MANDEVILLE, Manchester — It's exciting times for football fans in Manchester and it could get even more thrilling in the coming days.
The parish is thriving at the youth level and is now considered by many as a serious threat to their more celebrated neighbours, Clarendon and St Catherine, in the South Central Confederation.
For the first time in many years, the prospect of Premier League football gracing this mid-island community again seemed very much a reality last season as New Green FC defied the odds to win their first South Central Super League title, consequently earning a place in the nation's four-team premiership play-offs.
And for yet another season, football fans here are hoping that 2012 will be the year that Manchester celebrates its first schoolboy title.
They came close on two previous occasions — Manchester High proving the reason for such hope by contesting two finals in the last four years.
On both trips to Montego Bay, Manchester failed by the slimmest of margins to the same opponents — South Central rivals St Elizabeth Technical (STETHS) — at the same venue, Jarrett Park, as they suffered respective 1-0 and 2-1 defeats in the 2009 daCosta Cup and 2011 Ben Francis KO finals.
Tomorrow, Sheldon Davis' side will return to their least favourite hunting ground when they take on Westmoreland's Grange Hill High in semi-final action of the Ben Francis Cup, and this time they will be hoping for better luck.
Not that it counts for much, but for once their date at Jarrett Park won't be a final, neither will they be facing nemesis STETHS. However, the importance of the fixture to the school and indeed the entire parish remains crucial.
Just about everyone who has the interest of Manchester football at heart will be hoping the Mandeville school has learnt key lessons from its previous sojourns to the 'second city' and that it will make it a better prepared unit as it lines up against another growing force in the schoolboy game for a place in the KO final.
Except for the dangerous Delroy Miller, this Manchester side is by no means close to rivalling the 2007, 2009, or even last year's unit in individual talent, but they do seem to possess a key component that their predecessors lacked — that never-say-die attitude.
They exemplified such quality throughout the first round of the daCosta Cup where they had to work hard to exert their dominance over Zone F opponents Bellefield High, Mile Gully, Cross Keys and BB Coke.
This was also on full display in their two most recent Ben Francis Cup victories as they held off late rallies from Clarendon schools Spalding High and Clarendon College to record narrow penalty shoot-out wins at Kirkvine Sport Club.
Like the Spalding game last Wednesday, the fixture against Clarendon on Saturday could have gone either way, especially with Anthony Patrick's side missing a penalty late in extra-time, but Manchester remained resolute to throw the knock-out punch in a tense shoot-out.
In the diminutive Miller they do seem to have the capacity to breach any defence on their day, but it's their own rearguard, offered little assistance by a sometimes porous midfield, that could contribute to their downfall.
Whether sheer fighting spirit will be good enough to make up for their limitations and final engineer the breakthrough that the parish craves remains to be seen, especially since they are going up against an equally hungry Grange Hill team who are also seeking their first major schoolboy title.