The Cayman women’s football team is probably better prepared than it has ever been going into the Olympic qualifiers tomorrow.
They face Puerto Rico at the playing field in North Side and Thiago Cunha, technical director of Cayman women’s football, feels he has done all he possibly could. ‘I’m very happy. I’ve worked in East End for a very long time, four years, and this is the first time that we’ve had a big tournament there and I’m sure that the people from East End and North Side will support us. The girls have been training for 11 months very hard. They are incredible, they’ve put in a lot of effort.
‘We went to Jamaica and had some excellent games there in July. Last year we had an excellent tournament in the Bahamas too. We’ve worked hard to develop the girls. The aim is by 2010 or 11 you will see 14 girls with scholarships playing in the USA and England in professional leagues. That’s the aim of the staff. And the character and the personality that we have in the staff, we have worked them hard to get the best out of them.’
Cunha has been ably assisted by Bobby McLaren. Between them the two have created a squad brimming with confidence and bursting to display their skills.
Sophia Dilbert is one of the more seasoned Cayman players. The 33-year-old central midfielder is a lawyer and a mother but she still manages to fit in all her football commitments around those responsibilities.
‘On behalf of the women’s team we would like to thank the ministry of sports and the Honourable Alden McLaughlin for the sponsorship and its commitment to the team,’ she said.
‘We only know what we’ve been told about the opposition and that’s very limited. We understand that Puerto Rico has some very skilful players and Haiti are a very physical team but beyond that we haven’t actually seen any footage of them. Bernie Bush (team manager) went to Puerto Rico in the past week and was not permitted to enter any of the training facilities.
‘I feel very privileged to be surrounded by such a young and spirited team. Despite their youth they’re very enthusiastic and play with a lot of heart and they’ll come out and offer the public a good opportunity to see some very good football. What I’ve seen out of these youngsters is not just determination but their talent is exceptionally good. Insofar as I can offer it is leadership but they do have their own natural talents and the skill is there so Cayman should come out and support these girls.’
One is Telicia Ebanks, 17 a left midfielder. She is confident of her own ability. ‘My strength as a player is size, I can’t be knocked off the ball. It’s good to work with all of the coaches. We all love each other on the team. I like working with coach Bob and Thiago. They do their best. They give us some good training and the best way I can pay them back is to do my best in the game.’
Brianna Hydes, 13, is a left back. She attends St Ignatius. She feels the team unity will pull them through against Puerto Rico and Haiti on Sunday. ‘I’ve not just gotten better, I feel like I actually have a family on the team. It’s like I’m not just there to just play football but to meet friends and I’m surrounded by a family and if anything goes wrong they’re there for me. Even if I don’t start and I’m on the bench, it’s good exposure and experience for me and I’m very excited to play. This is my first international and I think we’re going to do well. They’re not going to beat us!’
Hydes feels that playing in Jamaica helped her development enormously. ‘From that experience we now know how it feels for the refs not to be on our side and other countries to be in our half. The way how the Jamaicans play and how we play is two different things. I think we’ll do pretty well if we just put our hearts to it. Don’t expect to go to someone else’s country and get your way, you know. It’ll never happen but you can still put up a fight and if you fight hard for what you want then surely you will get it.
‘I would like to thank the Minister of Sport Alden McLaughlin for all his support and coach Thiago and coach Bobby for being there and not walking away and I would like to ask all the people of Cayman to support, it’s your country, be there for us.’ Kick off is 7.30pm.
Cunha is happy with their preparation Photo: Ron Shillingford