Cayman Islands football can herald a new dawn. Even though both teams lost over the holiday weekend, the overall outlook is positive because the island is bursting with an inordinate amount of talent.
Since Hurricane Ivan ravaged almost three years ago, rebuilding Cayman football teams was a minority priority. Nevertheless, the sporting fraternity yearned for a renaissance to pre-Ivan success when Cayman regularly over achieved.
The Cayman Olympic Under-23 team took on the all-conquering Sporting Central Academy at the McField Annexe in George Town on Sunday and despite a 3-0 loss had nothing to be ashamed of.
After all, Sporting had won virtually everything they competed for in Jamaica and were promoted as champions into their Premiership. So a team of seasoned pros, mature men who have gelled as a unit after years of playing together were taking on youngsters – many still teenagers – coming together after only six weeks training. Should have been a slaughter but Cayman acquitted themselves with immense pride.
They battled and ran themselves ragged in the first half against a technically superior side whose fluid passing game drew cheers from a crowd of over 1,000, mainly Jamaicans.
With only a couple of minutes remaining before the break Carnell Learmond finished a flowing move from close range. It was a heart-wrenching moment for the Cayman midfield who had competed admirably. Jairo Sanchez and Jedd Ebanks impressed with their non-stop running and fierce tackling against the teak tough visitors but there was little they could do to stop that 43rd minute goal.
Sporting boast one of the finest strikers emerging in the Jamaican leagues in Oneke Forde. After the break he unleashed a shot with the minimum of back lift that flew across the box into the top corner. That was on 67 minutes and five minutes later he got another scoring opportunity after Rene Carter conceded a penalty with a blatant push.
After the power of his opener, blasting home the penalty should have been a formality, but Forde’s tame shot low to the left was comfortably saved by Joseph Tatum at the second grasp. Carter, still seething at the penalty decision was then sent off for dissent.
Forde made amends in the 80th minute with a spectacular volley from the edge of the box that flew past Tatum. He should be an international soon.
Cayman never really troubled Sporting all night but they gained from the experience. Team manager Arden Rivers said: ‘This was a learning process. We used this match to look at different ballers and make an assessment. The Jamaicans are being paid whereas some of our players are only 16, 17 and we only used them for exposure at this level.’
Jeffrey Webb, president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, said: ‘In the first half we kept our shape and overall I’m very pleased with the boys’ performance.’
The following evening over 2,000 turned out for a far more competitive match at the same venue. This time it was a Cayman Islands Select XI against Sporting with former Reggae Boyz striker Onandi Lowe, 32, turning out for the home side. Lowe played in Jamaica’s only ever World Cup Finals appearance in 1998 and has experience in the English professional leagues.
But his inclusion turned out to be futile because Cayman were under siege from the off. Determined to match the visitors physically, a series of uncompromising tackles culminating in a clash between Sporting’s Linval Lewis and Gioser ‘Cuban’ Gonsalez. It lead to a huge skirmish with referee Alfredo Whittaker quelling a volatile situation admirably. At least Cayman showed they were not going to be knocked about like the Olympic team.
Learmond hit the crossbar twice with one shot but Cayman were not overawed. A superb long ball from defence by captain Thomas Elliot put Marshall Forbes through and his first time volley went agonisingly close.
In the 54th minute Sporting’s captain Terry Alves talked himself into a red card for persistent arguing with the officials. Totally unnecessary and against the whole spirit of the evening.
The match degenerated into a scrappy affair as multiply substitutions and the pitch cutting up badly diminished the skill factor. Cayman couldn’t capitalise on the benefit of an extra man and a goalless draw seemed certain – until that man Forde again hit another 30 yard screamer in the dying seconds. The game desperately needed a goal, shame it came with virtually the last kick.
Cayman captain Elliot, 28, said: ‘Sporting were quick and very physical considering they were slightly built but they knocked it about really well. The second half could have gone any way until Forde’s goal.’
Webb said: ‘Forde is special, he contributed to a great weekend of football. We may have lost both games but were definite winners if you look at the role football contributes to the community. All walks of life enjoyed the games.
‘In the last three years we’ve had to play internationals on the road because of Ivan. When you analyse the Under-23s, give them four to six years and I honestly believe they could place in the top five in the Caribbean Cup.
‘With the talent and passion we have, it’s a special group. If we can harness it, put them in training camps and send them overseas for games, we can do well. Last year our Under-17s came ninth in the Caribbean Championships out of 32. We need businesses and sponsors to support us to build on that.’