Premier League action returns this weekend after the summer break and expectations are high all round.
Last season Scholars International regained the Premier League title from West Bay rivals Elite who were runners-up and those two teams shared cup spoils. Scholars beat George Town in the FA Cup final and Elite defeated Bodden Town in the Digicel Cup.
Those four teams are likeliest to share the glory this term but Cayman Athletic and Tigers showed they can cause upsets. Newcomers from Division One are North Side and Academy hope not to go straight back down.
The Cayman Islands Football Association season actually kicked off on Sunday at the TE McField Annex with the Charity Shield. Scholars International got the psychological advantage over Elite, winning 2-1 through goals from Mark Ebanks and DeMarley Howell. Rene Carter hit Elite’s goal. It was refereed by Mitchell St. Clair who was named Referee of the Year at the CIFA awards at the Westin Hotel the night before.
In an earlier game, visiting Honduran side CD Vida, sent their Under-15s to take on Academy’s U-15s. The Hondurans won 1-0 thanks to a goal by Nelson Gonzalez. The previous night CD Vida played a West Bay youth team at the Ed Bush stadium and won 3-2. The West Bay scorers were Jevon Ebanks and Jonathan Anglin.
Both matches were organised by West Bay Sports Foundation who are admirably promoting youth football in the Cayman Islands.
In the 5pm game at the Ed Bush stadium, West Bay, Elite face North Side before Scholars take on Academy at 7pm. At the TE McField Annex in George Town, Cayman Athletic face Bodden Town at 5pm before George Town take on Tigers at 7pm.
Colin ‘Dougie’ Rowe is the Scholars International head coach. He is looking forward to the new campaign. “As always, I expect nothing but the best from my team, therefore we expect to defend our championships from last year,” he said.
“It will be hard to repeat last season’s success because each team is strengthening their rosters for the up coming seasoning so this season will be interesting.”
Scholars had a huge squad last term which many regarded as the main reason for their success. Rowe feels quality is more important than quantity.
“I wouldn’t say we have the biggest squad, we just have a lot of quality players who really want to win. I plan to keep everyone happy simply by rotation. Everyone will get a chance to prove themselves.”
Rowe is not singling any team out to prevent them repeating their success. “There is no single threat, every team is considered a threat to Scholars. We don’t consider any team as an easy opponent.”
He is loathe to single out star names although the obvious ones in the Scholars side are top scorer Mark Ebanks, midfield dynamo Nahun Rodriguez and inspirational captain O’Neil.
“Last season there wasn’t an individual that was outstanding. It was how the whole team came together as one to get the job done and that is what is expected this season. Hard work, dedication and discipline.”
Coach Greg Ebanks is Elite’s technical director and he hopes they can be just as competitive although the squad has shrunk slightly.
“Having the record for winning the Digicel Cup and runners-up in the league last year was a good accomplishment by our team,” Ebanks said. “We are setting goals to come in the top three in the league and compete well in the knockout competitions.”
Elite lost inspirational players Alex Belcher and Dwayne ‘Gaza’ Wright in the summer to Bodden Town, a big blow. “They were our main goal scorers for the past two years,” said Ebanks. “This will bring some serious constraints in having a good goals scored for in the tables.
“We don’t really have any big summer signings like the other clubs. With the players that are faithful we will work hard to get favourable results. Our biggest rivals will be Bodden Town, George Town and, of course, Scholars.
Elite’s brilliant midfielder Rene Carter was given Player of the Year at the CIFA awards on Saturday. Ebanks feels it was well deserved. “His record speaks for itself. This is what all of the team representatives decided with their valuation.
“I think Rene will contend well again this year, seeing that we don’t have the depth of players like the previous years.”