Taranaki’s premier football team has withdrawn from the Central League.

Team Taranaki is a composite team and its players are affiliated to clubs in Taranaki who release them to train and play. But coach Ian McGrath told this week’s annual meeting it can’t field a squad strong enough to compete in the league.

The meeting approved a plan to withdraw from the competition and inform clubs. It almost certainly spells the end of the TT concept which was launched in 2003. The TT annual meeting was told the organisation is financially in the black. Team Taranaki’s position is expected to go to Havelock North. If they join, the competition will comprise seven clubs from greater Wellington, two from Hawke’s Bay and one from Wairarapa. Taranaki’s highest ranked club, New Plymouth Rangers, plays one level below in the Federation Premier League which caters for clubs from Poverty Bay, Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, Whanganui and Taranaki.

McGrath, who was looking forward to his 10

th season at the helm told the meeting “I feel terrible”. “It pains me, but we have genuinely exhausted all the options. We are currently 10 players short and we are four weeks away from the start of the season. The player pool available in Taranaki simply isn’t deep enough to support a team playing at Central League level and with seven key experienced local players unavailable this season due to a combination of work and personal commitments, retirement and injury it has proved impossible to replace them.” He said options considered included attempting to salvage the TT concept with additional help from New Plymouth Rangers, New Plymouth Boys High and Francis Douglas Memorial College. “They were sympathetic, but between them they could not offer the quality and quantity of players we needed.”

The TT contract with Taranaki clubs had one year left to run, but McGrath said even if he fielded a weakened team in 2018, the problems would be the same going into 2019. McGrath said contributing factors to TT’s failure included the fact that several 2017 squad members were unavailable, the lack of interest from Taranaki based players and the inability to support players from outside the region or overseas.

The other issue was that squad players had to commit to extensive travel during the season. New Plymouth Rangers chairman Monty Ammundsen was saddened to see TT’s demise and paid tribute to the work of McGrath. “Ian’s energy has been a key factor in keeping the TT concept afloat – I think had we not had him, we might have reached this point sooner.” He said Rangers understood the challenges TT faced because it had taken a leap of faith three years ago by entering the then Western League. “We have also found it a challenge to have a full squad on a Saturday.”

Ammundsen said another factor had been that TT’s infrastructure had been thin – while most clubs bought into the composite team system the number of people who actually worked to support it was small. That was evident at the annual meeting this week which attracted just seven people. McGrath said he would not criticise players who elected not to challenge for a TT place. “Maybe it’s a perfect storm – but the players we are seeing who might be able to perform at Central League level have other priorities.” He said he was aware of similar player recruitment issues in Hawke’s Bay.

Sport Taranaki Chief Executive Howie Tamati was also disappointed to hear the news this week. “But this is not a football failure,” he said. “We are seeing similar pressures in other codes “Times have changed – from the days when people like my mum would put in 53 years of her time to support our local Waitara Rugby League club. “People want their recreation to be varied and fast – look at the growing popularity of shortened games of sport. We thought 50 over cricket was novel a generation ago – now it’s 20 overs. I see futsal taking off and being played by people who do not want to commit to a club and be tied down to twice a week training and being out all day on a Saturday.

“They are quite happy to get their time of sport casually when they want it and also pay to play. Tamati said regions like Taranaki also suffered when their best young players were identified by sports scouts and put into academies in other New Zealand centres and even sent overseas to the NRL system, for example. That took a huge toll on community rugby league in New Zealand. “That’s not criticising the high performance pathway process, but it’s a simple fact that when those players leave the local pool becomes shallower and it’s quite likely they will never come back.”

He said the challenge for sports administrators was to recognise the challenges and learn how to meet them head on.

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