Schoolboy football season deemed one of the best, ever

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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To say that the recently concluded Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Under-19 football season was spectacular would be an understatement.

In fact, urban area title sponsors Digicel and their supporting cast could find numerous other words to describe what transpired over the last three months. The telecommunication giants thought the just-concluded season was one of “greatness” and “full of intense battles” in their first year since returning as sponsors.

They invested $75 million in ISSA schoolboy football for the next three years, which is viewed as a symbol of its continuing contribution to youth sports development in Jamaica.

And Chief Executive Officer of Digicel Jamaica Justin Morin believes the company's investment in the Manning Cup and Walker Cup competitions is already bearing fruit.

This was partly due to the fact that ISSA Jamaica Under-20 team, comprising players from both Manning and the Wata/daCosta competitions, recently topped the annual CASA Youth Classic in Lauderhill, Florida.

The team, with goals from Kingston College's Trayvone Reid, Holy Trinity's Phillon Lawrence, Ronaldo Webster of St Elizabeth Technical (STETHS) and Clarendon College's Nique Daley, defeated Juventus 4-0 in the final game on Sunday.

Lamar Walker, also of Clarendon College, was named MVP of the tournament.

“Supporting schoolboy football is very important to all of us at Digicel, because we see it as a major investment in the future of some of Jamaica's most talented young athletes,” Morin reasoned.

“So I think it was a wonderful season, we saw the quality out there right throughout; we saw a lot of good teams, not just KC and St George's. I think there was a really good level on standard of play and of course the crowd came out to see the respective games.

“So the excitement level was up and of course it was a dream final — two rivals, two North Street teams — we couldn't ask for a better end to the season,” he told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

Regarding the changes made to the structure of the Walker Cup and Ben Francis Cup where the losing Manning Cup and daCosta Cup teams were the ones that vied for the traditional knockouts, Morin pointed out that there were no real concerns for his company.

“We had all confidence in ISSA because we wanted them to do their thing; they obviously put a lot of thought into these decisions and we just had to put faith in them that they made the right decisions.

“I think it went really well, I know that the Walker Cup was different and the Ben Francis was different, but it allowed some different schools the chance to win a trophy. So I think it worked out really well in the end,” he noted.

“There were still a lot of big trophies for the top teams to play for, the Manning Cup, Champions Cup and of course, the Olivier Shield. Those are still big trophies if you are a top school, so still plenty to go around and we will continue to put our faith in ISSA and the decisions they make,” Morin added.

With that said, the CEO promised more excitement and entertainment from his team's perspective as they seek to build on the success of their first season back as sponsors.

“We want to make it bigger next year of course. When I looked at it, this was our first time coming on-board. We came on-board very late so we didn't have a lot of influence on how the competition ran and how much activities surround it. But next year, we will come bigger, better, and of course the fans will have a lot more to look forward to,” Morin ended.

Digicel also introduced the All-Star XI from the Manning Cup selected by former Reggae Boy Ricardo Fuller. The players of the All-Star pick received special recognition for their outstanding performance throughout the competition.

Meanwhile, Andrei Roper, brand manager for KFC Jamaica, shared that his company was proud to support ISSA in staging one of the most memorable schoolboy football seasons in recent memory.

“Schoolboy football in Jamaica is a cultural and social phenomenon unlike any other, and KFC Jamaica is proud to be a part of it. It was truly a magnificent season that we as sponsors, and fans, will never forget, from Kingston College breaking their title drought in the Manning Cup to Clarendon College silencing the naysayers in winning the daCosta Cup, and Cornwall College representing for the rural footballing fraternity in capturing the Champions Cup,” Roper beamed.

He continued: “Of course, the restructured Walker Cup and Ben Francis Cup which saw Hydel and Charlemont claiming some historic silverware for their respective schools. Additionally, for us at KFC we felt a deep sense of pride and fulfilment in being able to use the platform of schoolboy football to donate $1.2 million towards our Add Hope feeding programme.

“The programme provides meals for needy children at the basic and primary school level, through our 'KFC Goals for Meals campaign'. So not only were we able to connect with fans and players all throughout the season, but we were able to make an impact in a critical social area, using schoolboy football as the platform.

Among some of the most memorable moments for the season was that winning 88th minute curling freekick from the Kingston Technical goalkeeper Roje Williams that gave his school a 2-1 win over the defending champions Jamaica College at Old Hope Road to the unbeleivable empty-goal miss by St George's College's Damani Harris in the final against Kingtson College with his team leading 2-1 in the 84th minute.

KC's track star Ari Rodger's, the find of the season with eight goals and his howler against St George's in the final after rounding the goalkeeper then kicked wide. Then the decisive goal by Nathan Thomas that took a wicked deflection on its way to ending KC's 32-year drought.

Additionally, Clarendon College's heroics playing with 10 men from the 14th minute to win the daCosta Cup beating Cornwall College 2-1 in the final and dedicating the victory to the late coaching icon Winston Chung-Fah, who led them to their first title in 1977. They returned to cop the All-Island Olivier Shield, ending a 14-year drought, and broke the urban schools' dominance.

Hydel High and Charlemont High created history, getting their first hold on any football title and capturing the Walker and Ben Francis Cups respectively.

What a season of football it was with Garvey Maceo capturing both the rural Under-14 and Under-16 titles and JC and KC winning the urban Under-14 and Under-16 crowns.

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