Let's hear it for our Girlz and those who dared to believe

From The Sports desk

Deputy Sport Editor

Sunday, October 21, 2018

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By any stretch of the imagination, something remarkable happened on Wednesday afternoon in the USA.

Some of us are still pinching ourselves at the novelty of it, for the momentous occasion of which I refer can easier be compared to something pulled from the pages of a fairy-tale story rather than a true to life moment.

However you want to look at it, it's a moment worth savouring to its last tasty drop.

Jamaica's female footballers, our darling Reggae Girlz, did what was thought before to be the unlikely, the impossible even.

They have, with honour and grace, rewitten the course of Jamaica's sporting history when they became the first Caribbean nation to qualify for the senior Fifa Women's World Cup to be held in France next year.

How they did it matters little at this point, but that they did is what counts.

But for those who missed it, our Girlz carved their space in Jamaica's rich sporting history and legacy when they defeated Panama 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out in the third-place match of the Concacaf Women's Championship at the Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.

Before the penalty lottery, both teams were locked 1-1 at regulation time, then 2-2 at the end of extra time in a tight contest of grit and determination. Finally, penalties were introduced as a tiebreaker to separate two nations bent on claiming glory.

Two brilliant saves by substitute goalkeeper Nicole McClure and Jamaica's perfect kicking from the 12-yard spot sealed the deal and launched the Girlz into football heaven.

Jamaica's top scorer in the campaign, Khadija Shaw, had given her team the lead in the 14th minute, but Panama came back to tie at 1-1 through Natalie Mills in the 74th. And in extra time, the precocious 16-year-old Jody Brown restored Jamaica's lead in the 95th, but again the fired up Panamanians evened in the 115th.

The rest, as they say, is history.

So massive is the Girlz' master stroke that it keeps company with the Reggae Boyz' groundbreaking qualification to France '98, legend Usain Bolt's world records of 9.58 seconds and 19.19 in the sprints, and the country's exploits in bobsleigh at the Calgary Winter Olympics of 1988.

But it was not an easy road that led to this latest success. What we as Jamaicans — home and abroad — are celebrating today is the culmination of enormous sacrifice, hardships, trials and tribulation.

If ever there was a bumpy road to France, this was it.

Few gave the Girlz a chance of pulling off this moment of greatness, but somewhere someone believed in the 'impossible'. And yes, it started with the players themselves and a technical team that nurtured that belief, and in the end they, too, became converted.

But long before that, qualifying for a women's World Cup was nothing more than a dream, something these young women would use to give them inspiration and hope in a situation of fading light.

Even inside the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) there were doubters — big and small. Jamaica's women's football was the pansies of the national programme, and their participation was seen as a mere activity out of obligation rather than purpose.

In 2008, the JFF suspended the senior women's programme because, try as they might, they could not convince corporate Jamaica to invest in our female footballers, who like their male counterparts, had the right to dream.

While the JFF kept the development planks of the Under-17 and Under-20 going, many warriors of the women's programme on a whole were left heartbroken by what they thought to be a summary decision.

I know for a fact that the move was a major letdown for everyone involved, resulting in some players losing hope in their football careers and forced to re-evaluate their life alternatives.

Some even quit the game in frustration and disappointment, never to don the national colours again.

The success of the team today, I feel, is rightly theirs to share, because it not only vindicated them for wanting to do the same back them, but that the belief in people and their abilities can pay off handsomely at the end of the day if encouraged.

And as we celebrate and lift up the victorious players and the technical staff of Hue Menzies, Lorne Donaldson, Andrew Price, Hubert Busby and Will Hitzelberger, we must pause to recognise those who have gone through the worst of the hard times when financial resources and confidence were scarce.

Call it fate, or a great coincidence, the intervention of the Bob Marley and Alacran Foundations was monumental in taking care of the welfare of the Girlz and the technical team in large measure on this magical ride.

For her unwavering and manic advocacy for the women's game, chairwoman of the JFF Women's Committee Elaine Walker-Brown deserves special mention.

In any show of gratitude, we cannot ignore the contribution of former technical director of the JFF and women's head coach Vinimore “Vin” Blaine, team manager Jean Nelson, women's coach Xavier Gilbert, Ian Forbes and Sherwin Williams Limited, the Captain's Bakery and Grill, and so many others.

In the case of Sherwin Williams, the corporate company for many years sponsored the Women's Premier League, while the Captain' Bakery and Grill, for a spell, supported the schoolgirl league.

Kudos to the JFF for resuscitating the senior women's programme in 2014, and more significantly, to entrust its ambassador, Cedella Marley, and the Bob Marley Foundation with overseeing fundraising and other key activities related to it.

I believe it to be important to make it clear that the success did not come overnight, but was the result of the foundational work of pioneers of the women's game, some of whom have remained in the shadows in a cause that endeared a few.

So, as we revel in this glorious moment as a nation, let's pay homage to our Girlz who on their magnificent journey epitomised the majesty of the human spirit, the will of champions and the qualities of a new generation of Jamaican heroines.

Let's now throw the full backing as a country behind our Girlz as they head to France next year to continue their fairy-tale journey, following in the footsteps of the men's team 21 years later.

But, more importantly, they will be the country's ambassadors on this global stage where they will want to leave their mark and to promote brand Jamaica that will no doubt score big once again.

You go, Girlz.

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