Fri, Jan

That time again - SSFL 2019 is here!

Ar­guably the most ex­cit­ing, pul­sat­ing and sup­port­ed foot­ball league in T&T - the Sec­ondary Schools Foot­ball league (SS­FL) kicks off this Sat­ur­day with the Dig­i­cel Cup be­tween the two top schools from last year - south­ern ri­vals Na­pari­ma Col­lege against Pre­sen­ta­tion Col­lege.

Na­pari­ma dra­mat­i­cal­ly won the league last year when, on the fi­nal day, they vis­it­ed Trin­i­ty Mo­ka while Pres jour­neyed to Bourg to take on the tough San Juan North Sec­ondary. Naps need­ed to win and hoped that their ri­vals slipped up in what turned out to be a su­perb ex­hi­bi­tion of goal­keep­ing by the San Juan cus­to­di­an, Em­manuel John. John sin­gle-hand­ed­ly thwart­ed at­tack af­ter at­tack from the Pres boys; the game end­ed 1-1 while Naps hand­ed the Mo­ka boys a 2-0 de­feat there­by win­ning the ti­tle by just one point point.

Be­fore the fi­nal day start­ed, San Juan al­so har­boured hopes of tak­ing the ti­tle. As re­mote as it seemed, they need­ed to win by five clear goals and al­so hoped that Na­pari­ma lost. Un­for­tu­nate­ly for them, they didn't achieve their goal and fin­ished 3rd. Steven Spiel­berg could not have writ­ten a bet­ter script for a thrilling 2018 end­ing.

Can we ex­pect sim­i­lar type dra­ma for the 2019 sea­son? One nev­er knows what to ex­pect from the SS­FL from year to year. Once again, I think the league is go­ing to be hot­ly con­test­ed right down to the wire. It's al­ways a chal­lenge to pre­dict who will come out on top, as se­nior play­ers leave school and have to be re­placed by young­sters. It, there­fore, be­comes eas­i­er af­ter a cou­ple of rounds to see the teams play with their new squads and then pre­dict who will be the top schools.

The de­fend­ing champs Na­pari­ma played sec­ond fid­dle for long pe­ri­ods last year and I ex­pect them to be in strik­ing dis­tance again this year. They are well-coached and the school has a win­ning men­tal­i­ty so Na­pari­ma will have to be the team to beat.

Pre­sen­ta­tion is very much mir­rored to Naps and they will be tough to beat. They lost out on both the In­ter­col and the League last year and so they will want to put that right. Once some of their ju­nior play­ers step up, they may be even more dif­fi­cult to de­feat.

San Juan North could be a fly in the oint­ment. They pos­sess a good men­tal­i­ty but when the go­ing gets tough, they must show the right met­tle to fight it out as they have con­sis­tent­ly failed to show that. This year, if they can get some more goals then who knows? The ti­tle could leave South.

Cara­pichaima East Sec­ondary was a sur­pris­ing fourth but nev­er looked like clos­ing the gap on the front three. They played some tough, ef­fec­tive foot­ball with­out look­ing pret­ty and were dif­fi­cult to beat at home. If they keep it sim­ple and de­fend well, they could again be in the top five but it will be a tough ask.

St Bene­dict's Col­lege had a mixed bag last year and I don't ex­pect much from them this year. On their day, they can hold their own against the 'big boys' but they are far too in­con­sis­tent to be out­right ti­tle con­tenders.

Queen's Roy­al Col­lege (QRC) looked good in parts. They were well or­gan­ised at the back and on­ly Naps con­ced­ed few­er goals than them. How­ev­er, they found dif­fi­cul­ty in putting the ball in their op­po­nents' net. If they can solve that, they can spring some sur­pris­es.

East Mu­cu­rapo Sec­ondary lan­guished around the rel­e­ga­tion zone for most of the sea­son but a string of wins to the end lift­ed them to fin­ish mid-ta­ble. They are a con­fi­dent bunch, who I ex­pect to learn from last year and come bet­ter pre­pared for the 2019 sea­son.

Trin­i­ty Col­lege Mo­ka has al­ways been a dif­fi­cult team to beat at home. But they played too many or­di­nary games with no fight last year and fin­ished in 8th po­si­tion - bet­ter than I an­tic­i­pat­ed.

St Mary's Col­lege was far bet­ter than their 9th po­si­tion sug­gests. They were far too de­fen­sive and nev­er put their op­po­nents un­der se­vere pres­sure. They were a tal­ent­ed side whom I ex­pect will do bet­ter this year if they held on to a cou­ple of their se­nior play­ers.

St Au­gus­tine Sec­ondary de­fend­ed poor­ly but had some good at­tack­ing play­ers. But if you leak goals at the back, you will lose more games than you win and they may very well strug­gle again this year.

Trin­i­ty Col­lege East just could not score goals and in the end, that was their down­fall. They were well or­gan­ised at the back but couldn't breach the op­po­nents' goal and so end­ed up draw­ing half of their games. If they get a goalscor­er for 2019, they could well be a spoil­er.

St An­tho­ny's Col­lege was a huge dis­ap­point­ment. They were ex­treme­ly tal­ent­ed but lacked prop­er di­rec­tion and so gave away sil­ly goals and lost match­es they should have won. I ex­pect a huge turn­around from them and they could be up there with the best this sea­son.

Mean­while, It is of­ten dif­fi­cult to as­sess pro­mot­ed teams. Mal­ick Sec­ondary is back and that's great for the SS­FL. I ex­pect them to be tough to beat and re­al fight­ers. Pleas­antville Sec­ondary is al­so back and would play a good open at­tack­ing style of foot­ball but have to be tight at the back. Fi­nal­ly, Spey­side Sec­ondary is rep­re­sent­ing the sis­ter isle. I hope they give a bet­ter ac­count of them­selves than both Bish­ops and Sig­nal Hill. I have been ex­treme­ly dis­ap­point­ed in what the schools in To­ba­go have been giv­ing us in the SS­FL - to­tal­ly lack­ing in ba­sics and very dis­or­gan­ised.

Let's look for­ward to a great sea­son full of goals and ex­cite­ment. Good luck to all the schools!

Ed­i­tor's note

The views ex­pressed in this col­umn are sole­ly those of the writer and do not re­flect the views of any or­gan­i­sa­tion of which he is a stake­hold­er.