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Thursday, November 15 2018 @ 10:59 am ACDT

Footy in the Cayman Islands

North America

The Caribbean nation that is the Cayman Islands has it all, sun, surf, sand and….footy. Though not quite a staple of sporting life on the island it is a regular feature on the calendar each year for the past few years. The Gaelic Football Club started there in 1990 and as it progressed with a number of expatriate Australians playing the game there, they brought two regular Aussie Rules games each year into their schedule on St Patrick’s Day and Anzac Day.

The Cayman Islands were colonized by the British during the 18th and 19th centuries, this was achieved from their existing Jamaican colony. It was administered by Jamaica from 1863, and they have remained a British dependency after 1962 when Jamaica gained independence. The Caymans has a relaxed lifestyle with year round warm weather, which is conducive to watching and playing sports. You may have last heard of the Cayman Islands during the recent Commonwealth games, or as a famous tax haven where more than 40,000 companies were registered in the Cayman Islands as of 1998, including almost 600 banks and trust companies; banking assets exceed $500 billion.

Sporting facilities for footy on the Island can be considered a little lacking. The Rugby Club in South Sound shares its facilities with a number of other sporting teams and organisations. One of these is the Gaelic Football club. Of a population of about 44,000 there are around 60 Australian expatriates in the Caymans. There is a men's and ladies Gaelic competition, with 8 Aussies who regularly play in the Gaelic comp week in week out - the Gaelic schedule clashes heavily with the cricket schedule otherwise this number would probably triple. Gavin McMaster, from Victoria, was the 1st 18's Captain at Haileybury College in 1999 and has translated his skills to the Irish game to be one of the stand out's of the competition and was last year captain of one of the four Gaelic teams on the Island. The Irish consider him within the top 3 better players within the competition. In the Women’s Gaelic football Nicole Aburrow, who played for Parkdale in the Victorian Women’s Football league is in her first Gaelic season, but is already one of the more prolific scorers in the competition.

Aussie Rules is played generally on both ANZAC day and St Patrick's day. St Patrick’s Day involves a full day of events (Gaelic football, Hurling etc) and the Irish like to challenge the Aussies at Aussie Rules. It often becomes the highlight of the day for many and the game is often discussed across the island afterwards. ANZAC day is more of a day of commemoration and festivities for the Aussie's and Kiwi's on island, starting with a dawn service and a game of cricket later on in the day. Aussie rules is played at the end of the day and the Aussies like to return the favour to the Irish for St. Patrick's, by issuing the challenge of a return match.

The format of these games depends on the players available, generally between 10-12 a side with unlimited interchange. It's also played on a rugby ground and being much smaller than the usual Aussie Rules ground any more than 12 players would crowd the game heavily. The rugby goals are used, with no point posts.

For St Patrick’s day 2006 the format changed to International Rules format, this was a move encouraged by a few Aussies this year who attended one of the Gaelic Committee meetings. It was an attempt to keep the focus on the Irish for St. Patrick’s day and also give the crowd a spectacle, different to that which they would be used to by watching the Gaelic game. The Irish were very supportive of the move and felt it would even up things, however at half time on the day, facing a 39 - 0 score line they may have changed their minds. This goes against the trend for most matches we have seen in more recent times around the world where the Irish teams tend to dominate the scoring. Come Anzac Day this year however the format will return to the Australian Rules oval ball format.

As for a local Australian rules competition, the idea was thrown around after the International Rules game this year, but no serious movements have been made in this direction at this stage. The Australians involved in the game were not aware of the 2007 Aussie Rules tournament in Bermuda when we spoke to them, but indicated they are certainly interested in the idea. If they were able to get this up off the ground the 2008 International Cup could be a possibility, depending on interest from the non Aussies on the Island, the expatriates confident that an Australian coaching and support crew would be no problem to put together.

We'll have a separate report on the recent International Rules match shortly.

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