Last hurrah!

JC, CC clash for Olivier Shield

BY OSHANE TOBIAS Observer writer oshanetobias@gmail.com

Friday, December 05, 2014

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THE ISSA/LIME schoolboy football season climaxes today with the all-island Olivier Shield play-offs, and for the first time in recent memory there is actually a genuine buzz around this fixture -- which pits the rural area daCosta Cup champions Clarendon College (CC) against the urban area Manning Cup champions, Jamaica College (JC).

Game time is 2:30 pm at the Juici Park complex in south-west Clarendon.

Perhaps the excitement surrounding this game is due to the fact that CC, seen as the underdogs of sorts, are entering the contest with the momentum, having thrashed STETHS 3-0 last Saturday to win their first daCosta Cup title in 16 years, while JC, the defending champions, are nursing bruised egos following their 2-3 defeat to St George's College in the Walker Cup final -- a loss which ended their hopes of matching Rusea's High's 1985 record of winning four titles in a single season.

But there is yet another argument.

It is widely believed that, man for man, these two teams are closely, if not evenly matched, which has raised the stakes for a mouth-watering, all-guns-blazing affair in south-west Clarendon. Then again, maybe this hype is stemming from a simple administrative adjustment by ISSA, who changed the format of the Olivier Shield, from its traditional home-and-away series to a one-off clash, at the start of this season.

Whatever the reason, the build-up to this season-ending play-off, dubbed The Grand Finale: Country vs Town, is certainly a good look, and the organisers couldn't be prouder.

"What we have found out is that, when it was a two-leg game, people tend to lose interest if the result in the first leg is (one-sided)," said ISSA's competitions officer George Forbes. "We thought a one-way game would be better because the teams will realise that they only have one chance to win."

"There is also added interest this season because Clarendon College has won the daCosta Cup for the first time in 16 years, while JC has been the dominant team (for the past two years), so a lot of people want to see who is the best team in the country," added Forbes, who also confirmed that the game will be a play-to-the-finish, meaning, if necessary, there will be two 10-minute periods of extra-time and penalties.

Despite entering the contest on the back of a potentially demoralising defeat to George's, there is no doubt that Jamaica College are the favourites. They have been the top-performing schoolboy team, having qualified for the final of every competition they have played in this season -- winning two major trophies (the LIME Super Cup and the Manning Cup) in the process.

Over the course of the season, the Old Hope Road school, who will be chasing their 20th Olivier Shield crown, played 20 games, winning 18, drawing one, while tasting defeat only once. They have conceded 13 goals, while scoring a staggering 72, with influential captain Junior Flemming leading the way with 23 strikes.

"It's a wonderful year and always a pleasure to work with boys who are committed and who work," Miguel Coley, the Jamaica College head coach, told the Jamaica Observer following their Manning Cup triumph over Charlie Smith. "We are not the most skilful, but we are tough, we are efficient and we are a fantastic team."

And while they might have lost some momentum after that Walker Cup defeat to St George's College, Coley has reported that they "are ready for the challenge".

While not as successful as their opponents, Clarendon College, who are looking to become the first rural school to win the Olivier Shield in the last 10 years, have registered some impressive results this season.

In 18 games across all competitions, the north-central Clarendon side won 14 and lost only once in open play, with the major blot on their report card being the two penalty shoot-out defeats to Holy Trinity (LIME Super Cup) and STETHS (Ben Francis Cup). Led by Greggton Charlton (11 goals) and Xhane Reid, they have scored 44 goals and conceded seven.

And, like JC, the former three-time Olivier Shield champions, are exuding confidence. After all, the game will be played in their backyard, plus, if pre-season results are anything to go by, they can also lay claim to the most recent head-to-head record between the sides -- having beaten Jamaica College twice in the summer to win the BIGGA STETHS Cup.

But coach Jackie Walters, winner of the Olivier Shield on five occasions with three different teams, won't be paying much attention to those results. "That was a long time ago," he told the Jamaica Observer in mid-week. He will, however, enter this match-up conscious of what his rivals have to offer. "We have seen them quite a number of times, so we do know what to expect," said Walters.

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