New Zealand head into a crunch OFC U-17 Championship 2023 semi-final against Fiji tonight, in front of a passionate home crowd roaring on the home side. But there will be plenty of noise made to support the young Kiwis at HFC Bank Stadium, especially from one second generation player’s family.
Luka Coveny will line up in the NZ defence, with his surname being familiar to many fans of NZ football. His father, Vaughan, played 64 times for the All Whites and until last year he was the all-time top goal scorer for his country with 29.
The younger Coveny has had a strong tournament so far in an NZ team that has only conceded two goals in their three games. Having his father, mother, sister and grandparents in Suva to watch the side play has been “great”.
“Yeah, it’s not a holiday but it’s nice having the family around to support me, my grandparents are here too so I just want to make them proud,” he said.
Vaughan Coveny said that the family arrived just before NZ’s nail-biting quarter-final win over Vanuatu, a game that he said put them “on edge.”
“But they got through that so come semi-final time they’re up for it again. It’s not going to be easy.”
There is a bit of symmetry with Fiji for both father and son. The island nation is host to Luka’s first appearances in an NZ shirt, while Vaughan made his senior international debut against Fiji back in 1992. In another twist, Vaughan’s NZ record of 29 goals was eclipsed by Chris Wood last year in the OFC World Cup 2022 Qualifiers, when the Nottingham Forest striker scored two in the All Whites’ game against Fiji.
“It’s really only the start for him,” said Vaughan about Luka.
“He’s progressing really well, so we’re so happy to be here and support him. It’s a really good experience for the whole team to come away and experience other countries, what it’s like to play on the other side of the ocean.
“It’s not easy here with the heat and humidity, the grounds. For the other teams, they’re a bit more used to that, but for New Zealand team, we’re not so used to it. So it’s difficult at times.”
Luka is confident his team will be able to make it through to the final, with the prospect of a place at the FIFA U-17 World Cup later this year in Peru a big motivator.
“We’re in great spirits right now, we’re really looking forward to the game. It’s massive for everyone, trying to qualify for a World Cup.”
As for taking inspiration from his old man, the young defender revealed that a recent signing with A-League club Western United in the family’s home city of Melbourne means that the two will be on the training field together in the foreseeable future.
“He coached me a lot when I was younger. Now it looks like he’ll be coaching me again at Western United,” said Luka
“It’s a good club, a really competitive environment. He’ll get really tested at that level but he’ll do well and I’ll be there to help him in that good learning environment,” added Vaughan.
That is for later in the season though, as the NZ U-17 side will only have victory in their semi-final on their minds right now.