Tahiti club AS Temarii Temanava is on a mission to return to the form which saw them become the first-ever Moorea-based side to compete in the OFC Champions League.
To turn that dream into a reality the side has swapped the familiar fields of Moorea for the stadiums of Tahiti, where they’ve joined the country’s second division, Ligue 2.
For Temanava coach, Bernard Vahirua, this is just the first step in a journey he hopes will lead to the club once more joining the ranks of the region’s elite.
“We won the championship in Moorea last season by a large margin with a 12- or 13-point lead, with three match days remaining in the season,” Vahirua said.
“Playing the championship again was going to become monotonous for us. The inter-island tournament hasn’t taken place for five or six years either. In the past, we were motivated to win the local championship because we’d then take part in the Iles Sous-le-Vent tournament. Now, we win titles in Moorea, but we’re not discovering anything else.”
Vahirua said the players’ preference was to head directly into Tahiti’s top competition, Ligue 1, but with Tiare Tahiti already representing Moorea they weren’t able to get direct entry.
Now they’re hoping that competing in Ligue 2 will lead to promotion at the end of the season.
The club spent three years competing in Ligue 1, a period Vahirua remembers fondly.
“That was a beautiful period,” he said of the seasons between 2007 and 2010.
“We had a great team reinforced by players from New Caledonia, and we were well prepared. We finished second in our first season, and champions of the Coupe de Polynésie. We were the first team from Moorea to qualify for the Club Championship (now known as the OFC Champions League) and we showed that teams from Moorea can play at a higher level.”
However, the glory days were short-lived with the passing of former club president, Jean Vane, eventually leading to a decision to return to playing in Moorea.
Now they’re back in Tahiti, the side are already making their mark with an opening weekend victory (9-2) over a young AS Venus side.
“The squad are in high spirits at the moment. We’re happy with our first match and the win. Our goal now is to finish first or second place in Ligue 2 so we can compete in Ligue 1 next season.”
If the name Vahirua sounds familiar, it should as Bernard is none other than the father of former professional footballer Marama Vahirua.
Temanava has somewhat of a familial vibe with Marama having spent time early on in his career there, and more recently was playing with the side last season ahead of his departure to take up a coaching role with his former club OCG Nice.
For Vahirua senior, being able to call on his son’s expertise hasn’t stopped despite the 16,000-odd kilometres between them.
“If we make it into Ligue 1, I’ve already asked him if he can loan us some young players from OGC Nice for next season,” he said. “Marama’s also helping me with new training sessions, new systems. We’re in contact every night at 8pm.”
Planning ahead comes with the territory of managing a club playing in three different senior divisions, but Vahirua maintains the focus remains firmly on this season.
“I think we’re sufficiently prepared to attain our objective,” he said.
“But we’ll recruit some more players in the next window for our attack and midfield. If we want to win titles, we need to reinforce our squad.”
Temanava will be back in action again this weekend for their second match of the season, taking on AS Papenoo at 13h30 on the 24th October (TAH time).