First Nations soccer stars from all corners of NSW put on a show for the inaugural NAIDOC Cup at the Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility on Awabakal land on Wednesday.
The state’s best 14 to 16 year old Indigenous talent represented their region, braving the wet conditions while family and friends happily shivered in the stands and jostled into packed undercover areas.
Northern NSW Football and Football NSW, who govern the north and south of the state, played it out for bragging rights throughout the afternoon.
Northern NSW Football chief executive David Eland was excited by the opportunity to host the occasion during NAIDOC week and put a spotlight on regional area’s.
“(There) couldn’t be a better time to do it, ” Mr Eland said.
“What a great opportunity to celebrate football, and to give these young players from right throughout New South Wales, both regional and metro, an opportunity to celebrate their culture.
“We’ve got a lot of First Nations people within our region, so we’re really looking forward to partnering with Football Australia to do more in this space.”
The women’s match kicked things off with a nail-biter going down to the wire.
Northern took an early lead before the southern players absorbed their physicality to take a 3-2 lead into half time.
Northern controlled possession early in the second half, unlucky to see two long range shots go agonisingly close to giving them the lead.
A pair of classy efforts from either side ended the game 4-3 in Football NSW’s favour.
The men’s match was a little more one-sided.
The southern boys looked to have a yard of extra pace, a touch more height and a few extra years on Northern NSW with the outcome reflecting as much.
Courtesy of some luck and missed opportunities from the opposition Football NSW took things out 10-nil.
Looking after inclusion and representation initiatives in her role, Northern NSW Football legacy plan manager Annelise Rosnell is excited by the positive movements in the sport.
She said soccer had been a step behind in that space for a while, but is really starting to take off.
Rosnell said the NAIDOC Cup is a fantastic indicator of the direction the sport is heading.
“There’s definitely a lot of momentum around it, and there’s a lot of work we can continue to do in this space,” she said.
Mr Eland said he hoped other representative bodies around the country might get involved and grow the event.
The NAIDOC Cup plans to return in 2023 with Football NSW hosting rights.