This year, the South Zone of the Secondary Schools Football League had cause for much celebration as they helped themselves to welcomed success in the recently concluded season. St Benedict's College, Naparima College and Princes Town SC all left the Southern supporters with a proud feeling at the end of three months of football.
The Saints were able to rid the ghost which had been on them in 1995 and 1997, lifting the Coca Cola Intercol trophy this year and dedicating the success to the man largely responsible for the long time success of the school's football team, principal Dom Basil Matthews.
The La Romaine "Big Truck" did not have the plethora of individual talent as they did last year but the character of this year's line up was enough to get them through this time around. Led by Isa Ar Razi and with strong support coming from Silvio Spann, one of the top five SSFL players of 1998, Kevon Clement, Kendell Davis, Dia Hunte, Andre Toussaint, Lee Baptiste and Anthony Haynes, the La Romaine "Big Truck ", under the watchful eyes of Muhhamad Isa and Mervyn Phillip, drove away with the Intercol trophy in style.
Before the start of the knockout competition, Benedicts's suffered consecutive losses to Naparima and Moruga Composite. But there was a new found spirit and determination in their camp and they proved adept at fighting back from adversity and surprising a few in the Intercol. The semi final shut out of St. Anthony's College made up for last year's loss in the final. When both them and P/Town were through to the final. It had caught the attention of local fans of the SSFL throughout the nation.The impressive run of Naparima up to their loss in the Trinidad final against Mucurapo, was not amazingly surprising. Under the fine leadership of coach Jan Steadman and manager Roy lived up to the expectations of their fans. They have also won many new friends and their South Zone was a fitting reward for their sensational run all season.
Skipper Leon Brown, the versatile Erasto Neptune, the trickery of SSFL Player of the year, Joel Bailey, the deceptive Sancheev Katwaroo and the scoring abilities of Atiba McKnight and Jason Hector posed endless problems for their opponents and they delighted their fans with lively and imaginative performances throughout the season.
"Naps" were joint top scorers with Arima SC for the season, shaking the old onion bag on 54 occassions. For P/Town however, it turned out to be tales of what might have been. Coach Desmond "Darko" Bailey and his "Green Hornets" were by no means underdogs for the Intercol final. Despite taking a 1-0 lead, they were blown away by two quick second half goals and that put pad to their hopes of the trophy. The likes of Dwight De Leon, one of the top five SSFL players the year, Vijay Samaroo, Kenton Thompson, Andre Marshall, Jahvon Neptune Ian Williams, Ricardo Johnson and Marcus Alleyne made up a P/Town outfit that was their usual tough selves. Their second place finish in the zone was satisfactory but a head 1-0 loss at home to Mucurapo evaded any chance of them winning a trophy.
Presentation College were involved in a last day relegation cliff hanger with Mayaro Composite. A 2-0 win over Fyzabad Composite helped them to two points more than the "Beach boys." However, as the dust settled on a near disastrous chapter in their proud history, concern is growing about the long term future of the school. The fear is that unless major surgery is carried out, the Carib Street boys will struggle again.
The rest of the Zone was pretty even with, Pleasantville SC, Moruga Composite, Fyzabad all prospered in their own little way. Moruga's most memorable moment would have been a Intercol first round win over Queen's Royal College, while they were also the only team to have handed "Naps" a defeat during the regular season.
P/Ville and Fyzabad finished 5th and 6th respectively, two points apart of each other. Mayaro occupied the cellar position but will be playing their football in the Championship division for the second straight year having won the Senior Division title
The Southerners managed to score 239 goals, the most among all the zones.
Guardian's All Star team
Goalkeepers: Ricardo Johnson(P/Town), Marcus Maurice (El Dorado)
Defenders: Marcus Weekes(CIC), Dwight De Leon(P/Town) Linton Gaston(QRC), Lee Baptiste(St Benedict's) Kirt Borel(Naparima) Ab Bakr Papoinette (Arima)
Midfielders: Silvio Spann, Isa Ar Razi (St Benedict's), Sean Cooper (St Anthony's), Joel Bailey , Erasto Neptune(Naparima) Vijay Samaroo(P/Town), Brandon Barry(CIC) Fabien Garcia(Malick)
Forwards: Damien Westfield (ST Anthony's College), Bevon Lewis(Fyzabad), Scott Sealey(CIC) Kwame Thomas(El Dorado) Kareem Young(Mucurapo), Keon Price(Signal Hill)
Guardian's Player of the Year - Joel Bailey (22 goals) Naparima College
Bailey was very instrumental in the success of Naparima College this year. Playing alongside teammates Erasto Neptune and Leon Brown, they posed numerous problems for opposing defences.
This attacking, dynamic midfielder was capable of exciting the crowd on a number of occasions.
With his strength,scoring prowess and an excellent mind for the game, he has all the ingredients of a complete midfielder, certainly at the youth level. This youngster holds much promise for the future