North East Stars have reunited with the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League crown – after thirteen years – thanks to a star-studded squad, “togetherness”, backing from owner Darryl Mahabir, and Derek King, who has once more proven his ability as one of the best young coaches of the twin-island republic.
King’s side won the Pro League on the penultimate day (last night) after a second-half Keston George header – for his first ever league goal – secured the 2017 title with a 1-0 win against a stubborn Police FC outfit at the Home of Football, Ato Boldon Stadium.
Afterwards the 24-year-old George, who joined the Stars from then three-time Pro League holders Central FC last August, said, “Words can’t express [the feeling] because before the game I was talking to a friend and he [said] ‘you’re going to score the game winner today’ and I [responded] ‘I hope I do’.
“And to actually do it tonight was amazing—the best feeling in the world. From the time [the] ball hit the back of the net it was just exhilaration.”
The talented midfielder-turned-defender added, “Tonight it was win at all costs. Don’t give up anything; stick as a team don’t matter what happens. And we did that really well and [got the result].”
Adrian Foncette was brilliant throughout, including a double-save early on, but the Police custodian could not rescue his side when George headed substitute Kishun Seecharan’s right side cross back across the six yard area and into the far upper corner for the all-important goal.
The win improved the Stars’ tally to an unassailable 40 points before second-placed W Connection (33 points) – at the same venue – allowed third-position Defence Force (30 points) to rebound for a 2-1 stoppage-time win to force the final CONCACAF qualifiers spot –top-two finish – to be decided on the final day next Tuesday.
Connection, the recently crowned First Citizens Cup champions, must however temporarily shift their focus to Sunday’s FA Trophy semi-finals against 1976 FC Phoenix from 4pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium before Police FC and Morvant Caledonia United, 3-0 league winners over MIC-IT St. Ann’s Rangers yesterday, lock horns in semi-final two from 6:15pm.
The true celebration, according to King, will, however, happen next Tuesday with a party-like atmosphere when his new Pro League champions host San Juan Jabloteh from 6pm at the Arima Velodrome in their final match of 2017 before switching focus to next season’s CONCACAF qualifiers by way of the Caribbean Club Championship and the new Pro League season.
King, who, in 2009, led Joe Public to the Pro League title and became the youngest coach to win the crown, heaped praise on his North East Stars’ players, club owner Mahabir and staff for the club’s first league success since Guyanese coach James Mc Lean guided them to the title in 2004.
“We have players here for the first time, some younger ones who have never won a title,” said an elated King. “(…) and they stuck together as one and I think the togetherness and the Arima vibes really brought this team together.”
King, 37, a discarded Trinidad and Tobago national coach at various levels, who only returned to top flight club coaching at the start of the season said it has been a tremendous joy in preparing a team daily for the rigors of a season.
Stars owner, Mahabir, credited the players’ effort despite the financial struggles faced across the league. “Tough season,” he said. “(…) but congrats to the guys.”
The Sangre Grande businessman, optimistic over the future of North East Stars with new financial partnerships a possibility, appeared eager to see his side debut at next season’s Caribbean Club Championship.
Meanwhile veteran poacher and now six-time league winner Kerry Baptiste has set big goals for next season.
“We want to win CFU (Club Championship), move on to CONCACAF and win Champions League,” said the 35-year-old ex-Trinidad and Tobago international who stands one of the many current Stars’ players with Caribbean and CONCACAF club competition experience.
Baptiste who, perhaps, created history by becoming the first player to win the Pro League with four different clubs (San Juan Jabloteh, Joe Public, Central FC and North East Stars) said a lot of credit must go to owner Mahabir and coach King.
He said Mahabir and King have put a lot of energy into the players despite financial struggles among other challenges.
“Through all the struggle and now to cop the title, it’s a great feeling for us,” said Baptiste. “All praises go to God. Thank God for it so much.
“It was very difficult but at the end of the day experience beats all. This team has a lot of experience, a lot of senior guys like Yohance Marshall, Densill Theobald and Elton John and so [on]. These guys [brought] a lot of seniority to the table and that is what helped us through the season this year.
“It was tough but we held our own and continued to work hard don’t matter what struggle we had. Most important we stuck together as a team and at the end we reaped the benefit—Pro League champions 2017.”
Morvant Caledonia United 3 (Sheldon Holder 30’, Simeon Bailey 73’, Sedale Mc Lean 90’+2) vs St. Ann’s Rangers 0, Hasely Crawford Stadium;
Police FC 0 vs North East Stars 1 (Keston George 75’), at Ato Boldon Stadium;
Defence Force 2 (Devorn Jorsling 16’, Shaquille Bertrand 90’+3) vs W Connection 1 (Neil Benjamin Jr. 75’), at Ato Boldon Stadium.
Police FC: 18.Adrian Foncette (GK) (Capt.); 3.Ryan O’Neil, 4.Kadeem Boyce, 12.Nequan Caruth, 13.Dillon Kirton, 17.Dexter Alleyne, 20.Elijah Belgrave (7.Kareem Perry 76th minute), 23.Shakuile Williams (10.Kareem Freitas 46th minute), 25.Kaashif Thomas, 29.Clevon Mc Fee, 32.Keion Wilson (16.Joshua Leach 72nd minute).
Unused substitutes: 22.Theon Browne (GK); 2.Jasimar Ashers, 8.Kurdell Brathwaite, 38.Kevin Lewis.
Coach: Richard Hood
North East Stars: 1.Jesse Peters (GK); 2.Keston George, 4.Kerry Baptiste (6.Anslem Jackson 74th minute), 5.Julius James, 11.Rundell Winchester (17.Kordell Samuel 74th minute), 12.Elton John (Capt.), 18.Densill Theobald, 20.Yohance Marshall, 21.Kevon Goddard, 22.Jameel Neptune, 23.Akeem Garcia (7.Kishun Seecharan 67th minute).
Unused substitutes: 30.Jabari Bryce (GK); 8.Adrian Noel, 13.Kyle Bartholomew, 15.Seon Thomas.
Referee: Rashby Mc Phie
Video - North East Stars 2017 Pro League crowning reactions