Football Ferns aim for Cup qualification

East Auckland resident Steph Skilton (right) is hoping to gain selection for the Football Ferns’ upcoming assignment in New Caledonia. Photo Twitter

By Jim Birchall

One player keen to secure a seat on the flight to Noumea is Howick local Steph Skilton

Times have been tumultuous for the Football Ferns recently, with off field dramas becoming centre stage in the New Zealand media. The fallout from the departure of coach Andreas Heraf has become an unwelcome distraction in the players preparation for the upcoming OFC Nations cup in November.

The team is currently without a coach, and the search and selection process is underway at time of writing.

The New Caledonia-based tournament acts as a qualifier for the World Cup which will be held next year in France. One player keen to secure a seat on the flight to Noumea is Howick local Steph Skilton.

Skilton was a member of the New Zealand under 17 side at the 2010 Women’s World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago, making two appearances. She played in all three of New Zealand’s games at the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan where they were eliminated at the group stages.

Most recently she has been tearing up the US college scene as a member of the Syracuse Orange, an experience Steph describes as “Crucial to my development as a footballer”.

Steph has had a taste of full international honours after debuting for the Ferns senior side  in 2014 in a Cyprus Cup clash against Switzerland.

She is currently plying her trade in the middle of defence at centre back, after starting her career as centre forward, followed by a stint in the midfield.

The upcoming games would see her locking horns with the likes of Tahiti, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and the Cook Islands.

In the absence of traditional rivals Australia who follow a different route to qualification via the ASEAN Football Federation, Skilton sees Tahiti as “the most likely to give us a tough challenge”.

The coaching issues aside, 2018 has been a pioneering year for women’s football in New Zealand with female players achieving a world first. New Zealand Football and the New Zealand Professional Footballers’ Association came to a decision over a new collective bargaining agreement which offers pay parity with the men’s All Whites.

The agreement offers match pay parity, equal prize money, equal rights for image use and business class travel while representing New Zealand.

Steph is excited by the developments in the women’s game, and welcomes the “long overdue changes for a side that is ranked inside the top 20 in the world”.

When coupled with other initiatives like the new Kate Sheppard Cup, and expansion to two full rounds of the Women’s National League, the future is bright for the beautiful game.

  • Jim Birchall is a radio journalist, podcaster and owner of honeybadgercricket.com