Thursday, February 29, 2024

Bajan Ballers reap $100 000


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On a day when Bajan Pride was at its most significant, Bajan Pride were also at their best.
And now they have 100 000 reasons to smile too.
Jose y Jose Bajan Pride Ballers had the perfect name for a team playing on Independence Day, and that mojo came to the fore at the country’s most historic sporting venue, where they became the winners of the inaugural LIME/Pelican Football Challenge.
The Pride became the first winners of Barbados’ richest sporting tournament on Wednesday night, defeating Nu Look 360 Connection 1-0 to pocket a whopping $100 000, the largest winners’ kitty for a champion team of any sport in Barbados.
On a brilliant evening, the country’s birthday greetings were simultaneously joined with the celebration of Bajan Pride, amidst a sea of aquamarine and gold in the stands. And they must still be dancing in the team’s hometown of Carrington Village, for decades a football hotbed.
This was easily the biggest day in the sport, outside of when the Bajan Tridents reached the play-off round of the World Cup to face giants the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica more than a decade ago.
From around 4:30 p.m., a long line emerged at the ticket booth outside the Oval. By 8:10 p.m. when the championship match kicked off, the stands were packed with almost 10 000 fans, and the atmosphere was just as energetic, with fans decked in a mix of national colours for Independence, and the colours of Bajan Pride Ballers and 360 Connection.
Bajan Pride took the lead on 20 minutes, when 360 Connection sweeper Jomo Brathwaite made an awful mistake, letting what appeared to be a harmless cross sail over his head.
But an alert Damian Williams was lurking behind him, and stretched in the nick of time to slot it home to the delight of the numerous Bajan Pride fans at the base of the Hall & Griffith Stand.
For Williams, it was a case of making up, since he had been booked for stamping an opponent just three minutes into the match.
Williams proved to be key to the victory, winning numerous tackles in midfield and also holding up the ball, ensuring Bajan Pride’s lockdown possession game proved effective.
The first 15 minutes of the contest was a feisty affair, as two players received yellow cards, and rough tackles were the order of the night. But then things settled down, and Bajan Pride became rather industrious.
It was clear 360 Connection had their bets on dangerous striker Dwayne “Schillaci” Stanford to be their main man all night, but Bajan Pride skipper Julian Mottley sniffed out the threat time and time again, using his much larger physique to consistently overpower the skilful but diminutive Stanford.
In fact, Mottley was easily Bajan Pride’s best player.
He had a brilliant 90 minutes, endorsing his status later in the night as the tournament’s best defender, as well as the Most Valuable Player of the championship match.
Still, Stanford did have 360’s best chance in the first 45 minutes, but lost control on the penalty spot after shaking free of Mottley for once.
Five minutes after the goal, Renaldo Waithe had a great chance to make the right connection, but his low shot agonizingly struck the upright and came back into play.
In the second half, the pace  slowed considerably. Bajan Pride played keep-away most of those 45 minutes, but did come forward in patches.
Angus Doyle and Zacheeaus Polius had their way in midfield, and on the few occasions they earned shots on goal, Nu Look’s inspirational keeper and captain Kerry Holder thwarted them.
The final 15 minutes left the fans on the edge of their seats.  With Bajan Pride sticking to their keep-away style, Nu Look went all out for an equalizer, even though their hard-working midfielder Shawn King limped to the sidelines and was replaced.
Their best chance came with five minutes left on the clock, but Jermaine Caesar’s diving header at the far post missed by inches.
As the match neared a climax, the length and width of the Kensington Oval pitch continued to take no prisoners, with players from both sides falling like ten pins it seemed, forcing five minutes of extra time.
But when the final whistle came at 10:15 p.m. Bajan Pride’s players and fans found one last burst of energy,  invading the Oval for a celebration that kept back the presentation ceremony.
In the picture above,  franchise owner of Jose y Jose Bajan Pride Ballers, Stephen Griffith (third from left), accepting the inaugural LIME/Pelican Football Challenge championship trophy from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. Witnessing the presentation are (from left) chairman of the tournament’s organizing committee, Mia Mottley; Bajan Pride captain Julian Mottley, coordinator Randy Harris, and LIME’s managing director Alex McDonald. (Picture by Kenmore Bynoe.)


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