkets, will ensure resources are available to promote the second tier and this increased visibility will be a bonus not only for the clubs involved, some of whom are aiming to prepare for a potential future in the A-League when promotion and relegation eventually becomes a reality, but more so in the short term for the players and coaches.

This level of the game has always been a rich breeding ground for A-League talent, but this process is set to accelerate with new provisions requiring technical directors at each club and a higher level of education for coaches taking charge of the top divisions.

Indeed, one of the most exciting aspects of Australian football right now is the new generation of coaches now starting to recognise that a pathway exists, and a potentially lucrative one at that, so that the hunt for roles in the secondary competitions is becoming much more competitive and sought after, leading to better outcomes for the clubs and the game.

On stage representing several Premier League clubs was former Sydney FC captain Mark Rudan, now head coach at Sydney United, close to completion of his A-Licence and an outstanding prospect for A-League duties down the track, as well as Marconi great and former Socceroo Jean-Paul de Marigny back in his old stomping ground, and Mark Jones, former Socceroo now in charge of the Mariners Academy.

Given the new-found credibility and importance of these leagues around the country, as well as the opportunity to represent the state as champion in a nationwide play-off, these roles have now become some of the most valuable as a platform to gain experience for higher levels of the game.

In a couple of years' time, when the FFA Cup arrives, these lower tiers will become even more prominent and the coaches and players front and centre in the national psyche, as a strong run against A-League teams to the quarters, semi-finals or final, for instance, will see young coaches draw the attention of A-League clubs to their credentials.

Pleasingly, though, the Premier League launch was far from restricted only to the males, as the women's competition is every bit as important for players and coaches alike. Those Matildas and young Matildas that will not be playing abroad this winter, for example, will be playing in the Premier Leagues, making the standard of coaching and therefore play of the utmost importance. The rising number of coaches at this level with their professional accreditation from FFA is a massive positive for this reason, and the onfield standards continue to rise as more information and methodology finds its way down to the levels below the W-League.

Again, it was a pleasure to watch former greats such as Sydney Olympic champion Grant Lee and former Socceroo Gerry Gomez talk about their teams facing the new season, and of how the women's game has grown in quality, credibility and intensity.

In fact, for any young coaches considering making a career for themselves, the women's game is a perfect place to start because the players are hungry to learn, absorb information quickly and, best of all for a budding technician, question frequently, making a developing coach test and prove his ideas.

Top-level coaches such as Alistair Edwards, Robbie Hooker and others found their start in coaching in the women's game, and trust me, as the Premier Leagues grow in stature the desirability of these roles will increase exponentially, a virtuous cycle for all.

Following the recent national competitions review, the national Premier Leagues have found a new importance and vitality in the national football consciousness and, with players fighting for a professional career under the tutelage of the next generation of young technicians, this will only increase.

A healthy game needs more than just a prosperous professional competition, but many levels below to produce players and coaches of the highest order. The blocks are now in place, let the future begin.

Twitter: @Craig_Foster

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