After a season testing himself against the best the WaiBop Premiership has to offer with Papamoa, Liam Molloy is ready to dip his toes in a bigger pond.
A much bigger pond indeed.
Alongside fellow Tauranga football high-flyers Alfie Cole, Stanley Rust, Josh Oliver and Guy ten Bokkel Huinink, the teenager is on his way to one of the biggest showcase tournaments in the United States in February, as part of an elite Waikato University Football Academy team put together by former All White Che Bunce.
The Presidents’ Day Tournament, played in a spectacular setting on lush green fields in the heart of the desert in Phoenix, Arizona, attracts upwards of 300 college coaches from all over America, all on the lookout for the next standout talent.
It’s a great opportunity for 16 year-old Liam to pursue his dream of a footballing ticket into the US college system.
“That’s the goal in the future,” he says, “to ideally try and make it overseas, and play football over there.”
And according to Duncan Lowry - his coach at Papamoa last season who handed him his senior debut - he’s got a great chance of reaching his goal.
“He’s as good a 16-year-old lad as I’ve seen for a long while in New Zealand,” says Duncan.
“I believe Liam’s got everything, and it was a pleasure having him for a year at Papamoa. He started about six senior games, including appearances in the Chatham Cup, and he scored a number of goals for us.”
One of the things that impressed Duncan the most, and what fills him with optimism for the teen’s future, was the progression Liam made throughout the year.
“In the first two or three weeks with us he trained like a little schoolboy. They keep the ball too long and they don’t pass, but that was knocked out of him quite quickly.
“I think a year with us turned him into the complete player he is.”
With Papamoa ending the season as runners-up in the WaiBop Premiership and enjoying their best-ever run in the Chatham Cup, Liam views his experience the same way, and feels it was key to his selection in the tournament team.
“It was a really good season,” he says, having played alongside the likes of former All White Cole Peverley. “It was a good team to be involved with.
“Training with the older guys really helped me a lot. Because they were a lot quicker and stronger, I had to be a lot smarter on the ball, so it definitely challenged me and I learned a lot from it.”
When Che Bunce picked up the recommendation from his old mate Duncan, that was good enough for him.
“Duncan gave Liam a glowing reference,” says the former central-defender, who played 29 times for New Zealand.
“What he also said is that Liam’s a good lad, which is important. We’re after players with great attitude. Talent is one thing, but having the attitude to go with it is probably the key aspect.
“We looked at him and he is a good player. He’s great on the ball, and technically he really stood out amongst all the other players.”
Che says in such a competitive environment, there’s no guarantee of an American future for Liam and his fellow Tauranga hopefuls, but it puts them in with a good chance.
“The Kiwis that have gone over there have a good reputation. They’re good honest lads, and that seems to get noticed.
“We’re generally laid back and we don’t complain, so that’s a good attribute to have over there.”
Che aims to use his international experience to run the team like an age-group New Zealand setup, and give the players the best possible opportunity to showcase their talent.
“I treat the players like they’re would-be internationals, try to run it as professionally as possible and hopefully win the tournament. That’s our goal.”