Coaches weigh in on format changes to schoolboy KO competitions

BY HOWARD WALKER
Senior Staff reporter
walkerh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 23, 2018

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There have been varying views on the change of format for the Walker and Ben Francis Cup knockout competitions, with some coaches in agreement, others indecisive, and one even calling it ridiculous.

The Corporate Area Walker Cup has been around since 1961 and the Ben Francis for rural schools has been vied for since 1982. Both cups are key components of the traditional triple crown jewel of schoolboy football.

The Walker and Ben Francis cups will now be contested by teams that are knocked out of the Manning Cup in the second round and out of the quarter-finals of the daCosta Cup competition.

ISSA admitted that the changes have watered down the competitions but said it was necessary to avoid a congested season. In case the new format doesn't work, organisers can revert to the original system.

Omar Wedderburn, head coach of St Elizabeth Technical High School which has won the Ben Francis Cup six consecutive years between 2010 and 2015, said he would have approached it differently, but generally has no problem with the change.

“It doesn't really affect me in no way or form in terms of championship or the hunt towards a title. They said it is a new initiative to encourage some other schools to go on and get a title or two, but for the main contenders year to year, they still have their eyes on the big prize,” said Wedderburn.

“Schools like us, we are not looking an easy road to go and win a title... we have our eyes set on the big picture and the big picture is to win the daCosta Cup and go on to the Olivier Shield. Whatever comes after that is plus,” he added.

Kingston College Head Coach Ludlow Bernard, who won two Walker Cup titles with Wolmer's Boys' in 2012 and 2013, and again with KC in 2016, believes ISSA should have consulted the stakeholders first.

“I really think it's ridiculous. You are really devaluing the significance of that particular trophy and I am sure Mr “Chicken” Walker would not have been in approval of such a circumstance,” said Bernard.

“As a matter of fact, what it is now boiling down to is just like a consolation trophy, and ISSA needs to be very careful as to the message it sends where this is concerned.

“All trophies should be competed for and won by the best teams, and not necessarily a group of teams that are not in the top echelon, so to speak,” Bernard added.

Head coach of daCosta Cup champions Ruseas High School, Vassell Reynolds, who won the Walker Cup with Wolmer's Boys' in 2015, said he supports both sides of the debate.

“I am figuring that the idea behind ISSA's stance is to reward school programmes with lesser resources an opportunity to win a title.

“The schoolboy football will always be narrowed down, in terms of championship, to a limited number of schools, and so maybe that move would open the door a little for a lesser school,” said Reynolds, who was recently named head coach of premier league outfit Montego Bay United.

He continued: “Then there is the whole issue of the number of games played. Then I have been contemplating to agree on the whole matter that both the Walker Cup and Ben Francis have been watered down somewhat. I don't think this decision by ISSA would have helped that.

“My recommendation is to see to what extent you can make the winner of the Walker Cup and Ben Francis play off for a national championship, and that would mean to go back to the days of Nutriment Shield,” Reynolds added.

Reynolds believes the argument about too many games is not a strong one, as each team can register 30 players who they can rotate.

“But even though I understand from the two perspectives, I would have gone the other way around to boost the Walker Cup and Ben Francis — two cups that are very important —and people are saying that it has been watered down. I would have provided a national championship like the Olivier Shield between the two knockout winners,” he reiterated.

Meanwhile Devon Anderson, head coach of Holy Trinity, totally embraced the new format.

“I embraced it for more than one reason. The teams are pressured where playing extra games are concerned, and I was a recipient of that. However, this new format kind of help us to relax a bit more, knowing that we are one of the powerhouse teams,” said Anderson.

“I can attest to that, but nevertheless we are looking at the bigger picture and that our main focus is the Manning Cup — and whatever we get beyond that is a bonus and we appreciate it,” he added.

New head coach of Tarrant High School Calvert Fitzgerald says he understands the thinking behind the move.

“I understand it (giving other schools chance to win a title) from that perspective, but somehow I am not totally sold on it. In sports, the best teams should be given an opportunity to win,” said Fitzgerald.

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