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Photo: All Sports Promotion director Anthony Harford (right) and administrators Camal Basdeo (left) and Gerald Elliot enjoy RBNYL action at the Larry Gomes Stadium on 18 March, 2018. ...(Copyright Sean Morrison/Wired868)
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Queen’s Park Cricket Club (QPCC) and FC Santa Rosa threw down the gauntlet for the 2018 Republic Bank National Youth League (RBNYL) season at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar yesterday. The two clubs notched victories over a Southern Football Association (SFA) XI (Under-12s) and a Northern Football Association (NFA) XI (Under-16s) respectively.

Last year, QPCC, Central FC and Rosa were the RBNYL champions in the Under-11, Under-13 and Under-15 divisions respectively and organisers deemed it fitting for the winners to get the ball rolling in this the 23rd consecutive season of the youth tournament.

In the day’s opener, QPCC, captained by Logan Maingot and coached by Anthony Selby, treated themselves to a handsome 3-0 win against the SFA XI. Santa Rosa got a second half item from star striker Jashawn Thomas to turn back a wasteful NFA XI in the afternoon’s second match. However, the encounter ended on a sour note for Santa Rosa as their industrious winger, Renaldo Padarath, suffered a fractured wrist in the dying moments of the game when he tried to effect a slide tackle in his penalty area.

Youth Pro League (YPL) commitments prevented Central, who clinched a stunning 4-3 comeback victory against Rosa in the Under-13 division last year, from taking part in today’s proceedings. And it’s part of a wider issue which the RBNYL hopes to remedy once and for all this season.

Simultaneous scheduling has led to conflict between the RBNYL and Trendsetter Hawks’ Under-15 unit forfeited a quarterfinal game to Santa Rosa at the stage after it was discovered that two of their players were still registered with San Juan Jabloteh’s YPL outfit while the RBNYL was in full swing.

The successful protest by the “Big Cannons” put an end to Hawks’ unbeaten season in the Under-15 category last season. This season, however, All Sport Promotions director Anthony Harford promised, there will be no such occurrences.

“For a long time we felt as though we were the little brother to the Pro League but we don’t feel that we need to be the little brother anymore as we have the bigger tournament,” Harford told Wired868. “We have over 90 teams and they are independently registered so no player in the Republic Youth Cup can play in both [tournaments].

“Last year it was an issue with several clubs and Trendsetter Hawks lost a game because of that. That has been eliminated…”

The Hawks duo, Antonio Chee Ting and Josiah Edwards, both National Youth Team players, did not actually represent Jabloteh in last year’s YPL once the RBNYL season was under way. However, the transfer forms certifying their move from Jabloteh to Hawks never reached the Pro League offices, which meant that the two youngsters were still officially registered with the “San Juan Kings” while strutting their stuff with the Anthony “Dada” Wickham-coached Hawks team.

Harford assured Wired868 that there will be no problem either with clubs like Central and Jabloteh who usually turn out teams in both youth tournaments.

“They have registered teams for both tournaments but they are using separate players,” he explained, noting that registration had closed off on Friday. “Some of these academies have many, many players so they can play in both competitions [with different squads].”

Central’s victorious team from last season, Harford noted, has now been split up between the club’s YPL Under-14 and Under-16 outfits.

Harford also reckons that the RBNYL is a good platform for youngsters to get exposure and develop their talents. And he pointed to a number of players who have gone on to represent the country at the national youth level.

One player likely to do that is Abdul-Quddoos Hypolite. The talented youngster, who first caught Wired868’s attention as a tricky, energetic customer with Trendsetter Hawks a few years ago, walked away with MVP honours last season after rallying the Sharks to a come-from-behind victory against Santa Rosa.

It is not yet clear whether Quddoos-Hypolite will grace the RBNYL stage this year or whether he will be playing elsewhere. Harford is convinced that the RBNYL is the place to be because it is all about getting the players ready for the next step in their careers by “complying with every single international regulation requirement.”

“All of our rules and regulations are covered by FIFA rules like field sizes, duration of games, substitutes,” Harford explained. “We are doing everything so that these young men can walk straight from one of these clubs into a zonal team and be ready for zonal football.”

