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The new generation

Manoj Kumar
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

THE sight and signs are familiar - Navneenda Goundar, Watisoni Voli, Alipate Driu and Bavu Village.

When Nadi won the Battle of the Giants football tournament on July 22, 1996, forward utility Voli scored two goals at Govind Park as the jet-setters came from behind to win the final 3-1 against Tavua.

Goundar was president and Driu featured prominently in that tournament. Six out of the starting 11 in the final that afternoon hailed from Bavu, Village, Nadroga. They were Voli, Driu, Kini Tubi, Voli's brother Aisake Matirerega, Ponipate Naulu and Tawake Dakunibubului.

Just over a week before the tournament, Voli was left out of the squad after he broke his collar-bone at training. He was brought into the squad a few days before the tournament, but still, all was not well. His two-year-old boy got sick and was admitted to the hospital. However, that did not deter Voli from starring in the tournament alongside Driu. Seventeen years on, that two-year-old son of his, Rusiate Matirerega is doing his dad and family proud. Like Voli, he is scoring goals and entertaining Nadi football fans. Alongside him upfront is Driu's youngest brother Napolioni Qasevakatini.

In the mid and late 90s, with players like Ramendra Dutt, Tubi, Emosi Baleinuku and Voli, Nadi was a major force in the domestic competition. Under the presidency of Goundar, they won the 1996 Fiji FACT and BOG, played in all three (FACT, BOG and IDC) finals in 1997, won the 1998 National League and IDC titles, the 1999 IDC, a Girmit tournament, the 2000 league and the 2002 IDC.

Then Goundar went and with him Voli, Driu and the rest of the stars. With them went Nadi's hunger and will to win. They have yet to win a major tournament since that 2002 IDC triumph.

But this year, that winning feeling seems to have returned. Goundar is back as president waving his magic wand with the next generation of footballers from Bavu.

"This is really exciting," Goundar said yesterday.

"When Driu played before- his mum and dad were always on the stands cheering him on and when Voli played, his dad did likewise. Now Voli and his dad are doing the same with Matirerega. The support is back from Bavu."

There is an air of anticipation in Nadi and football fans are licking their lips at the prospect of ending a 10-year winless drought (in tournaments and league).

They are undefeated and top of the table after seven games having beaten top teams like Ba, Lautoka, Rewa, Suva, Nadi and Labasa. So how did Goundar turn things around in less than two months?

"I am more a friend to the players than a president," former Nadi rep Goundar explains.

"It's about understanding the needs and wants of players and addressing issues. It's about being there for them in their time of need and vice versa they will be there for you in terms of better performances and results."

He sees Matirerega and Qasevakatini as future stars. "They are good and they will be even better when they return after the under-20 championship because (Carlos) Buzzeti is doing a good job polishing and fine-tuning their skills," Goundar said.

The two are Fiji under-20 reps preparing for the Oceania age-group play-offs in Nadi and Lautoka next month.

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