Seven national titles in a ten-year span firmly established Defence Force as the "big team" in Trinidad and Tobago football in the 1990s. However, these days the armed forces squad seem to leave their best for the annual FCB Cup competition.
Since beating Vibe CT105 W. Connection 2-0 in a memorable FCB Cup final two years ago, Defence Force have not won in ten additional meetings with their rivals-nor have they won anything else.
But on Friday, the Defence Force came into hostile, enemy territory at the Manny Ramjohn Stadium, Marabella, backed by several truckloads of recruits and obviously frisky for a fight.
They only just failed to win an epic battle.
Twice behind to W Connection, the Defence Force battled back to draw level at 2-2.
And in the dying minutes of a gripping final, substitute Claude Adams was played clear through the right and into a position to win the match for the Defence Force, but shot wildly over the W Connection bar.
They would rue that missed opportunity as Connection went on to win the subsequent penalty shootout 3-2 and become 2004 FCB Cup champions.
Plotting the demise of the Army team was Reynold Carrington, an ex-soldier himself, who in the glory days of the 1990s joined forces with Ross Russell, Kerry Jamerson and Dexter Lee at both club and national team level.
But on Friday, the battle lines were drawn.
Jamerson has now moved up the ranks to be commander of the Defence Force coaching staff, while Russell and Lee are his assistants.
On the other side, Carrington had also successfully assumed a new post as coach at W Connection.
Already the winners of the $30,000 T&T Pro Bowl this season, Carrington stated his intention to plunder as much silverware as possible.
"We want to continue winning trophies. We are not finished yet," he said, while stating his intention to also add the T&T Pro League title.
"We are just three points behind North East Stars in the Pro League, so no one should write us off," Carrington declared.
Carrington's hunger for success was reflected by the urgency with which his players ran at the Defence Force.
Just a minute had passed, when Kendall Davis got the first shot off. Only close, but enough to put the Army-Coast Guardsmen into defensive mood.
And with the Defence Force straining to contain them, W Connection took a sixth minute lead through veteran St Lucian striker Earl Jean, who headed in a corner-kick from Brazilian Jose Luis Seabra.
Further W Connection pressure on the quarter-hour saw pacey Davis ourunning stopper Kelshall Alexander and forcing a good, low push from Defence Force keeper Selwyn George and the custodian again saved his team by tipping over a looping header from Jean.
Half-hour into the match W Connection lost captain Jean through injury and having fought to save their skins for the most part, Defence Force started to get into the match.
Their first dangerous moment came from a counter-attack when they caught Connection with just two defenders at the back.
But with teammates Kwesi Smith and Jerwyn Belthazar supporting from good positiions on the flank, young striker Devon Jorslyn held the ball too long, allowing Smith to stray into an offside position.
Smith was livid.
However, that finally gave the battalion of soldiers in the stand something to cheer about. And soon, their recruits were singing "ole, ole, ole" when W Connection stopper Elijan Joseph knocked in an own goal to put them level at 1-1 in the 39th minute.
In trying to cut out a dangerous through ball, Joseph only succeeded in directing the ball, moving at pace, past keeper Alejandro Figueroa.
It's remarkable what a little self-confidence does for the ego as suddenly Defence Force were stroking the ball around with confidence. But just two minutes into the second half, midfielder Anton Joseph was judged to have deliberately handled the ball just inside the penalty area, giving Connection a penalty. Midfielder Silvio Spann converted to give Connection a 47th minute 2-1 lead.
At the other end, striker Belthazar broke clear of the Connection back line, but was stopped by goalkeeper Figueroa. But, finally, Defence Force also won a penalty in the 77th minute when substitute Odelle Armstrong cut inside stopper Atiba Charles and was clipped by Joseph as he was about to shoot.Kurt Williams converted the spot kick.
After Adams later missed for the Defence Force, Connection's Colombian goalkeeper Figueroa came up with big saves from Criston Baptiste and Ronald St Louis in the penalty-shootout, while Jerwyn Balthazar scooped his shot over the bar.
With the battle won, Carrington expressed solidarity with his fallen former Army teammates, but vowed to give them a fight whenever he meets them.
"My love remains with them (Defence Force)," Carrington said. "But that is the nature of the sport."
DEFENCE FORCE: (5) Kelshall Marshall (cap't), (6) Michael Edwards, (8) Kurt Williams, (9) Devon Jorslyn, (10) Christon Baptiste, (13) Anton Joseph, (14) Anton Pierre, (15) Jerwyn Belthazar, (20) Ronald St Louis, (21) Kwesi Smith, (25) Selwyn George -goalkeeper. Subs: (9) Odelle Armstrong, (24) Shelton Williams, (23) Claude Adams, (11) Kevon Carter.
Coach: Kerry Jamerson; assistant coaches: Ross Russell, Dexter Lee. Manager: Lieutenant Henry Charles.
W.CONNECTION: (1) Alejandro Figueroa (G. K), (4) Kevon Clement, (5) Ejijah Joseph, (6) Jose Luis Seabra (v/cap't), (9) Earl Jean(cap't), (10) Andre Toussaint, (11) Titus Elva, (13) Nicholas Thomas, (14) Kendall Davis (17) Silvio Spann. Subs: (7) Luciano Jose Viera, (19) Aaron Black, (21) Jan Michael Williams (G. K), (22) Jason Cudjoe, (24) Bevon Lewis, (30) Andre Pacheco, (36) Jerron Johnson.
Coach: Reynold Carrington, manager: Raymong McLean.
2004 FCB CUP RESULTS:
Final W. Connection 2 (Earl Jean - 9th; Silvio Spann (penalty) - 47th) Defence Force 2 (Elijah Joseph (own goal) - 39th; Kurt Williams (penalty) - 62nd minute.
Connection won 3-2 on penalty-kicks.
Third Place playoff
Starworld Strikers 4 (Linsay Sherwood 2; Errol Charles, Andre Charles) North East Stars 1 (Jerren Nixon).
FCB CUP PRIZE STRUCTURE:
1. W. Connection-$35,000
2. Defence Force-$25,000
3. Starworld Strikers-$20,000
4. North East Stars-$16,000