“Coaches know exactly what to expect. We are not being dependent on players coming from anywhere other than the communities from which they come.”

The NFA XI, overseen by Marlon Phillip and Jason Sheppard, eventually succumbed to a close-range Thomas strike in the 51st minute of an 80-minute match. And although Harford would have been heartened by the display of Kaihim Thomas, whose mazy runs were problematic for defenders all game long, he would have been less pleased with the team’s finishing. After all, the Northern youngsters are due to go off to Canada on a 13-day tour in August.

In preparation for the at least five games they play on that tour, despite returning to their respective clubs after yesterday, the NFA players will contest exhibition games at least once a month between now and August.

Harford, who’s also the North Zone president, explained that the City of Port-of-Spain and the City of St Catherine’s in Canada are twinned and this year is the 50th anniversary of the twining.

“So, through the Twinning Association of Canada,” he said, “an invitation was extended for a sports group to come and the note was sent to me.”

So they put together the same group of Under-15 boys who had played unbeaten to win last season’s Interzone title and the fund-raising efforts began immediately.

But the Canada tour should not have been on the minds of the NFA players as they tried to get bragging rights over their Santa Rosa counterparts. Santa Rosa’s emphasis, club founder Keith Look Loy stresses, is solidity in defence and Rosa player Hayden Sealey stuck to NFA’s Mamade Guerra like white on rice for most of the contest. But the NFA team did not capitalise on the chances they were allowed, with Guerra too among the guilty.

He stabbed wide of the mark from a tight angle in the 24th minute and then shot straight at the Rosa custodian in the 33rd minute after being played through on goal. Thomas (K), who had brought his dancing shoes to the Stadium, shot tamely at the goalkeeper in two one-on-one sequences in either half of play.

Santa Rosa’s lanky Thomas—who received heaps of praise from his Under-13 coach Justin De Freitas during last season’s RBNYL—beat his chest in jubilation, storming off to celebrate in front of the Rosa fans after his winner.

The enthusiastic Padarath too impressed, displaying electric pace down the right flank and putting in a workmanlike shift on both sides of the ball as well. However, he left the arena with a fractured wrist and his arm in a sling after making a valiant sliding tackle to try and stop a marauding NFA run.

His arm, he was told, must remain in a cast for two months.

If Padarath was the outstanding player in the Under-16 encounter, the QPCC vs SFA match-up produced no single outstanding player. QPCC were always in control and showed their prowess from set pieces, skipper Maingot opening the scoring with a towering first half header while Stephen Griffith and Caden Trestrail, two of the three coming from right-side corner kicks. Just before the end, Kade Collier also had a free kick item whistled off.

SFA’s Ari John and Jeremiah Niles also showed good individual ability, the latter forcing QPCC keeper Michael-Peter Hadad into two fine saves in the 50th  minute.

Following their dramatic penalty shootout win over Jabloteh in the Under-11 division last year, the QPCC lads went on to the Disney Cup where they faced some stiff overseas competition. Selby said he’s looking forward to see them apply all they have learnt over the past 12 months.

“[The Disney Cup] was an excellent experience,” Selby told Wired868, “[the boys] got to play teams from three different countries on great facilities. Every day they were there they got some training and there was an indoor facility as well.”

“In Trinidad, they are used to winning most of the games,” he went on, “but over there we had a couple of losses as well so it was a good experience in terms of that.”

Selby would love to see his charges continue that kind of display and build on the solid foundation they set last season.

“We want to do well in all the age-groups and we want to do better than we did last year,” Selby said. “We’ve got two teams going into [the Under-12 competition] so we’ve strengthened up a little bit. Some of the boys who didn’t get a lot of game time last year will get some playing time in this particular season.”

“We will probably look at bringing a bit more of the tactical side for them but again it’s about developing them and getting some good game time under their belts.”

Competitive action in the 2018 RBNYL season will get under way from 24 March, the North Zone getting the show on the road. The action breaks again, however, during the Easter holiday weekend.

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