An impressive display from striker Gregory Ithier and his teammates saw Jean Marc Ithier Academy qualifying for their first ever Bay Hill under-19 Premier Cup tournament, following the last round of qualifiers in Mitchell’s Plain at the weekend.
The Pinelands-based side topped Group D – which also had Stephanian Ottery, Valhalla United and Ikapa Sporting – with five points after winning one and drawing two of their three group matches.
JMI’s game revolved around their solid defence and, as a result, they conceded only one goal – a penalty – and scored two in three matches.
They kicked off their last round of qualifiers with a 2-1 win over Valhalla United on Saturday. They went on to record goalless draws against Ikapa and Stephs, which proved enough to see them booking their ticket to Belhar.
Coach Keegan Fysh’s side qualified for the weekend’s round of matches after beating Sunningdale 5-4 on aggregate in another tightly-contested play-offs match a fortnight ago.
Despite being big and strong in the air, Gregory showed, throughout the qualifiers that he was not the typical target man, the kind that camps in an opposition box waiting for the balls to be played to him.
In fact, the plucky striker’s build is almost misleading, as he has an ability to go deep, collect the ball and take players on.
He literally bullied opposition defenders.
His coach, Fysh, described the youngster as a well-rounded player, who’s excellent in reading the game.
“Gregory brings a lot to our side, he is after all an Ithier and you can see that he understands the game well.
“He also comes in with loads of experience, having played for Mauritius in last year’s Cosafa under-20championshipsin Johannesburg.
“The good thing about him is that you can play the ball anywhere – on his feet, in the air or in space for him to run onto – he will deliver.
“He’s not one of those one dimensional type of strikers,” said Fysh.
Credit should also go to Fysh himself as he, in his first season with the side, was able to take them to their first-ever Premier Cup.
In fact, he only started coaching two years ago, under the mentorship of Duncan Crowie at Ajax Cape Town.
However, the 21-year-old from Edgemead said everyone involved with the team played a big role in taking them to where they are right now.
He also noted that the fact that they played more under-17 players made qualification even more special.
“The plan was to go to the field and get the results. And, to make that happen, we needed to be solid at the back.
“That’s what we did and the only goal we conceded came from a penalty,” he said.
“Things were not easy as it was my first time in the qualifiers. But we worked well as the team and things went our way.
“One of the biggest lessons we have learnt was the importance of keeping the winning team.
“We stuck to more or less the same team throughout the qualifiers and it worked,” he said.
He also noted that the preparations for the tournament, which starts in two months’ time, start now.
This, he said, was because they wanted to be prepared when the tournament kicks off.
“The players are over the moon and this is a big occasion for them. They are looking forward to doing well in the competition.
“Having said that, we are aware that this is our first time in the competition, which means we are not going to put too much pressure on the players. We want them to go there, enjoy themselves and learn as much as possible. We are, of course, not going there to add numbers, we will compete,” said Fysh.