They came so excruciatingly close but at least the rest of the Caribbean knows about the potential of Cayman’s girl footballers.
Antigua hosted the World Cup Group B Girls Under-17 qualifiers last week and despite having the youngest squad there – many will still be eligible in 2009 – Cayman came so close to preventing firm favourites Jamaica from going through.
Coached by Bobby McLaren and Thiago Cunha, Cayman gleaned plenty of experience last month in the Women’s Olympic qualifiers at North Side. They lost to Puerto Rico (4-0) and Haiti (3-2) but showed remarkable resilience and maturity. It bode well for the Antigua tournament.
The Antigua Recreation Ground is better known for cricket. Cayman so outplayed Antigua last Wednesday that they might have got a cricket score on another day. Goals came from Somali Hall, Shanice Monteith and Alyssa Chin gave them a comfortable 3-0 win. Jamaica meanwhile, showed their intent, thrashing USVI 8-0.
At the same ground on Friday Cayman showed their class, beating USVI 4-0 with goals coming from captain Shenel Gall (two), Jetena Bodden and Sophia Roberts. Jamaica beat Antigua 6-0.
The clash was set up between the two best sides. This time it was the Yasco Sports Complex. Jamaica took the lead in the 11th minute through Vanessa Ramsey and increased it through an own goal after a mix up in the Cayman defence in the 64th minute. All out attack was the only option and Cayman launched a furious assault on the Jamaicans. A Hall header was goal bound and Roberts smacked it in to ensure it counted in the 79th minute. Jamaica hung on desperately after that. Cayman’s superior fitness showed up in the last 15 minutes. Only one Jamaican was under 16, so Cayman should have been significantly disadvantaged. Although generally smaller and lighter, they matched Jamaica in every department.
No wonder team manager Bernie Bush took a lot of pride in their performances. ‘It was disappointing to score two goals and still end up losing 2-1 to the Jamaicans. The positives that have come out of this tour are that our average was only 14 which means that for the next tournament in 2009, 11 of the squad will still be eligible. One of our goalscorers turned 13 on the day she scored, Jetena Bodden
‘We have Jasmine Ebanks, only 12. She also played against Jamaica, the hardest match. So when you look at what we have on hand, the up side is great. This team will stick together and there’s no doubt in my mind that they know the two things they have to concentrate on is their school books and their football. And once the public comes on board with their sponsorship, we’ll be fine. Cayman Islands Football Association has done everything I’ve asked of them. Everything I’ve asked for, within reason, they’ve been able to accomplish.’
Bush feels that the only aspect of the whole tour that was overlooked, was that they did not have a high quality video camera to record all games for coaching purposes. ‘I’m very upset with myself that I did not see it before. We have to purchase a top notch camera to videotape every time these girls play. Because there are little things in there that we as coaches take for granted that they know but looking at the fact that they’re so young and inexperienced and the programme is only a year old.’
‘Against Jamaica, even their first goal was a mental lapse between our sweeper and keeper. Just a lack of communication. Each thought the other was going to get it and left it and it just dribbled in. No shot. Even our keeper, Emilly Kelly, has only been there for five months. She was a midfielder before. She’s going to be great. Only turned 13 two weeks ago and she’s already 5ft 10in. Good pair of hands. And she wants it. That’s what we tell all the girls, if you can’t take it, leave the programme because we’re not going to be sugar-coating anything. I think that’s the difference with this programme from ones in the past. They come in and because they’ve made the national team they believe they’re superstars and you can’t tell them anything.
‘The people’s perception of who is the superstar on this team was Shenel Gall. She doesn’t act that way so why should the others? She knows her shortcomings and that she’s missed chances but she continues to work hard. She had a good tournament and I expected more from her in the Jamaica game. But when you’re double and triple teamed (marked by more than one player) that happens.
‘In fact, the first match, after 10 minutes, they were double teaming her yet she set up all three goals. And another thing is that she has to learn how to make other teams pay when they step in front of her. She’s very scared of hurting people but they’re kicking her all over the place. When she learns to run through people she’ll be awesome and they’ll have to show her more respect.’
For Bush, the match against USVI was their worse match despite winning comfortbaly because they were not as fluid. Nevertheless, he is happy with results. When the programme started last November his expectations for this tournament was at best a couple of draws. With two significant wins and a narrow defeat he feels they’re way ahead of schedule.
Bush intends the youngsters to go on a coaching course before going to coach Sue Green and helping her on Saturday morning girls football programme. There is another tour planned next year and an Under-20 tournament. ‘We’re looking at four years down the road. This is the problem we’ve had in Cayman for many years. We always think about now or next year but not four or five years ahead. When I go for sponsorship, I’ll let them know that this is an ongoing project. What they did in this tournament puts them a full year ahead of what I expected. It shows what discipline, organisation and dedication can do. They’ve got good coaches, good support from their parents and great support from CIFA.’
Bush feels they have fully earned what they are getting. For example, during Pirates Week, he deliberately scheduled practice for The Landing knowing full well they all wanted to go to it and party. Only one player didn’t show up. ‘That shows you the love and discipline they have for this game and this country.’
Coach McLaren is just as satisfied with Cayman’s showing in Antigua. ‘I just want to thank God for being there with us throughout the whole tournament and even before we went. I also want to thank my fellow colleagues on the coaching and management staff who did a fantastic job. Also, the association and government for their support.
‘The girls, more than anyone else, I want to thank them for the character that they showed; the back-to-back games, the venue changes and all the hassles over a short period of time. It was a real testimony to their character.
‘I was told as a boy that hard work develops character and these girls had that. It was an overall effort and the numbers speak for themselves. We scored eight goals by six different people. It was never a one-man show. That’s the way they operate both on and off the field. Everybody did what they had to do. It’s just unfortunate that we had to lose to an own goal, but in football just like life, we have to accept the bad with the good and move on.
‘This team is the future of Cayman football because of what they’ve accomplished in such a short space of time. Even in defeat, they were very gracious, showing maturity beyond their years.’