The Under 15 boys and their coach are intent on proving that Montserrat has a future in football. A squad of 18 players, which includes four from the United Kingdom are competing in the CONCACAF Under 15 tournament in Bradenton, Florida from August 13 to 19.
While it is a participation opportunity for the players and not a tournament, Coach George Dublin said it is the chance for Montserrat to make a statement about where they plan to take football.
Dublin is a former centreback/defender for the Antigua & Barbuda national football team and has played in nine World Cup qualification games. Since 1997, he has played for several teams, including Hoppers FC, Trinidad & Tobago’s Joe Public and Antigua’s Baraccuda FC.
He joined the coaching team for the Montserrat Football Association (MFA) in 2013 under Coach Lenny Hewlett. Dublin became head coach in 2015 when Hewlett departed.
Almost every day of the week, you can find children standing at the side of the road, football in hand waiting to be picked up by the MFA buses. The grassroots football programme for children as young as seven has between 25 to 30 kids and this Dublin said, is part of MFA’s strategy to “build for the future and not simply for now.”
“MFA is focused on developing football on Montserrat. Our national team in Antigua has never been foreign based and the Montserrat players are usually English. We are trying to build a structure where we have a base of 10 to 15 Montserrat-based footballers. Under 15, 17, 19, and adult. We know that when they finish school they usually leave and we have to live with that but you will have a lot more players you can call on.”
“Under 15 football is about development,” Dublin told Discover Montserrat. “12 to 15 is when motor skills start to work properly and so it’s the best time to learn the basic techniques of the games. You get to see where they are and who has potential to go further.”
Despite what he called some lackadaisical behaviour in a few of the players, football is serious for most of them. “It takes time and it is a work in progress,” the coach shared. Dublin, who is a certified coach, said development football is his favourite area as he is able to take the players through the various growth stages. Coaching adults who already have bad habits is much more difficult, he added.
“I’ve been coaching the majority of these players consistently for the past two years. Some fell out along the way but we invited them to come back and they did. There’s been progress in all of them and throughout the last year we’ve seen massive development.”
Montserrat’s small population and lack of community clubs means that the boys are limited by the number of different people they play. “If you’re smart and if I play against you two times by the third time you won’t be able to get past me with the same moves. We wanted them to play with other teams so they could recognise person’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses.”
This development has come from creating more opportunities for the boys to play the game they love. More local skirmishes with older players, mixed gender teams and visiting clubs. Since 2014, they have had opportunities to travel to Antigua and play local clubs there.
In recent games with a visiting Antiguan club, the Under 15 boys won both games confidently.
After more than four months of intense training, 14 players based on island were selected to be part of the first national Under 15 Boys team. Along with a management and training staff of 12, the group left for Florida on August 4. They will have eight days of practice with the players from the UK ahead of their first match against other Division 3 Group J members. Turks & Caicos on August 13, Anguilla on the 15th, British Virgin Islands on the 16th. All games are being played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. They will play Division 2 team Bermuda on the 18th.
“We have a really good chance of doing well. My aim is to win our group,” Dublin said.
Picking the final squad from the 22 boys in training was not an easy task, he said. In some cases, the decision was taken to let younger players wait for the 2019 games as they would still be within the age range. For others, although they were training, their immigration status became as hindrance as they cannot play for the national team in international matches unless they are of Montserrat nationality.
Coach Dublin believes that the opportunity for the young footballers to represent their country will inspire other players to continue and even more to join the game.
“It’s a participation tournament but I’ve told the boys that for us we are not participating we are going to compete. Make those teams work to beat us and if they don’t beat us we will beat up on them. If we get that mentality now and push this team on, it will be good for football in Montserrat.”