One of the world’s most respected goalkeeping coaches imparted some of his wisdom on Cayman’s young talent last week and from all accounts it was a resounding success.
Aspiring goalkeepers got a unique chance to hone their skills from former pro Bill Irwin who spent four days in Grand Cayman giving coaching clinics.
The West Bay Sports Foundation, in collaboration with the Academy Sports Club, hosted Irwin, Director of Soccer from the University of Portland.
Coach Irwin’s experience is at the top echelons, with both the US national men’s and women’s programmes, assisting with the Under-20, U-21, U-23 and senior women’s teams, and all the youth and senior men’s teams.
He trained the US goalkeepers in the 1998 World Cup in France, the 2000 Olympic team in Australia and the youth teams in various World Youth championships.
His football background includes 17 years playing in England in the Seventies and in the United States in the North American Soccer League and the Major Indoor Soccer League in the Eighties.
The University of Portland is a NCAA Division 1 institution in Oregon with 3,900 students and 320 faculty members.
The West Bay Sports Foundation arranged a number of events with coach Irwin including training sessions with the Primary Football League Youth Programme at the TE McField Annex Field and with the women’s teams at the Ed Bush Field, West Bay.
There was an Under-18 game between a George Town select and a West Bay select at the Ed Bush and two goalkeepers’ clinics on Saturday at Academy’s field on Outpost Road, one for the youths and the other for seniors.
Coach Irwin guided keepers through two-hour sessions on strengthening skills, increasing game awareness and building confidence. The two clinics were sponsored by Zolfo Cooper.
Since its inception in 2009, the West Bay Sports Foundation has created opportunities for the Island’s young athletes to excel academically and athletically locally and overseas.
The foundation has also hosted various youth football tournaments and events involving local and overseas teams including the visit of Swindon Town Football Club’s U-13 team from the English professional team’s Youth Academy and CD Vida’s Under 15 team from Honduras.
The foundation’s annual West Bay Community Cup Youth Football Tournament has become a well-supported event showcasing the best young talent in the U-11, 14 and 17 age groups.
One particular tip Irwin likes to pass on is when a keeper is in a one-on-one situation with an advancing player he should not lean to one side but stand straight to make it harder for the player to decide which side to put the ball.
He learned that back in the Seventies when the great Johan Cruyff scored past him after Irwin titled slightly to the left. The Dutch master stroked it to the keeper’s right.
Irwin came for the first time to the Cayman Islands four years ago, thoroughly enjoyed himself, so he did not have to have his arm twisted to return.
“When I came the first time, I saw some games and saw some talent on the Island,” he said. “I was invited back down by the West Bay Sports Foundation and Arden Rivers and I got to work with these kids and it’s wonderful.
“It’s been a short time so I hope I left at least one thing with each of them to remember. If I can get them to remember at least one thing, I’m winning.”
The 61-year-old Irishman liked what he saw in the select game, how well they passed, technique, the running off the ball and control.
“Also, the goalkeepers I’ve worked with here, they’ve got some raw talent and something I can work with to get them better.”
One of Irwin’s students was James Joseph, Elite Sports Club’s keeper. “I’ve got to understand how to really be a goalkeeper,” he said. “Like the tactics and finesse. Otherwise, I would like to learn more.”
Joseph, 22, hopes to become a pro keeper. “I believe I can make it because I’m with Elite and we’re going to win all three trophies this year, the league, Digicel Cup and the FA Cup.”
Ardin ‘Cheeky’ Rivers is founder of the West Bay Sports Foundation. He said: “The West Bay Sports Foundation is not only trying to enhance football in West Bay, with this trip from Bill Irwin, it will enhance football throughout the Islands.
“Short term he will improve the goalkeepers’ ability and long term we hope we can foster a relationship with him at the University of Portland.
“The feedback we’re getting, especially from the parents and organisers, is that this was well needed in the community. This is not just a problem in the Cayman Islands but worldwide.
“Emphasis is always on the goal scorers, after that it’s the midfielders and the keepers are the ones always left behind.
“That area definitely needed to be addressed and Bill did that.”
Virgil Seymour is Academy’s director of football and with the help of his wife Shannon and like-minded coaches and a great support team, has really built up the club.
Seymour said: “The positives from this are the keepers need a lot of work and Bill being here is perfect because we never had a coach specifically for this.
“We’ve always in the past had to improvise and just do what we know from our own experiences so having him here is a wonderful thing.
“Ardin did a fantastic job in finding him and I look forward to having him come back again in the fall for maybe a week or so.
“One day is wonderful but if we can get him for a week that’s beautiful. Keepers like Kasey Keller have been coached by him. We know Bill is good and his reputation speaks for itself.”
Deena Rivers of the West Bay Sports Foundation, said: “We wish to extend our gratitude to Academy Sports Club for their partnership in hosting the clinics and the NCAA meeting.
“Coach Irwin’s visit was a great worth to our young people aspiring to achieve significance in life through success in sports and education.
“Thanks again to Neil Murray of CUC who was there from the beginning with Ardin, and thanks to the other foundation members for their loyalty.
“Shannon and Virgil, thank you both for your invaluable support. We look forward to working together again, for the enhancement of our youth.”