Shawn Cooper, the coach of Presentation College, San Fernando, and Travis Mulraine, coach of Naparima College were both pleased with the displays of their respective teams in the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Tiger Tank Cup match at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Balmain, Couva on Friday.
The fixture which pitted the four-time SSFL Premier Division winners and defending champion Naparima College and reigning Coca-Cola Inter-Col title-holders Presentation College against each other ended 1-1 at the end of the 90-minutes regulation time before the latter prevailed 3-2 on penalty-kicks.
Earlier on in regulation time, Naparima went ahead after only 23 minutes through Kanye Francis before Caleb Boyce drew Presentation level in the 32nd.
Following four missed penalties at the start, ‘Pres’ got goals from Levi Jones, Cody Cooper, and Adah Barclay, while ‘Naps’ got goals from captain Omari Archer and Giovanni Mc Knight.
Speaking after the loss, former national midfielder, Mulraine, the first-year coach of Naparima College after senior men’s national team coach Angus Eve stepped down from the role following four Premier Division crowns in six years said he was pleased with the overall effort of his team and both teams overall.
“I have to give them justice, I think both teams performed well, and I think that going forward we will see more quality from the guys on the field. “
With regards to his team’s preparations for the season after the league was on a pause for the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mulraine said, “Well the preparations was the Tiger Tanks Under-20 League because most of these guys represented Club Sando.
“So my job was a bit easy just polishing them up and trying to give my philosophy, and feed them certain things, and I think we will be good in the end.”
“The guys tried to execute our game plan and of course, we have a few things to iron out, but I think by and large I was happy with the performance,” stated Mulraine.
Looking towards the start of the Premier Division campaign in which four-time champions Naparima travels to St Augustine Secondary in their opener on Wednesday, Mulraine, a former Queen’s Royal College player said he was pleased that some of the guys showed a lot of confidence on the ball.
“Of course, we have some kinks to iron out as I said, so it’s back to the drawing board and Wednesday the ball starts rolling again,” ended Mulraine.
Cooper aiming for title honours
Cooper, coach of the victorious Presentation College of San Fernando and former title-winning coach with Naparima as well said his team performed beyond expectations and fought like young lions.
“We were outmatched in the physical aspect of the game but second half we made a few tactical changes and we started pressing them and we got into the game and I think we had a very good second half and topped it off with the penalties.”
Coming into the match, Cooper who was recently appointed the men’s national Under-17 coach admitted that his players had a lot of nerves ahead of their first match of the season, and the first in the competition since 2019 due to the pandemic.
He added, “Especially my son, today was his first official game, and to be playing in a magnitude of a game like this I had to settle him down because we did a team talk with them lunchtime, and they all said that they were nervous.”
“So first-half you saw in the first 15 to 20 minutes we had a lot of problems in settling down and the nerves got the better of them but coming down in the dregs of the match you saw that we could have played football and got a couple of opportunities, and I am pleased with the performance.”
Being the first match of the season, Cooper said from the match that they saw today I think football was in good hands, because I think it was a very entertaining game and what we have been missing.
“The boys even though they were out for two years I thought the standard was pretty good.
Looking ahead to the SSFL season Cooper said his team is well on its way to achieving its targets.
He boasted, “I told the principal I was not too concerned about this match today (Friday) as we are building and by late October or early November you will see the best out of this team.”
New season, new format, new sponsor
For this year’s SSFL season, the first to be held since 2019 after the 2020 and 2021 seasons were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tiger Tanks will be the official title sponsor of this year’s SSFL, taking over from Jamaican-based sports television network, Sportsmax.
Coincidentally, a five-year agreement between the SSFL, Digicel, and SportsMax was scheduled to conclude in 2020 before the intervention of the COVID-19 pandemic threw everything into a tailspin.
Under Tiger Tanks, the league is set to be well-served, inclusive of uniform provision and branding, prizes, and the broadcasting of matches for all the divisions, inclusive of the Premiership, Championship, and all the lower divisions.
The new format of the 16-team Premier Division sees the teams divided into two groups of eight teams for one round of round-robin competition, that’s seven matches for each team, at the end of which the top two in each pool will advance to the crossover semifinals on Friday, October 21 ahead of the final four days later.
Both the semifinals and final are slated for either the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo or the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
The 16-participating schools will see Group A comprise Naparima College, St Augustine Secondary, Carapichaima East Secondary, Speyside High School, St Benedict’s College, Fatima College, Pleasantville Secondary, and St Anthony’s College, while Group B will feature San Juan North Secondary, Queen’s Royal College, Chaguanas North Secondary, Malick Secondary, East Mucurapo Secondary, Moruga Secondary, Trinity College East, and Presentation College (San F’do) with the opening round of matches set for Wednesday, September 14 with kickoff at 4 pm.
With regards to the demotion of teams from the SSFL, the two bottom-placed teams will be automatically relegated and will be joined by the losers of the playoff between the two teams to finish second from bottom in their respective groups.
At the same time, the winners of the five Championship Boys Divisions which will comprise six teams team will then contest a “Big-Five” round-robin series at the end of which the top three finishers will gain promotion to the 2023 Premier Division.