Kirwan dreams big

Niko Kirwan lives and breathes football. He is passionate about playing a style of football that is instinctive and fast. Kirwan is naturally curious and loves to learn. He perseveres when the going gets tough. He is ambitious and holds onto a dream of playing professionally.

Given Kirwan’s life experience, his mentor and DNA- this should hardly come as a surprise.

Kirwan comes from a family of successful sportspeople. His father, Sir John Kirwan, is one of New Zealand’s most successful All Blacks. His older sister Francesca represents New Zealand at volleyball and his younger brother Luca excels at rowing.

Despite his father’s achievements, Niko has never played competitive rugby. Sir John has never pushed Niko towards a career in rugby. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Niko’s father has developed a great interest in football since his son first excelled at the sport.

“He has always been supportive when he found out I loved football. He has started reading (about football)- he’s got Carlo Ancelotti and Marcello Lippi’s books, he went out to meet my coaches and helps me set my goals”

“He has been really excited about me joining Team Wellington and enjoyed watching me play on TV last weekend”

Sir John acts as a mentor to Niko by providing advice around how to prepare for matches both mentally and physically.

“When I’m back in Auckland, we go to the gym together and he pushes me. He teaches me a lot of things I need to know about sport. He has taught me that preparation is key, such as eating well and staying positive”

“He often says not to put too much pressure on myself prior to games as once the whistle sounds on the pitch everything sweetens off”

Niko appreciates his father’s analysis of his performances.

“He will watch my games from the sideline silently before giving me his performance analysis after the game!”

Kirwan’s time abroad has had a major influence on his outlook. At the age of five, Kirwan’s family relocated to Treviso, Italy where he would spend 12 years. He speaks fluent Italian and calls Italy home.

Away from the rugby hype, Kirwan developed a passion for the round ball game.

“Growing up in Italy, all my mates at school always had a football in their hands. It’s not like here where you play football one day and rugby the next. Over there, it was all football, football, football”

Kirwan learnt to play football the Italian way- fast, skilful and instinctive. He loves playing a positive brand of football where you back your instincts and skill execution.

Kirwan returned to New Zealand in time to attend Year 13 at Sacret Heart College in Auckland. After graduation, he decided to relocate to Wellington for his studies and football. After the disappointment of missing out on selection for the Phoenix reserves team, Kirwan signed for Miramar Rangers.

Following two seasons with the club, he signed with Team Wellington. Kirwan is now loving his football and Jose’s coaching philosophy.

“I love it being in Team Wellington. We are just starting to play like we play in Italy, with a focus on one-two plays and looking for that space in behind”

“Even if we make mistakes, we are encouraged to keep playing. I’ve started to really enjoy playing football again”

He is confident his team have the skill and mental fortitude to succeed this season.

“Even when the game gets tough, like when we were 2-0 down last weekend, we just stuck to our game plan. We didn’t just lob it long, we kept on playing and our luck turned. I think that will happen again this season”

Kirwan has set himself the goal of starting every game this season. He would also like to help Team Wellington win both the Stirling Sports Premiership and Oceania Champions League.

He remains open-minded about his future. Unlike many University students his age, Kirwan has already experienced life abroad and this comes through in his outlook.

He is still chasing the dream of playing professionally. Kirwan has set his sights on getting into the Phoenix. He may also consider the option of returning home to Italy to pursue his goal of playing for a Serie B team.

If these plans don’t work out, in Kirwan’s view all is not lost. He will simply continue to train hard and learn as much as he can wherever he is playing.

It is this mentality that gives Kirwan every chance in achieving his goals and enhancing the Kirwan reputation in world sport.

- Rory Milne