Fair Play: A gathering of legends

A WEEK from today, the greatest men’s team in Cebu football will have a reunion some 25 years after setting history in the football hotbed of Barotac Nuevo.

The M. Lhuillier Jewellers, led by Graeme Mackinnon, won Cebu’s last national men’s open title in 1989 and no team from Cebu has done it again.

Some of Cebu’s legendary players were in that squad,like Gemini Sitoy, whom Graeme thinks is the best goalkeeper from the Philippine who never got to play with the national team.

Graeme says whenever they get into a shootout, Gemini would tell the others to concentrate on making their kicks as he would stop two penalties.

He wasn’t bragging, he just says it because he was confident enough that he can do it.

“And most of the time, he was right on,” he said.

The secret to the success of Gemini was hardwork and Graeme says the guy would treat practice as if it’s the real thing. And why he failed to make the national team pretty much speaks for the state of Philippine football during that time.

Of course, his exemplary play got him an invitation to a tryout for the national squad but it came when he had a few months off. Right off the boat from Cebu, he went to the tryout, got inserted in a few drills. He was rusty, obviously, and his ability as a shot-stopper was judged in those few drills and off he was sent to Cebu.

Another player in the squad was team captain Mario Ceniza, who would never hesitate to do the little things like picking up the balls after practice to show how much he respects his coach, a respect that until now, continues.

Like I told Graeme, that M. Lhuillier team had quite a legacy, one that may also be unmatched in Cebu football history. I’m not talking about that men’s open trophy that they have now lost, but about what the players have done after winning the titles.

Most now how have jobs, thanks to their stint with M. Lhuillier, other are based abroad, while some, too, have started football programs of their own.

Graeme and his captain Mario started the M. Lhuillier Sports Development Foundation program, one that developed a bunch of kids from Carmen who knew next to nothing about football to become members of the national team. Guys like Michael Casas and Junard Aguilar. The two, too, gave a kid from Carmen something that Manila’s rich footballers can only drool and envy, even during this time of acute awareness of the national team that is bannered by Pinoys based in Europe.

They gave Josaphat Sacil a training stint with Manchester United’s boys squad as part of his winning in the MVP in a tournament here.

When Graeme left for Australia, Mario has continued his coaching career and has also molded boys to become members of the national teams, the most famous of them, of course, is Paolo Pascual.

Before him, there were Evanjames Mendoza, Kevin Tecson and Joshua Cruz.

Edwin Arganza, another M. Lhuillier alumni, is also now a top coach and is the only one to have recognized the potential of the University of San Carlos, turning the once doormats of Cebu football into one of the top youth teams. Like I’ve suggested to the USC college coaches in the past, tap your elementary and high school teams and Coach Tamaraw has done that.

These are just some of the legacies started by that team and there are more.

FOOTBALL FOR BOHOL. BPO football workhorses Tanya Chica and Lemar Baunsit are organizing a benefit tournament for the earthquake victims of Bohol on Dec. 1 and right now they need a little help.

They are looking for a sponsor for the trophies so they don’t have to shell out cash for the earthquake victims for the hardware. So for kind hearts out there, please get in touch with the two.


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