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He says he is probably the most serious player in the team, but he numbers the biggest jokers among his best friends. Self-effacing, yet very self-aware, articulate and well-spoken, Ryi Maryat is the proud captain of Saint Lucia’s under-17 men’s national football team.
The team has made it though the opening rounds of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) qualifying tournament, and through the CFU final in Haiti, where they faced Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, Barbados and Cuba. Now, they are days away from the CONCACAF Championships in Honduras, the biggest stage on which any Saint Lucian team will ever have played.
Ryi, a defensive midfielder, has been captain since the team was first somewhat hastily assembled ahead of the CFU age group tournament in 2013.
“I was called up to the national team when they were selecting the training squad for the under-15 CONCACAF competition,” he explains. “That was after I had a good season as captain of the Micoud under-16 team, leading them to the finals.
“We were just thrown together to train and stuff. I was given the captaincy role the day they selected the final side to travel to Cayman Islands. It was a very proud moment for me!”
Ryi was recently recognised at the annual National Sports Awards ceremony, as Saint Lucia’s best high school student athlete. He says he is probably doing more CXC subjects than anyone on the team, and he wants to go on to get an American sports scholarship, even if he’s not sure what he wants to pursue just yet. For now, football is his main subject. And he’s acing it.
“I guess I have the best leadership qualities,” he opines, quietly confident but certainly not boastful. “I’m able to realise when it’s time for business and I pretty much have the respect of the other players. I just know that it’s my duty to lead by example.”
When the team travelled to Cayman, it was the first time most of the boys had been overseas. “It was fun,” says Ryi, “but the level of football was more challenging, and even more as we had not gelled as a unit.”
Since then, the Saint Lucia Football Association has been careful to keep the team and its management unit together. That togetherness has been one of the main keys to their success. “So how has training been going since Haiti? “The best thing about this team is the camaraderie,” Ryi says. “We play for each other. I’m willing to slot in anywhere for the team.”
Since the CFU tournament in 2014, and with Honduras getting closer, training has intensified under head coach Cassim ‘Vaso’ Louis. “Especially the past weeks, the team has gotten really serious, and the workrate is high. The physicals have also been good. Like you can see the level of desire grow the closer the tournament comes. The workrate is increasing and the fitness level has gone up.”
As a child growing up in the New Extension Phase 2 community, also known as Up The Line, Ryi “just used to kick the ball around on the fences on the field in Micoud. That was until a little competition was organised, which I played in. But I basically started seriously at the primary school level playing for my school [Micoud Primary] about grade 5.”
He cites his two first coaches, Kervin Augustin and Cassac, as his principal early influences in the game. “They basically rounded up all the little boys and trained us on a Saturday,” he explains. He was named captain of his primary school team, and won the Golden Boot for the primary school competition, as well as footballer of the year.
It wasn’t until Form 2 at Micoud Secondary that Ryi really realised that he could have a future in the sport. He came to national attention, he got the opportunity to play at the national level, and eventually to represent Saint Lucia. Now, he is on his way to Honduras, and – typical of his style – he says the team’s accomplishment is the proudest moment of his career.
“It was a sense of achievement all around,” he explains. “And pride. But the chatter was more of we can go further. It’s not really pressure, because the entire team wants to qualify. The entire community supports us, very much pushing us and constantly reminding us that we have a chance to make history.”
With a number of the players preparing for CXC’s, teachers, principals and schools have been a crucial part of the extended team. Ryi is doing sciences, business, foreign language and information technology. “There was just that extra pressure to complete SBA’s,” he says. “But we are trying to get as much work as possible done before we leave . And the Association is helping by having study time incorporated into camp and providing us with the assistance of teachers. But the teachers have been supportive.” The team will be working with a tutor during their two weeks in Honduras.
Ryi has to think for a while when asked what his biggest challenge is as captain, but he eventually says it’s “probably lifting spirits after a disappointing result.” He quickly adds, though, that “it’s a very good team to work with.”
In a team on which everyone talks of pulling for one another and teamwork being their main strength, it’s not surprising that some of these boys are good friends. Even though they come from every corner of Saint Lucia, they see each other regularly and communicate even more often via social media.
Ryi’s best friends include Noah ‘Lucky’ Nicholas, Viannie ‘Vio’ George, Cassius ‘Messi’ Joseph, Keeroy ‘Alka’ Lionel and Zachernus ‘Tecky’ Simon. If he had to play a five-a-side game, he says that that would be his quintet. He says he could sit out as manager, or, if the game is small goals, he could play in place of Viannie, a goalkeeper.
Viannie and Lucky are two of the biggest practical jokers on the team, according to Ryi. “They keep things lively, but our whole crew is just stupid,” he concludes with a laugh, whilst pointing out that Bradley Cyril might be the fastest player on the team.
Ryi is not averse to a bit of fun, but he is quick to reiterate that once they take the field, it’s all business. “Hard work is the most important thing,” he says. It’s a lesson that he has heard over and over, from coaches, friends and family, especially his biggest supporters, his parents. Success is axiomatically defined as preparation meeting opportunity. Regardless the outcome in Honduras, Ryi is certainly poised for success.