THERE'S an air of optimism inside the Old Harbour High School camp for the 2012 daCosta Cup football season.
Perennial 'dark horses' to win the rural area title, their dream remains as elusive as ever.
They have been under the microscope since lifting the Ben Francis KO title in 2002, but the closest they've come to touching the coveted D'Cup was a semi-final finish five years ago. Last season's campaign ended at the quarter-finals stage, despite very little preparation.
This year though, there's a more concerted effort, with preparation having begun as far back as April, while junior team coach Uriel Meghie has been promoted to the senior team, replacing Linval Dixon.
When the Jamaica Observer visited the South Street school, Meghie said the team has just returned from a three-week 'isolated' camp at GC Foster College.
Emphasis was placed on weights training under the guidance of a gym instructor as the fitter teams usually survive the early phase of the season.
The core of the 22-member team is Under-16 players, Meghie noted, while National Under-20 invitee Damano Salomon, who plays at central defence; midfielder Kemar Myers, goalkeeper and captain Jehmar Griffiths and strikers Gavin Lee and Omando Wright are all returning.
The squad has been bolstered by former Calabar left-back Omar Roberts, who had his transfer approved after his parents migrated to the coasts of St Catherine South West. The former Manning Cupper believes he has what it takes to help the team chase history.
"I feel very comfortable in the team because I have a lot of friends who have encouraged me to be a part of the team. I'm happy to come here and show them what I have learnt at Calabar and try to apply it to the daCosta Cup because the technicalities of the Manning Cup and the daCosta Cup are different," he said.
"Manning Cup teams are more composed with the ball and can maintain their shape going forward and when defending, and that's some of the things I have been able to incorporate," said Roberts, an upper-sixth form student with nine subjects at the CSEC and CAPE levels.
The expectation for Old Harbour High to deliver is monumental. Many ardent supporters believe opportunities to bring the daCosta Cup to St Catherine have been missed in the past.
Meghie says he's "expecting great things", but is under no pressure to delivery what would be a massive achievement.
"I'm not feeling any pressure. I have been here for six years now with the Under-14, Under-16 and the Girls programme, so the transition to the senior team is much easier... I'm feeling no pressure whatsoever," he emphasised.
"That is most coaches' idea, to win the league (daCosta Cup). Right now what I've done is to purposely hide them away from the community...
"Out of the six to seven (practice) games, they have only seen them once as it's important to get them focused and in the right frame of mind. But we have to take each game on its merit," he added.
Not winning any trophies this season will not be classified as failure either, but a top-six finish would be just reward, said the new man at the helm.
The continued expansion of the daCosta Cup puts Old Harbour in Zone N alongside Clarendon teams Central High, Kemps Hill and Vere Technical, plus, they'll resume battle with northern neighbours Tacius Golding.
In their opener against Kemps Hill on September 12, Meghie's young side was held to a 1-1 draw at home. They started nervously and were behind after four minutes as Romain Richards silenced a packed Soya Oval.
But once the jitters were gone, Old Harbour grew in confidence and were rewarded in the 56th minute when Solomon restored parity with a penalty.
And though they'll be favourites to advance from the zone, Meghie is taking nothing for granted.
"Thank God we got a point out of this game. Kemps Hill is always a plucky team... but I'm okay with a point. I didn't expect them to start so nervously, but we came from behind and got the point, so we're grateful for it," he said in a post-game interview.
A week ago, Meghie noted the importance of dominating home turf.
"Emphasis is placed on dominating at home because when you are at home you need to get three points to push you further in the competition.
"We have an excellent (home) record... over the last five years we haven't lost...," he said then.
Like many schools, balancing sport and academia has proven to be a challenge. At Old Harbour High, things are no different.
However, in young and energetic principal Linton Weir, who has taken a zero-tolerance approach in that regard, Meghie believes his job has been made easier.
"Roughly about nine of the players in this team are in sixth form right now. The principal Mr Linton Weir has been very good so far with the team. Everything we have asked for so far he has given us," the coach said. "But one thing he's lamenting is education... life goes on after football and you must leave Old Harbour High with a good education."
He added: "...They are bright so you don't need to shout instructions more than once; they listen and they carry out the game plan professionally."