13 Nov 2018

New Football Ferns coach says 'wounds have been healed'

6:13 pm on 13 November 2018

New Football Ferns coach Tom Sermanni says the players are ready to move on after a difficult year under their previous coach.

Katie Bowen and Football Ferns Head Coach Tom Sermanni at a training session ahead of the OFC Women's Nations Cup in New Caledonia.

Katie Bowen and Football Ferns Head Coach Tom Sermanni at a training session ahead of the OFC Women's Nations Cup in New Caledonia. Photo: Photosport

New Zealand Football has formally apologised to the players for the bullying behaviour of former coach Andreas Heraf.

Four members of New Zealand Football's executive committee met with the team this morning in the wake of an independent review which found Heraf engaged in "bullying behaviour" and that complaints laid by 12 players about his conduct were "genuine and largely substantiated".

Heraf resigned in July before the review was published.

Sermanni said the players were in a good place now.

"What was very obvious in the meeting is that everybody's on board. Everybody wants this organisation to more forward, everybody wants to work together collectively rather than have different agendas, different thoughts and everybody is on the same page. Really important to have those meetings and for people to sit down and communicate and express their thoughts.

"It was obvious that over the last couple of days a lot of wounds have been healed and that everyone's looking at moving forward," he said.

Sermanni also met with former captain Abby Erceg who retired in May because of problems with Heraf.

Erceg was present for the apology and at a team excursion yesterday as the team prepares for next week's OFC Nations Cup in New Caledonia.

Sermanni said the pair discussed the veteran's potential return.

"We're in discussions with that at the moment. At the moment it's about this squad and about this tournament [Nations Cup] ...it's really important that we focus on this tournament. I've had a really great meeting and conversation with Abby, I've known her many years and when this tournament's finished then we can look at the next stage.

"We just chatted about generally what her thoughts may be, she's obviously been involved yesterday which was very important because she's been a very critical part of this programme ...we considered things looking forward."

He said the fact that Erceg was there was a good sign.

"It's significant, it says that she cares about this team and this programme and the progress of the team, regardless of what that means in her world but I think it was really good and important for her to be there and I think it was very good for the players to see her there. She's obviously somebody that's greatly respected within the squad and somebody who has been a significant member of this team and as I say when we get through this stage one then we'll look at see more in stage two."

Sarah Gregorius.

Sarah Gregorius. Photo: Photosport

Veteran Football Fern Sarah Gregorius said the apology was a worthwhile experience and emotional at times.

"It was really honest and open and I felt that it was really heartfelt and I think the beginning of a different type of relationship compared to the one that we have had in the past [with New Zealand football]," said Gregorius.

"We have never had that many member of ExCo [the executive committee] in the environment before and certainly not speaking as frankly as we were this morning so it was really great."

Gregorius is optimistic that New Zealand Football is serious about making change.

"For sure...and there are now measures in place to make sure no team has to go through what we have been through and the organisation itself doesn't go through that again and I definitely thought it was genuine and authentic."

The camp is also the first opportunity for the players to meet and talk with new coach Sermanni, who has previously coached both the Australian and United States women's national teams.

Gregorius said over the next few days team culture would be part of discussion as they look to move on from the Heraf saga.

"We got our first real team meeting tonight where it will be a little more focussed around what the next few weeks will look like and what the new structure will be."

Gregorius said the general feedback she had on Sermanni was that he was a coach who "put emphasis and importance on team culture - so that is really exciting".

The side are in the middle of a training camp in Auckland before heading to New Caledonia for the Oceania Nations Cup which starts on 18 November.

The Football Ferns will play Tonga, the Cook Islands and Fiji and go into the tournament as defending champions.