As the most experienced member of the Antigua Barracuda FC squad, central defender George Dublin has seen a lot in his soccer career.
So it was only appropriate that he was on the field when his country made history last November, advancing further than any Antigua and Barbuda side had in World Cup Qualifying with a 1-0 victory against Haiti that sealed their place in this summer’s third qualifying round that sees them pitted against the United States, Jamaica and Guatemala.
“It means a lot to us, because we were part of making history for our country,” Dublin said by phone recently. “It’s the first time we’ve ever got this far. We knew that Haiti was the country everyone was looking for to come out of the group, and that made us fight harder because we were without a doubt up against a very good team in Haiti, so we just kept on fighting, using the things we learned during the season in USL PRO.”
The Barracudas emerged onto the USL PRO scene strongly early last season, but then as the season wore on the club gradually slid back in the standings, finishing outside the playoffs. But Dublin believes that the players learned from that experience and carried it forward with them into the crucial qualifiers against Haiti. After winning its first four games against the U.S. Virgin Islands and Curacao, a home-and-home series against their Caribbean rival would determine which side moved on and which side fell.
Thanks to Kerry Skepple’s goal late in the first contest, earning the victory, Antigua and Barbuda made the second contest academic, and with Dublin marshalling the defense, they held on for victory, three points and a place in the next round.
“It was a little bit manic on the bench when the goal went in,” Barracuda coach Tom Curtis, who also manages the national team, said. “It was a feeling of joy for a fraction of a second, and then I think our next reaction on the bench was to try and get ourselves organized for the kickoff. The goal went in 10 minutes from time, but it was a long 10 minutes, I can tell you, and the guy did tremendously to keep Haiti out, and Haiti were a team full of experience, full of quality.”
While the administrators that have boosted the nation’s national team program with the help of the Barracudas have been highly influential, players such as Dublin and fellow veterans such as Ranjae Christian and Randolph Burton have been as important on the field. Dublin, who currently has the most appearances for his country among the current A&B squad, remains in remarkable shape at 35 years old, a testament to his dedication to the sport.
“First and foremost, he’s a hard worker,” Curtis said. “He’s fit and he lives right on and off the field, he manages himself very well, so that’s why he’s been able to continue playing for a long period of time, to continue being a big influence for us. I think attitude and the way you live really contribute to how long you can last as a footballer.”
Dublin, though, knows his career will be coming to a close sooner rather than later, and Curtis speaks of needing some of the club’s younger players to fill the leadership role that Dublin has held for a while with the national team.
But Dublin is also optimistic for the future of the club, and the national team program, with the young players that are now coming into the professional ranks thanks to the presence of the Barracudas. With a number of those youngsters expected to be part of the upcoming qualifying matches, which open against the United States in Tampa, Fla. on June 8, he hopes those players will earn themselves an even bigger opportunity in the professional ranks.
“It’s going to be a fantastic experience, playing in the U.S. against the U.S.,” Dublin said. “We have a lot of young players that we would like to get marketed, who could get out there, so it will be a good opportunity, and the coaches are working really hard to make sure the young players are ready and to keep the older players focused so we can help the younger players along and hopefully Antigua and Barbuda can compete and make a good name of itself.”
As for Dublin himself, in addition to helping groom the next generation of players, there is one other thing he would like to leave as part of his playing legacy: To bring a championship back to his homeland.
“I’ve been around a lot of football in Antigua and it would be an absolutely fantastic feeling, maybe even a better feeling that I could hope for,” Dublin said. “I’m hoping that we can make a good run in the playoffs and maybe even win it and go out with a bang, and leave something behind for the young people to aspire to.”
Friday, March 23, 2012
By Nicholas Murray