Despite his extensive experience and success coaching female teams, Xavier Gilbert’s introduction to the Jamaica Premier League (JPL) was expected to be tough, especially guiding a team such as Arnett Gardens.

Well aware of how most felt about his chances in the nation’s top-flight, Gilbert was determined to overcome the challenges of gaining experience at that level, and also prove his doubters wrong, and he did just that, for the most part. Though he didn’t lead Arnett Gardens to a long-awaited title –dating to the 2016-17 triumph –Gilbert, who is an assistant to senior Reggae Girlz Head coach Hubert Busby, believes a third-place finish was an achievement of sorts.

This, as it not only follows a similar outcome from last season but, more importantly, earned them a spot in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Caribbean Shield where they will challenge for one of two spots to the more prestigious Concacaf Caribbean Cup.

The “Junglists”, who placed fifth in the preliminary round on 49 points, hammered Waterhouse 5-1 in the third-place encounter to finish behind Champions Cavalier FC and beaten finalist Mount Pleasant FA.

“Pressure is natural, and it helps us focus on meeting our objectives. So, I saw that pressure as a positive motivator for us to attain our goals. We didn't win the title or make it to the finals, but finishing third and getting a spot in the CFU Caribbean Shield is definitely an achievement.

“The season was very competitive, especially between the teams in the top six, and then there were those teams that improved throughout the season. We prepared for all our opponents and gave our best each time we touched the field and it is just unfortunate that we couldn’t go all the way,” Gilbert told SportsMax.TV.

“I want to applaud the players, my support staff, management, and everybody, who played a part in ensuring the players were healthy and fed, the community and the fans. I want to thank them for their support and commitment, and as we look forward to the CFU Caribbean Shield, we just want to do well to ensure that we make it to the CONCACAF level to join Mount Pleasant and Cavalier,” he added.

Gilbert knew his decision to take the reins at Arnett Gardens would prove a sound one, as he made astute changes to their tactical approach along the way that contributed to his fairly successful debut season.  Still, the tactician credited the players led by veteran Fabian Reid and rising star Keheim Dixon for delivering at very high standards, so that he could realise his ambitions of keeping the team competitive.

“Every team offers a different level of competition and you have to adjust accordingly based on what is happening on the day. Sometimes you plan to play a particular way, but based on how things are unfolding on the day, you just have to change and make that adjustment and adapt as quickly as possible. That is among some of the things that I learned through the season,” Gilbert revealed.

 “Also working with the players was a major high point, the level of respect and professionalism that they showed throughout the campaign was great and that was a rewarding experience. Technically we played well, but the results didn’t always match our performances. So going forward we’re trying to learn from the mistakes of the season and hope to perform better in the CFU Shield and hopefully, the Concacaf Club Championships,” he shared.

Every coach has a unique philosophy, and for Gilbert dedication to hard work and giving people what they deserve are crucial factors for success. In fact, he was quick to point out that belief in teamwork and harnessing individual potential for the collective good are just as important and that is the inspiration they are taking into the Caribbean Shield set to unfold from July 25 to August 4, at a venue to be announced.

“Our expectation is to build on what we have achieved so far and finish in the top two and advance. We know it is not going to be easy, but the players are excited, they are looking forward to it and it is just for them to go out and make themselves, the club and the community proud. It is also a good way for them to market themselves, so I know they want to make the most of it,” Gilbert ended.

Using the famous Chinese proverbs "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” as his mantra, Jamaica’s senior Reggae Girlz Head coach Hubert Busby Jr is focused on leading the country’s women’s programme to new heights with a renewed sense of purpose and determination.

By all indications, the sexual misconduct controversy that marred, and eventually ended his previous tenure as Head coach in 2021, is now firmly in Busby’s rearview mirror, as he was cleared of any wrongdoing by FIFA. He has since replaced the past events with a firm focus on success and progress, as he strives to breathe new life into the senior Reggae Girlz setup.

"As you can imagine, it has been a little bit of a whirlwind, but in everything, you just want to make sure you're giving yourself the best opportunity to be successful. Me being successful means giving the players and the programme the best chance to be successful, so that's where it's at, and I just need to focus on that. What occurred in the past is neither here nor there for me anymore,” Busby, who is currently in the island, told SportsMax.TV.

While his reappointment may come as a surprise to many, for Busby it was a matter of letting fate take its course.

“I wouldn't know if it was surprised. I think I've always…even through this (controversy of the past), I think I've always had a good relationship with the federation, and I understood their rationale and reason why they needed to do what they did. I do wish we could have obviously cleared some things up a lot sooner, but in everything I realized it's not my timing, it is God's timing, and this was just the right time,” he shared.

Despite his familiarity with the players, Busby pointed out that the approach will be one of new beginnings as opposed to picking up where he left off, as the programme itself has been through some turbulent times since his departure.

After Busby was sidelined, Vinimore ‘Vin’ Blaine took over for a short time before a scathing letter from the players forced his resignation, after which Lorne Donaldson was brought back and led the Girlz to an historic appearance in the knockout stage at last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, before he too departed, as the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) opted not to renew his contract.

Since then, the JFF and members of the World Cup squad had been at loggerheads, and that eventually resulted in Ambassador Cedella Marley resigning her post out of frustration, and she pulled the support of Bob and Rita Marley Foundation with her. Still, the players held firm in their stance and withdrew their services over non-payment and mistreatment from the JFF.

Then came the interim appointment of Xavier Gilbert, who lead an inexperienced team through a failed Gold Cup qualifying campaign and a few other fixtures.

Now, with Gilbert still to serve as his assistant, and the World Cup players back in the fold after almost nine months, coupled with his reappointment, Busby views the cycle as an opportunity for all and sundry to start afresh.

"It's the beginning of a new cycle, obviously, the Girlz created history at the last World cup and accomplished something that the country and all Jamaicans should be proud of. But really, it's about a new beginning, and with that comes new expectations and a new level of commitment that's needed both on and off the field to ensure that we have success,” Busby declared.