KEVIN Main cut a dejected figure. Having just seen his Shetland side suffer a 5-0 defeat to the Isle of Man, the culmination of a gruelling four games in six days, he was angry, disappointed and upset.
Bemoaning his side’s lack of luck and refereeing decisions, he was left to reflect on what could have been. He was hurting more than anything else.
Rewind six days to the opening ceremony and Main was in more philosophical mood ahead of their Ynys Mon Inter-Island Games football tournament.
He had taken his side to Anglesey with one objective – preparation to beat near-neighbours Orkney in next month’s Milne Cup, but in the aftermath of missing out on bronze, it was all about the here and now.
“I’m just sick of hard luck stories this week,” he mused.
“We didn’t deserve some of those losses and these players deserved a break, to see a couple of decisions go their way, just a couple of bounces of the ball, that type of stuff.”
However, despite the obvious disappointment, Main was also bursting with pride.
‘Hugely proud’ in managing the side at the games for the first time and representing the Islands, he said: “It’s sometimes a little overwhelming, particularly when you see a flag flying in the breeze as you enter the ground, thinking ‘that’s there for us’.
“To lead a team here is an incredible experience for me and my players. We’re a small island in comparison in terms of our population, so the achievement of getting here is one thing. I kept asking the players to enjoy it but also to improve as players and people.”
Their opening match, a 6-1 thrashing of St Helena essentially booked their place in the semi-final, as following a 2-1 defeat to Guernsey, they advanced to the last four at the expense of Jersey, by virtue of scoring more goals than them.
The semi-final against the hosts, played in front of 1,500 people, was another hard luck story, mirroring the Guernsey loss. Trailing 2-0 at the break, they scored an early second half goal, though a mixture of superb goalkeeping and questionable refereeing decisions saw them forced to play off for third place.
Fatigue and injuries, as a result of a small squad, had by now taken its toll, and a second half collapse led to the heavy loss.
Fulsome in praise of his team, he said: “It’s been an absolute incredible effort from them. They’ve given everything, have had great enthusiasm, been absolute ambassadors for the island, I can’t speak highly enough of them.
“The week’s been full of full of highs. There have been defeats and obviously they hurt and are tough to take, but we have to understand why we’re here.
“We’ve got out of our island, played competitive football and shown we can bring something to these competitions.”
Appreciative of the support they received back home, he acknowledged: “We see it on social media, people hoping we do well and represent the Islands well. We’re aware of their support, how they’re keeping an eye on us and it inspires us.”
Wanting to give something back in return, he hopes his side’s exploits can inspire the islands’ youngsters.
“There were a couple of speeches at the opening ceremony which talked about the legacy of Anglesey and I think every island should be looking to do something similar to that”, he said.
“How we inspire youngsters to stay in football and sport in general for as long as possible. The idea that young Shetlanders will run around with Shetland Islands tops and not Manchester United or Liverpool ones is certainly something I’d love to see!”
With their Welsh adventure over, attention now switches to the Orkney match. “It’s our own intercountry clash and on this year of all years, our centenary, it will be quite a clash,” he said. “This tournament was about us coming together and gelling as a team as best we possibly could. We hope it will help elevate us and project us into the next month of training and hopefully recapture the cup.
“I’m sure these guys will go back with fantastic memories, but also be far, far better football players and far, far better guys as well.”
Hoping in particular those final sentiments carry them through, beat the old enemy and the week spent in Wales would have been an unmitigated success.
Copy by Andrew Sherwood of SportsNewsAgency.