Clarendon College thirst for D'Cup glory

BY OSHANE TOBIAS Observer writer

Friday, October 17, 2014

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THERE hasn't been a year (and this is seriously not a hyperbole), since 1998, when they last tasted success at this level, that Clarendon College haven't been grouped among the schools who are favoured to win the daCosta Cup -- or its bastard brother, the Ben Francis Cup.

In 1999, having retained most of their Triple Crown team, everybody tipped Jackie Walters' side to retain at least one of their three trophies. They won nothing, beaten in the D'Cup semi-finals by Munro College at Woodside.

The following year, when they were basically handed the trophy by the pundits in the first week of October -- after destroying all of their first-round opponents with much swagger -- Clarendon again fell short. This time the boardroom clipped their heels, forcing them to withdraw from the competition following the use of an ineligible player, who, it was adjudged, should have sat out a year after transferring from another high school.

The next season, 2001, was the year that coach Walters decided to swap the royal blue and gold of CC for the red and white of Glenmuir High after yet another trophy-less campaign. But even this -- losing the man who had guided them to five trophies -- didn't stop the "experts" from listing Clarendon as one of the favourites the following season.

And even seven years later, when it was quite evident that Clarendon had taken their seat alongside Munro College, Vere Technical and Cornwall College at the sleeping giants' table, people still labelled them as title favourites.

Maybe it was out of sheer respect for -- or devotion to -- a school that alerted Jamaica to the sizzling talents of Dennis 'Den Den' Hutchinson, Lenny 'Teacha' Hyde, Linval 'Rudi' Dixon, Christopher 'Simba' Dawes, Kevin 'Sen Seh' Williams, Sean 'Matterhorn' Fraser and Allien 'Bussy' Whittaker.

Barely a year since Walters returned to CC -- after taking only a decade to transform Glenmuir into a powerhouse -- the north central Clarendon school is again being advertised as the team to beat for this season's D'Cup.

Walters himself, in at least two other media outlets, did very little to downplay his team's chances. In fact, the wily old fox -- who celebrated his 66th birthday on October 8, yet still sprightly in mind -- seems to agree with the predication.

Perhaps Clarendon's current endorsement is a direct offshoot of their dominance in pre-season, a summer which saw them beating the likes of St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) and Jamaica College, the current rural and urban area champions, to the BIGGA STETHS Cup.

Then again, it could also be the Jackie Walters-effect starting to seep into the fans' psyche -- after all, he's the most successful coach in the schoolboy game, winning titles everywhere he goes: seven at Camperdown High, and remember, another five during his first spell in Chapelton, before guiding Glenmuir to an amazing eight trophies between 2002 and 2012 -- for it's certainly not because of their shrewdness in the player transfer system, a market now dominated by STETHS and Manchester High this side of the island.

One thing is for sure, though, the die-hard Clarendon supporters won't care too much about why they are being talked up. They simply want to know that at the end of the season a 16-year trophy drought will be broken -- whether it's by winning the 'Holy Grail', its 'half-brother' or the newly integrated step brother, the LIME Super Cup. And, so far, they have much to be optimistic about.

For the first time in about five years, Clarendon have made it past the second round of the daCosta Cup after topping their Inter-zone group with seven points.

They will now contest a quarter-final group, comprising Garvey Maceo, Frome Technical and Marcus Garvey Technical, which -- based on the predictions -- should be a favourable zone. A first-round meeting with Manning Cup upstarts Holy Trinity in the LIME Super Cup was also given the thumps up by their fans when the draw was announced on Wednesday morning.

"One of the reasons why the fans are so optimistic this year is because they have a lot of senior players who are showing their experience," said Allien Whittaker, a member of the last Clarendon College team to win a trophy.

"When we won the triple in '98, apart from having a lot of talent, we were very mature. You even had real top players who didn't play that year, for one reason or another. We never used to break camp, so we understood each other. And we had that killer instinct.

"The similarity that I see between the current team and the '98 team is the depth," added the former national goalkeeper. "I you look on the bench, they have a lot players who could also start. Since '98, it is the first time I am seeing a College team with players who can come on and make a difference. They are also a cohesive unit; working around them you sense that bond."

While Whittaker's analysis might be true, it's not the first time that a modern Clarendon College team is being compared favourably to the '98 side. As a matter of fact, the semi-final teams of '03, '05 and '06, which included the likes of current Reggae Boyz Rodolph Austin and Andre Blake, were also thought to be of similar quality to the Class of '98. Yet all three teams failed to live up to expectation.

"That's true," added another former CC player. "But what you must realise is that College, and the parish on a whole, always have good individual players. So people will always look at us in pre-season and say: 'They are one of the favorites'. But it takes more than just two or three (talented) players to win trophies. You need a good programme and, for the first time in many, many years, I think we are really organised." And it is this kind of support staff that Jackie Walters believes could prove the difference between another trophy-less campaign and a seventh hold on the daCosta Cup.

"The team has gone through a lot. But we are under the guidance of a psychiatrist, Dr Geoffrey Walcott, and I think it is really making a difference," revealed Walters, following their 1-0 victory over Mile Gully last Wednesday at Juici Park.

It was game that they could have won by a much wider margin -- and one that they could have also lost. They had to be patient and trust that, with the number of chances they were creating, the goal would eventually come. "Tactically," added Walters, "there is still room for improvement. But they are playing with a real sense of security. They believe in their abilities. And they are very desirous."

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