Not many Irish-born footballers have represented other countries at full international level, but Kevin Dekkers is one, writes Nathan Carr.
From the streets of West Cork to the searing heat of the Caribbean, his unique story is worth telling.
Dekkers was born in Bandon, County Cork in 1980 to a white Dutch father and a black mother from the Caribbean.
His parents had moved to Co. Cork two years earlier.
Growing up, Dekkers attended Dreeny National School in Caheragh but it was at St Fachtna’s De La Selle School in Skibbereen, as a curious teenager, that he was introduced to the beautiful game.
“I first played football for Skibbereen, my first coach being Henry Peglar of Riverdale and then later for Drinagh Rangers,” he says.
“I spent a short time training with Cork City U17s and reserves before I left West Cork. I also played Gaelic football for Caheragh and the St Fachtna’s De La Salle School, winning an U16 Munster title.”
Schooldays over, when he was 19 Dekkers moved to Dublin to work as a barman on Baggot St for a year before being accepted into the University of Wales Institute Cardiff to study a degree in Sport and Physical Education.
Upon graduation, 12 years ago, he moved to the small Caribbean island where his mother had lived as a child. The island is split into the northern French part, known as Saint Martin, and the southern Dutch part, known as Sint Maarten, where Dekkers settled.
On the island, he worked as a PE teacher, coaching football in public and private schools during the afternoons and playing the game himself in the local league. And then, this March, the call came.
Dekkers was handed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and selected to represent the national senior football team, set to play its first match in over a decade. His mother had ensured that Kevin and his brother had Sint Maarten nationality from an early age, which gave him eligibility.
He captained the side to a 2-0 friendly win over neighbouring Anguilla — their first official match in over a decade — and throughout their Caribbean Cup qualifying campaign. Sint Maarten lost both of their qualifiers away to Grenada (5-0) and at home to US Virgin Islands (1-2), finishing bottom of their group, yet Dekkers reflects on the experience positively.
“It was an amazing experience, a dream come true. I had always wanted to be a professional but never got that far,” he says.
“This was a nice taste of the big time and it gave me some sense of achievement. I was surprised to be selected as captain initially, but I had coached a lot of the national team players growing up and am heavily involved in youth and senior football on the island which may have swayed the votes.”
Dekkers, now 36, has since left the island behind. He and his family have just moved to Toronto and are hoping to start afresh in Canada.
“I want to be a PE teacher again but I have a year of study to complete before that can happen. I have begun coaching at a Toronto-based club and been upgrading my coaching licences whilst waiting for employment. I have not found a club to play with but that will come.”
He plans to revisit the land of his birth whenever he can, but has been back to Ireland only once since leaving. For years, the cost of flights from Sint Maarten was the main obstacle.
Whatever lies in store for him, Kevin Dekkers has been able to achieve what many can only dream of — playing football on the international stage.
Nathan Carr is Founder of The Home of Caribbean Football