Jersey's women look to create more Island Games memories

Jersey's women look to create more Island Games memories
Eve Watson netted the winner in the Island Games final of 2015 - credit Adrian Topley

Just after 11am, Friday 3 July 2015. Springfield Stadium, at the Robin Hood pub end. Former Welsh international Jodie Botterill swings in a free-kick from the left, the keeper comes, but Eve Watson is there to head home at the near post. Watson wheels away, kissing the badge on her Jersey shirt. The packed main stand erupts. A goal that means gold. Perhaps THE defining success story of a memorable home Island Games rammed full of success stories.

It was a first ever final for Jersey's female footballers. Up against an Aland side that had been the dominant force in the Games for the decade leading up to that point, with the Finnish team winning gold on the three previous occasions in which they'd entered. It was some battle in that 2015 final, and the home side had to withstand heavy pressure at times for that 1-0 win - a pressure that lifted to be replaced with jubilant scenes on the blast of the referee's final whistle.

BBC radio commentator Roger Bara bellowed into his microphone with goosebump-inducing commentary for those not fortunate enough to be there themselves. Gold for Simon Petulla's side, as Jersey finished top of the overall medals table on home turf that summer. Of the 50 golds the hosts earnt that scorching hot week, few were celebrated quite like this one.

Eight years on, Jersey could be forgiven for having gold on their minds again as they prepare to travel to Guernsey for the 2023 staging of the Games. Botterill and Watson are once more in the 18-player squad, named publicly today by boss Chad Morris, and their experience and tournament know-how will be a vital supplement to the many players set to make their Games debuts in early July.

"It's definitely my all time favourite goal and without doubt my favourite game," said Watson, now of Rozel Rovers, reminiscing about her winner in that Springfield final in 2015.

"The scene come the final whistle - if I’m honest it still makes the hairs on my arms stand up. We were such a tight-knit group after months of preparing for the Games, and our hard work on and off the pitch was rewarded. Winning the 2015 Island Games on home soil will forever hold a special place in my heart."

Libby Barnett and Chad Morris with Women's Muratti trophy
Jersey, skippered by Libby Barnett, won the Women's Muratti in Guernsey earlier this month

Watson and Botterill are joined in the class of 2023 by a string of youngsters. Teenagers Ella Docherty, Poppy Benest and Roisin Flynn have all been included - they were all still at primary school when Jersey won gold in 2015. This is a group looking to make new memories though, to create their own stories to be told years down the line.

Morris told "All the senior players are massively important in the preparation, they have all been to multiple Island Games and have a drawer full of medals to back that experience up. They're all there for the younger players, if they want to chat or discuss anything.

"The balance between experience and youth can be summed up by the fact that when our senior players were winning gold in 2015, some of our youngest players were part way through year 3, and for some they still hadn’t learned to ride a bike yet."

The quality of the players who haven't been able to force their way into the 18 gives a vivid indication of just how strong the selected group is. More than half a dozen will be massively disappointed not to be on the trip, with Jersey able to call upon Anita Taveres and Natasha Keen, who've both been based in America in recent years, as well as Southampton Women's FC goalkeeper Sara Luce.

"Getting the squad down to 18 has been difficult," added Morris. "Our selection process was undertaken by watching club games every Sunday morning, or for the girls at university or off island it was watching video match footage of them playing for their various clubs.

"To cut it down from 27 to 18 was so difficult and I think the strength of the squad can be borne out by the fact that the nine who didn’t get selected are quality players and unlucky not to make the cut."

Eve Watson in the Muratti 2023
Eve Watson was player of the match in the 2023 Muratti - photo credit Andy Dovey

Like their group competitors, Jersey will face three games on three consecutive days. A test of fitness as well as footballing ability.

They start on Sunday 9 July at The Track against Bermuda, winners of the 2013 Island Games, albeit when just three women's teams entered. On the Monday, Morris' side face Aland, remember them, in a morning fixture at College Field. Then, on the Tuesday, Hitra are the opposition at Blanche Pierre Lane.

"I’m always confident in the squad of players and for that reason we’re going to Guernsey to win gold, but then so are nine other teams," said Morris, who was involved in the coaching set up at Gotland 2017 and led Jersey into the Island Games spin-off tournament in Ynys Mon in 2019.

"To give us the best chance of achieving our goal we'll be making sure we are prepared technically, tactically, physically and mentally to go over there and make Jersey proud. What I will say for definite is if we perform to our best, it will take a hell of a team to beat us."

Watson added: "I'm expecting a very tough tournament like always, we’ve got a tough group to get through with some teams no doubt wanting revenge from the 2015 Games. There are many talented teams that will be travelling to Guernsey in July, but I believe this is a strong talented squad of players, led by dedicated coaches to lead us to perform the best we can to get another, hopefully gold, medal around our neck.

"On a personal note, this could be my last Island Games so I will be going into it hungry for another successful tournament, and I'll play hungry for that medal in every minute I'm involved in, like it’s my last."

If it is to be another successful week for Jersey, eight years on from that golden moment at Springfield, then it would be no great surprise if a Watson-Botterill link-up plays a key role again.

Jersey group fixtures (expand)

Sunday 9 July - Bermuda - The Track - 14.30

Monday 10 July - Aland - College Field - 10.30

Tuesday 11 July - Hitra - Blanche Pierre Lane - 14.30

Jersey squad: Amy Tierney (JTC Jersey Wanderers), Anita Tavares (Goshen College), Danny Da Silva (Rozel Rovers), Ella Docherty (St Clement), Eve Watson (Rozel Rovers), Hannah Campbell (Rozel Rovers), Holly Muirhead (Rozel Rovers), Jodie Botterill (St Lawrence), Lauren Quemard (JTC Jersey Wanderers), Leah Morris (Lewes DS), Libby Barnett (JTC Jersey Wanderers), Macey Wyse (Stirling University), Poppy Benest (Rozel Rovers), Roisin Flynn (Rozel Rovers), Sara Luce (Southampton Women's FC), Sofia Rodrigues (JTC Jersey Wanderers), Natasha Keen (Hastings College), Tiff Sundby (Rozel Rovers).