Rugby is a passion for many ex-pat Brits in the Cayman Islands. There are numerous enthusiasts of the sport here all with varying levels of experience but for one man in particular, it’s not just a passion, it’s an obsession.
David Mays openly admits that he lives rugby 24-7 and even married a player so that she could never nag him about pursuing his beloved game. Fitting then that Mays is the new community development rugby coach on the Cayman Islands, courtesy of the ambitious Cayman Rugby Football Union and the benevolent execs at Maples and Calder who pay the bulk of his salary.
The game is flourishing here despite competing with numerous other sports and with a population of only 50,000 there is only a finite number of new recruits it can draw on. Mays is determined to maximise that latent potential.
We’re sitting in the clubhouse of Cayman RFU in South Sound. In customary flip flops, T-shirt and shorts, Mays finishes working on his laptop for this interview to espouse the joys of a game that has taken him from the bleak, chilly climes of south Yorkshire to the oasis that is George Town via Canada.
He wants to take the game from being home-based to grass roots level, particularly in West Bay and Bodden Town. ‘ I want to develop little community teams and when they’re sufficiently built up we can have island championships,’ Mays says. ‘Many kids who play rugby on the island have to come here but I want them to be able to train within walking distance of where they live. It’ll be more convenient for parents too.’
That’s why coaching clinics are being held around the island at the cost of a mere $5 a day per child. When fall comes and the kids go back to school they hope to have fields allocated to them to train and play on. Mays, 40, eventually wants to have a one-day tournament at South Sound for children aged between eight and 16, girls as well as boys. ‘We’ll try to make them 15-a-side but may have to settle for sevens. We can get schools playing sevens and then their communities can produce 15s.’
Mays wants to attract more players from the local community as well as ex-pat kids who may have already played abroad or whose families have a history in the game. ‘We’ve got our own niche players through ex-pats but I want more local, athletic kids to play, especially the black kids. I’ve worked with the West Indies sevens team for the last two years and they only had one white guy. Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad provided the best players which is why I want more black kids in the Cayman side.’
Apart from the schools project, Mays is training the women for the Caribbean championships in Cayman next month. Schmarra McCarthy, the US Under-23 amazon, currently on tour with the Americans in New Zealand, will be eligible to play for Cayman if she wishes to. The men will be competing too. Cayman women play Jamaica on 19 August and the Trinis two days later. When he took the Canadian women’s team to Trinidad, the Trinis got hammered. So he’s confident that Cayman can beat them too. What about Jamaica? ‘Well they’ve got some scary quick athletes. I took the Canadians there and their fastest player got run down quite easily by the Jamaicans.’
He knows what he’s talking about having been a top hooker in England for 15 seasons in south Yorkshire for Wakefield and Wheatley Hills. He worked in civil engineering then as a site foreman and when he married Angela, a Canadian, in 1999 moved from England to Vancouver onto an island called Nanaino. ‘My wife roped me into coaching her side.’
Mays did all his coaching certificates and even studied full-time for two years to get the ultimate one which entitles him to coach at any level anywhere in the world. It was while coaching the Barbados men’s team when he was approached to take over in Cayman by local technical director Richard ‘Griz’ Adams, his old friend. ‘I’d been after a coaching job in Australia but when Griz approached me he twisted my arm to come here. My wife still plays and will be turning out for Cayman – she’s got no choice.’
Mays is also identifying the next batch of youngsters, aged 15 and 16, suitable for the rugby academy that begins next year. ‘Once I get the schools up and running I can identify the elite athletes and educate them on diet, training, hydration, rest and put them through a training program. I realise I’m competing with other sports like track and field and football but I will not just educate the kids on the benefits of playing rugby but also the parents on the opportunities it offers such as scholarships and professional contracts.
‘There is big money in rugby now and the average player can earn up to CI$150,000 playing pro abroad. There are a number of scholarships in the US and Canada and many opportunities in England who are dangling a big carrot. Even if someone just wants to get educated on the back of rugby they can.’
He wants to develop the academy kids to a level that they’ll be good enough by 2011 to tour New Zealand, coinciding with the senior World Cup. ‘Going on that tour is a long-term plan so that they’re not just playing rugby for the sake of it but also looking at the long-term potential. With the right guidance there’s no reason why Cayman women as well as men won’t be good enough to play internationally.
‘At my first women’s practice session there were only nine or ten girls. Now we have 29. Word is getting out, but only three are black girls. I also refute the notion that rugby is more dangerous than football. I’ve had more injuries playing football than rugby.
‘Another good thing about rugby is that it opens doors for shapes and sizes. You don’t have to be athletic or skilful, you can be short and round or tall and thin, there are 15 positions to suit you. Rugby is played in 140 countries and 102 try to qualify for the World Cup every four years.’
The Cayman Under-19 side came third in the Caribbean region of the World Cup qualifiers last week, a pretty good result considering the finalists were Guyana and Jamaica, two much bigger countries with vast pools to draw from. It was won by Jamaica in a closely fought match. ‘From what I’ve seen in practice and play so far, we’re only one step behind those two, not very far at all,’ says Mays optimistically. ‘Based on the short time we’ve had together, we did OK. There was a lot more success than failure. It was good to see them beat Barbados in the final game.’
Mays was impressed by Robbie Cribb, Shemiaia Grant, James Geary, Andrew Cuffy and Joel Clarke, who were the nucleus of a quickly-improving team. Clarke, son of Cayman coach Stephen, has just got a scholarship to play in England. Mays hopes to develop many others to gain that privilege.
All in all, David Mays can indulge in his love for rugby to his heart’s content. At least his missus won’t threaten him with divorce over it.