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Wed, Aug

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Ar­guably T&T's most ex­cit­ing and re­lent­less foot­ball league, the Sec­ondary Schools Foot­ball League (SS­FL), kicks off this af­ter­noon with a dou­ble­head­er at the Mar­vin Lee Sta­di­um in Ma­coyea. The SS­FL, for­mer­ly known as the Col­leges Foot­ball League, is not on­ly an­tic­i­pat­ed by play­ers, coach­es, teach­ers and par­ents, but al­so by a wide cross-sec­tion of past pupils of the var­i­ous schools.

Brag­ging rights be­come the norm as many of these past stu­dents sud­den­ly re­mem­ber their play­ing days, and can re­call when they scored with a shot from 35 yards out some 35 years ago.

Many al­so join the ride in sup­port of their al­ma mater through thick and thin.

The league has gone through many dif­fer­ent for­mats from zon­al win­ners play­ing each oth­er to de­cide the even­tu­al win­ners to the big 7 for­mats, to the now more ac­cept­ed 15 top schools from all zones com­pet­ing in 15 rounds of play to even­tu­al­ly de­cide the cham­pi­ons.

It is al­ways dif­fi­cult to as­sess a new sea­son and to de­cide which school can come out on top. One has to re­mem­ber the schools' top pri­or­i­ty is en­sur­ing the boys have a prop­er ed­u­ca­tion and hope­ful­ly most of them do well enough to go on from Form 5 to Sixth Form. This gives them an ad­di­tion­al two years in school and a fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ty to rep­re­sent their school of choice. They al­so en­deav­our to make a good name for them­selves in the foot­ball are­na, si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly se­cur­ing their pass­es for fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion.

Over the last few years, the schools from South Zone seem to have strength­ened their claims that the best school foot­ballers hail from the south as Pre­sen­ta­tion Col­lege San Fer­nan­do, Na­pari­ma Col­lege and Shi­va Boys' Hin­du Col­lege have each waltzed away with the Cham­pi­onship ti­tle. Shi­va Boys won the Na­tion­al In­ter­col in 2017 in some style af­ter they were rel­e­gat­ed from the Pre­mier di­vi­sion due to some in­com­pe­tent pa­per­work hand­ed over to the SS­FL. This was tough on their play­ers as they were an ex­treme­ly tal­ent­ed bunch.

I would ex­pect both Pre­sen­ta­tion and Na­pari­ma to again be fight­ing for top ho­n­ours as they both seem to have a very good de­vel­op­men­tal plan in place, so when the old­er boys leave school, the young­sters tak­ing their place are al­ready aware of what is ex­pect­ed of them.

St. An­tho­ny's Col­lege fin­ished 3rd in 2017 af­ter spec­u­la­tion they would fal­ter hav­ing lost their coach of umpteen years, but they have re­peat­ed­ly proved to be the top team from the North. I ex­pect them to be some­where near the top again as they have pro­duced good young play­ers over the years. The 3 peren­ni­al col­leges - Fa­ti­ma, St Mary's (CIC) and Queens Roy­al Col­lege (QRC) have not done well late­ly in the league. Fa­ti­ma was the best of the trio fin­ish­ing 4th just 2 points be­hind St An­tho­ny's. How­ev­er, they nev­er re­al­ly looked as if they would cop the ti­tle and in the end to fin­ish where they did was good. They need some dy­nam­ic play­ers to im­prove their po­si­tion. CIC and QRC were dis­ap­point­ing even though they fin­ished mid-ta­ble - 6th and 7th re­spec­tive­ly. They were far too in­con­sis­tent. In 2018, if they don't win games away from home more reg­u­lar­ly, I ex­pect them to fin­ish mid ta­ble again.

San Juan North did well again last year fin­ish­ing 5th and los­ing out on the Na­tion­al In­ter­col fi­nal. They need to show more fight in the league as they do in the In­ter­col. They seem to throw in the tow­el when things are not go­ing their way; let's hope in 2018 their at­ti­tude will be spot on from their open­ing game.

St. Bene­dict's and St. Au­gus­tine - two schools that once dom­i­nat­ed sec­ondary schools foot­ball - have fall­en on dif­fi­cult times and it was no sur­prise they end­ed on the same num­ber of points in the bot­tom half of the stand­ings. They both pos­sess good in­di­vid­ual tal­ent but lack prop­er team co­he­sion and un­less both schools can play as a team this year, they may strug­gle yet again.

Of the two Trin­i­ty Schools - the East team was far more tal­ent­ed than their Mo­ka coun­ter­parts. They had some gift­ed play­ers but missed too many chances and games they should have won, they ei­ther drew or lost. Mo­ka plod­ded along for re­sults and their main weapon is their home ad­van­tage; they must use it. Even when I played and coached a few years ago for Fa­ti­ma, I loathed go­ing up there. It is an ex­treme­ly dif­fi­cult ground for away teams and they must make it a fortress.

Cara­pichaima East Sec­ondary was the sur­prise pack­age last year and would have been dis­ap­point­ed with their 11th plac­ing. They had some good re­sults against the bet­ter teams but fal­tered against schools they ought to have beat­en. They need to learn to win ug­ly by grind­ing out re­sults.

The 3 pro­mot­ed schools - East Mu­cu­rapo, Va­len­cia Sec­ondary and Bish­op's High of To­ba­go should give a good ac­count of them­selves. His­tor­i­cal­ly, East Mu­cu­rapo has pro­duced ex­cit­ing play­ers so we will have to wait and see just how good they are. Va­len­cia did well in the In­ter­pol last year and can sur­prise us while I hope the To­ba­go school will come good in 2018.

I trust that the coach­es will en­sure the play­ers do the sim­ple ba­sics well - pass­ing, shoot­ing, trap­ping etc. Sounds easy, right? Let's wait and see.

Good luck to all schools!