Cayman Athletic’s youngsters were unexpectedly leading the Premier League toward the end of the season but tailed off near the end and finished fourth.
But at least they won the FA Cup at the TE McField Annex on Sunday, beating Elite Sports Club 3-2 to finish their senior season in style.
Athletic are in contention with Elite and Academy for the Under-23 league title, and it will all pan out by Friday when the final matches are played.
Athletic’s technical director Ernie “Gillie” Seymour is pleased with the club’s overall performance. His U-15 side won the FA Cup and his U-17s were FA Cup and league runners-up to Future Sports Club. Athletic’s U-23s also won the FA Cup.
David “Chunky D” Connolly has been Cayman Athletic’s talisman all season and topped the scoring charts with 23.
Connolly scored Athletic’s first against Elite. Dwayne “Gaza” Wright and Raul Rodriguez hit Elite’s goals before half-time, but then the interval lapses in concentration allowed Athletic’s Jamaal Seymour to score a brace to seal the win. A delighted Athletic captain Matthew Suberan collected the trophy which his teammates had before the match promised to win for him.
“We met our objective to finish in the top four and winning the FA Cup was the icing on the cake,” said coach Seymour. “I thought we could have won the league had we not been messed up.”
He was referring to half his first team being distracted by being called for training camps with the national squad. Seymour felt their absence disrupted the momentum and rhythm of the side, which is why their league form faltered dramatically.
The same thing happened to Elite, who headed the league for much of the season before dropping off because they too saw their best players called up for international duty. Scholars International won the league.
“The boys are maturing and showed that they can now compete with the bigger clubs,” said Seymour. “We had a minor breakdown at times which affected their camaraderie, but they rallied and overall they had fun.”
Initially reluctant to single out players for praise, Seymour later listed many who made a substantial contribution to their season.
Robert Levy, an experienced keeper from Jamaica, was brought in toward the end of the campaign to share the spot with outstanding teenager Shakur Welcome.
Athletic’s defensive unit of Joshewa Frederick, Jahmelie Durrant, Kevin Stephenson and Kevin Foster gelled superbly, and midfielders Joronnie McLean and Ernie Jacques were brilliant alongside Suberan.
The skillful Martin Webb gave opposition defenders nightmares with his trickery and occasional goals, and Seymour’s son Jamaal was at times the busiest player on the pitch. Christopher Ebanks and Christopher Myles also had great campaigns, Seymour said.
He also singled out some seniors who helped the youngsters through difficult phases, including Kyle Santamaria, Jason Hydes, Garath Fraser, Cornell Bartley, Richard Reid and keeper Kason Stewart.
Seymour might be a victim of his own success because several players will have moved on by next term. Frederick, Connolly and Foster are off to further their education in the U.S, and Jamaal Seymour is hoping for a stint in England at a higher level.
But the coach is not too perturbed because he said there are U-17 standouts in his “excellent feeder system who are raring to go.” They include Jordan McLean and Kevin Bello, with others on the fringe of bursting through.
There are also some classy players from other teams who want to join Athletic.
Seymour feels that Athletic in particular deserves more funding and support from the Cayman Islands Football Association, and that clubs generally would benefit from more backing “to push them to another level and to motivate the players.”
He feels that even little gestures like phone top-ups, and paying for meals and gas would inspire some. “Every club should receive $5,000, at least, for miscellaneous expenses,” he said. “We’re all underfunded.”
Greg Ebanks, Elite’s technical director, said, “It was a very entertaining game which the fans enjoyed because of the great skills on display. It was played with good sportsmanship.
Ebanks was resigned to a dip in club form from the players selected for the national side. “Togetherness means a lot, but the country comes first and that is when we had our transition.”
Ebanks hopes Elite can keep the momentum going next season and is even considering the Caribbean Football Union Club Championships again which they competed in a few years ago. It all depends on how much financial backing the club can secure, he said.
Elite’s most dependable players were Wright, Mark Ebanks, Jameal Welcome and captain Abijah Rivers. Had striker Wright not been hampered by injury, he would have had a bigger impact, Ebanks said.
Overall, he added, he was particularly proud of the club’s exemplary disciplinary record throughout the season of only two red cards – in two youth teams – of the five Elite male sides.