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Gilligan returns to second home

The Australian is more than familiar with the French Territory after acting as the technical advisor to the national futsal team in 2008, which coincided with a fairytale campaign in Tahiti’s debut performance at the OFC Futsal Championship in Fiji.
“Tahiti holds a special place in my heart and I am thrilled to be able to take the Futsal Whites to a place which I regard as my second home,” Gilligan says.
“They had never played futsal before 2008 and the first national tournament was conducted with 20 teams from around the islands,” he continues.
The prize for winning the national event was the opportunity to represent Tahiti at the OFC Futsal Championship in Fiji. Rapa, a tiny island populated by just 500 people, emerged as the winners and set about preparing for their maiden international experience under the Tahiti flag.
After winning, the team relocated to Papeete where they lived in together in a one-room dorm for the three months prior to the OFC Futsal Championship. Gilligan spent this time, with current coach Heitapu Hunter acting as his interpreter, training the team twice a day, six days a week.
“The Rapa team only had nine players, two of which were goalkeepers so I added three of the top goal scorers from the tournament to the team.”
A further change was made to the team in the build up to Fiji with Rehia Davio brought in to strengthen the goalkeeping stocks. As it turned out, Davio won the Golden Glove award for the best goalkeeper at the OFC Futsal Championship. The unfancied Tahiti drew with their Francophone rivals New Caledonia and defeated Tuvalu, New Zealand, Fiji, and Vanuatu on their way to a silver medal. Their only defeat coming at the hands of eventual champions, the Solomon Islands Kurukuru.
“It was probably the best coaching experience I have had in my career, to see a team who knew nothing about futsal change their whole way of life for three months and commit 100 per cent to ensure they had the best preparation was amazing.”
In the months following the tournament the country seemed to become obsessed with the five-a-side game. Within two years there were 32 men’s leagues and 24 women’s leagues, each consisting of ten teams, throughout French Polynesia. The players in these leagues specialise in futsal only and the leagues are conducted from February to October with the champion team of each league earning the right to compete in a Champion of Champions tournament in December.
“I am sure there are even more teams and leagues than ever before, and I know the national futsal team is now selected from the many leagues across the islands and is a true reflection of the nation,” said Gilligan.
The final match of the three test international series is the feature of the opening ceremony for the Festival des iles. The festival is a celebration of futsal and is the culmination of a competition that involves over 700 teams across various men’s and women’s age categories from the five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia.
Gilligan is also happy to see Hunter graduate to take the reins of the Tahiti national side and produce another silver medal performance.
“In 2011 he nearly changed the history of futsal in Oceania when Tahiti led 4-1 with 12 minutes to go against the Solomon Islands in the final of the OFC Futsal Championship.”
Tahiti had earlier accounted for New Zealand at the semi final stage with the match ending 3-3, only for New Zealand to suffer the heartbreak of a penalty shootout loss.
“I know everyone involved in futsal is eagerly awaiting my return and I have heard this international series is billed as the teacher versus the student. My sources have told me that Heitapu has been training them three times a day to prepare for the three international matches with the Futsal Whites. It will be a fascinating contest and the players can expect a huge crowd, especially for the last game.
“The hospitality they will be shown and the experience that the players will gain from this will live long in their memories.”
Tahiti v New Zealand
Papeete, Tahiti
Match One : Friday, 29 March, 8pm (Mar 30 NZT)
Match Two: Sunday, 31 March, 8pm (Apr 1 NZT)
Match Three: Tuesday, 2 April, 5pm (Apr 3 NZT)

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