Tue, Dec

St. Benedict's College vs Fatima College at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on Wednesday, October 26th 2022.

The 2022 edition of the Tiger Tanks Secondary Schools Football league (SSFL) season is over and St Benedict's College was deservedly crowned, champions after they defeated an inspired Fatima College by three goals to one in the final last Wednesday (October 26).

The final was witnessed by a large crowd despite the strange decision of the SSFL management to play the game on a Wednesday at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva which, in normal circumstances, is a nightmare for commuters heading south after a working day. It was even worse with all the traffic going into Couva. Nevertheless, that did not deter the supporters, parents, friends, schoolmates, past students of either of these schools; and even fans who just wanted to be there, from attending the game.

For me, the two best schools got to the final. I had predicted from very early on that it would have been a St Benedict’s versus Fatima final with “Benedict’s” holding a slight advantage. This year, because of time constraints, the league was split into two groups with the winner and runner-up of Group A facing the winner and runner-up in Group B in the semi-finals. Then, the winners square off in the grand final.

It was probably the fairest way to split up the groups by looking back on how they finished in 2019 and all the odd numbers from one to 15 in a group and all the even numbers from two to 16 in the other group. The last two in each group would be relegated and a playoff between the second to last teams would be the third team to go down.

I would expect that next year, the SSFL would revert to one league with 16 teams meeting one another to determine the champions. It would be great, however, if at the end of the season, they could make way for some sort of big four tournaments. The winners and runners-up in the league meeting the winners and runners-up in the Intercol and if it is the same teams, then look at the semi-finalists or the teams finishing third and fourth. That being said, the level of interest created by the final this year was astonishing.

Let's look back at the highly successful league season. Firstly, compliments to the sponsors especially the major sponsor: Tiger Tanks. It is always great to see a sponsor putting their money where their mouth is and trying to work the sponsorship. They showed a keen interest in the running of the league and always had suggestions in trying to improve it. That is what sponsorship is all about - working with the organisation rather than just putting in your money and sitting back. Let us hope more sponsors come on board for 2023.

St Benedict’s was easily the best team. Offensively, they are dynamite from their captain Tarik Lee to star players like Darrel Garcia, Jeremiah Niles, Josiah Ochoa and Nicholas Bobcome. They are all comfortable and quick with the ball at their feet. If, however, you put them under pressure, they can make mistakes at the back but teams are worried to go at them and leave themselves exposed in defence. They are going to be difficult to beat in the Intercol once they don't become complacent.

Fatima is a good all-round team with an excellent keeper in Tristan Edwards. They are solid defensively but played too cautiously against St Benedict’s and did not turn over from defence into attack quickly enough to cause the La Romaine boys any significant concern. They have some good individual players and should do well in the Intercol once, like St Benedict’s, they don’t become complacent.

San Juan North Secondary is a good team and on their day can turn the tables on the big two. In Larry Noel, they have a marksman extraordinaire. He scores goals when you least expect them and, together with Lindell Sween, remains the backbone of the team. But the other players will have to step up for Intercol and make their presence felt or the other teams may well target their two main players and that may hurt San Juan.

Presentation College (San Fernando) was not as strong this year as in previous years but what they lack in talent, they make up for in terms of their structure and organisation. They are well-coached and on their day, can spring a surprise but they will have to work hard to defeat St Benedict’s if they meet in the Intercol. Missing their best player, Caleb Boyce, through injury has left a huge gap in their team.

Naparima College is also a good team but gave the champions too much respect and even when they were 1-0 down, they still adopted a cautious approach knowing they needed victory. They also possess some good individual players and will have to be a little more adventurous if they are to go deep into the Intercol competition.

To be brutally honest, the five aforementioned teams are head and shoulders above the other teams in the league and that is extremely worrying. In group A, Trinity College East looked the best of the rest with Jaheim Faustin up front who, if given opportunities, could give defenders problems. Defensively, they looked solid and lost three games by a 1-0 margin. They could be a dark horse for the Intercol.

QRC and Malick Secondary were largely disappointing. QRC leaked as many goals as they scored and in Aydon Caruth, they have a good player, but their problems stem from a leaky defence and they will concede against the better teams unless they come up with a different system. Malick was inconsistent; they played well for long periods against the more attractive teams but evidently could not sustain playing at a high level throughout the 90 minutes.

Chaguanas North, East Mucurapo and Moruga left a lot to be desired. They were completely outplayed and will have to look at their development programmes if they want to compete at the premiership level.

In Group A, two of the biggest let downs were St Augustine Secondary and St Anthony’s College - two schools with a remarkable footballing history. St Augustine will have to put a proper plan in place if they are to return while St Anthony’s has some talented players but seem to lack self-belief. Both schools are far too deep in tradition to fall to the depths of just a school making up numbers in a competition.

Across in the sister-isle, Speyside Secondary started well but faded away. I have always said that going to Tobago to play is always difficult but the Tobago system needs to be revamped and the players need to be coached better in all aspects of the game especially to understand their roles on the field. Carapichaima East was not in the same league as the top sides and Pleasantville was slightly better but a lot more work has to go into developing the younger players if these schools are to compete in the premiership division.

The Intercol preliminaries started on Tuesday and as usual, it is going to be an exciting tournament and a dark horse always seems to upset the fancied teams. Let's wait and see if we will get a surprise in this year's tournament. Good luck to all schools!

SOURCE: T&T Guardian