Under-17 girls stole the show

The Cayman football scene was another moment us one in 2009 with the highlight, of course, being the girls Under-17s national side qualifying for the next stage of the World Cup qualifiers.

They head to Costa Rica in March to battle with the United States, Haiti and the host country.

Guided by head coach Bobby McLaren and technical director Thiago Cunha, the girls saw off the Dominican Repbulic in a two-leg thriller earlier this month.

For McLaren, the most significant incident in their campaign to get this far was when Ashani Francis stepped in for injured goalkeeper Emily Kelly early on in Santo Domingo.

Kelly was smashed in the face and went to hospital as a precaution. Although Francis conceded twice in their 2-2 draw, McLaren was impressed with her bravery.

‘All the girls have done a great job and made a contribution to our success, but for me Ashani stepping up to go in goal for us was the defining point,’ he said.

‘She showed immense bravery to keep them at bay.’

The Cayman girls have created history on two counts: no other national Cayman team, male or female, has got this far in a World Cup qualifier and they are the smallest country to reach this stage.

In women’s club football, Women United once again dominated, sweeping everyone before them in every competition.

When Cayman Islands Football Association president Jeffrey Webb became president 16 years ago, the local scene was in a poor state. He has built it up heroically since then and a tangible sign of all Webb’s hard work was the official opening of the Centre of Excellence in June.

None other than Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter, FIFA president, came in his private jet to open it alongside Jack Warner, the CONCACAF president, Horace Burrell, who is president of Jamaican football and Geoffrey Thompson, an English FA representative.

New Minister of Sport Mark Scotland was at the Centre of Excellence launch and he has seen the football scene flourish since. President of Bodden Town, Scotland also enjoyed the club’s outstanding success.

There was a fundraising dinner at the Ritz-Carlton the following night attended by all the football fraternity and included visiting English premiership manager Alex McLeish.

On the coaching front, Cayman was very active. Robin Russell, the English FA appointed football development consultant for CIFA continued his E-learning coaching training with a visit in January.

Goalkeeping coach Paul Campbell visited but was disappointed by the poor numbers although enthused by the keenness of those who did show up on improving their skills.

Two top FIFA coaches visited to instruct local coaches who made a big impression.

FIFA coaching instructor Scott O’Donell conducted stage two of a FIFA member association course and he liked CIFA’s overall organisation and so did Trinidadian super coach Alvin Corneal.

There was also a Referees Assistant Programme course held here for five days by three FIFA instructors, which helped local officials enormously.

Webb had another busy year coordinating everything. He did find time to go to England with national technical director Carl Brown to meet some of the most powerful people in the English game, including Fabio Capello, the England manager. The networking exercise helped because within a few months McLeish and Sam Allardyce spent their summer holidays here. More big English names and clubs are sure to follow.

Another bunch of kids who captured some glory were the Stingrays Under-11 side who coached by Cline Glidden won the Kick-It 3×3 World Championship at the Disney Wide Wolrd Complex in Orlando. They are budding pros for sure if they want to follow that career.

In the inaugural Premier League season, the dominant team was Elite who after a couple of promising seasons as youngsters, finally came of age with a flourish.

Elite comfortably won the league title and grabbed the Digicel Cup from Scholars International. Elite’s technical director Greg Ebanks had the biggest smile on his face.

They went for a glorious hat-trick in facing Bodden Town in the FA Cup final but the First Division champions upset the script.

It was a great season too for Bodden Town’s youngsters, coached by Elbert McLean and Al Frederick, who at no point in the FA Cup final looked intimidated by the double champions.

On the international front, Jamaica paid a visit in June. Head coach Theodore ‘Tappa’ Whitmore brought the Reggae Boyz over as preparation for the Gold Cup competition in the United States.

Jamaica won both games but highlight of the two encounters was Rene Carter’s wonderful free-kick which was the first goal the visitors had conceded in ten games.

Elite were the obvious team to beat at the start of the 2009/10 season but it was Scholars International who were in formidable form. Elite have had an indifferent first half of the season whereas Scholars were unbeaten in the league in their first 10 matches. They’ve lost to Roma United and Sunset since but are still clear at the top of the table ahead of the much improved roaring Tigers and George Town.

Academy are leading in the First Division and in the youth leagues Cayman Athletics are the dominant side in the U-13 and U-15 leagues.

When football resumes in two weeks’ time, there is so much to play for that it will be intriguing to see how the rest of the season unfolds. Few would have given bottom clbus Roma or Sunset a chance of beating Scholars and the Digicel Cup has reached its semi-final stage with Elite facing last season’s nemesis Bodden Town and George Town taking on Tigers.

The only serious distraction from league and cup action will be when the Under-17s will make history again in Costa Rica, no matter what happens.