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Top schools eyeing daCosta Cup crown

Saturday, September 09, 2017

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — The 2017 ISSA/ Flow daCosta Cup schoolboys football season kicks off this afternoon, with 87 schools from 13 parishes gunning for a place in the final on December 1.

The Jamaica Observer selected six schools that are expected to create an impression this season.

Cornwall College

Defending champions Cornwall College will be wearing the bull's eye on their backs this year, after their run to a 12th title last year while being unbeaten in 18 games over the season — a record for any team.

Dr Dean Weatherly would have lost six players from the team that started against St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) in the final last year, plus three more from the squad.

Among those who have left are the influential Jourdaine Fletcher, who scored in all but three of the team's games all season, playmaker Peter-Lee Vassell, goalkeeper Jamario Hines, and defenders Howard Dent and Clifton Russell.

Dr Weatherly said while those players would be hard to replace, they had planned ahead. “We had players in the squad last year who were being prepared to take over, and we have worked on them all summer and we think they are ready.

“We have worked with them individually and as a group, and in the preseason we used the younger players a lot to give them the playing time that will help them be ready for what is to come when the live football starts,” he told the Observer.

The strategy, he said, has worked as the squad is competitive now to the point where he is having difficulty choosing a starting eleven.

Cornwall College played in two finals last year and were the first rural team to make it to the final of the Flow Super Cup KO. Dr Weatherly said they will have to step up the motivation to get the team focused from the first whistle.

“This year we might have to take aim at winning everything that is at stake, use that as the motivational tool,” he said, before adding: “Sometimes, with youthful exuberance, the players might be walking around thinking they are champions and they can lose sight of things, so we have to take them back to ground zero then start over.”

He said for the last few weeks they had been doing a lot of mental work. “Last year is the past, it is history. We are facing the here and now and that is the main focus, and we have a long and hard road to go this year.”

Dr Weatherly said, however, the team was more mature after last year. “The players know what is at stake and they are ready for that.”

His first goal is to get out of the competitive Zone A and advance to the semi-finals, and from there “we will try to negotiate as best as we can”.

St Elizabeth Technical High School

After losing in two finals last season, Omar Wedderburn, the coach of STETHS, the most consistent schoolboy football team in rural Jamaica over the last six years, said he is setting his sights on righting the ship in 2017.

“This year will be different form last year,” he told the Observer. “Twenty sixteen is over and done with and I really don't even want to go back and talk about it; the focus is on the team we have here now.”

With a number of players coming into the team after sitting out last season because of transfers, Wedderburn said this team will be able to get them back on track to winning titles.

“We are motivated and the team is playing well,” he said. “This team is different from last year and we think we will be there at the end.”

STETHS were beaten in the Ben Francis KO final by Lennon High, ending a run of six straight titles. A few weeks later, they were beaten by Cornwall College in the daCosta Cup final after making it to the semi-finals of the Flow Super Cup, and while that might have been a good year for most schools, it was not good enough for the five-time daCosta Cup champions.

Rusea's High School

After winning seven of their 10 daCosta Cup titles between 1984 and 1993, Rusea's High established themselves as schoolboy football royalty and new coach Vassell Reynolds will hope to build a programme that could rival the one ruled over by Emerson “Diggy” Henry.

After a successful run at Wolmer's Boys' School in the Manning Cup, Reynolds took over the reins at Rusea's and said, while they are committed to winning, building a foundation is more important.

“There is no sustainability in what we call the transfer system,” he told the Observer on Thursday. “My plan is to develop from within and already I have taken over the under-14 and under-16 programmes as well, as that is where we will be building from. We can always add a few pieces here and there, but the base must come from the programme we have here.”

Reynolds said the team he inherited at Rusea's has maybe 50 per cent of last year's starters who qualified for the Flow Cup and lost out on penalty kicks to Cornwall College, just failing to make it to the semi-finals of the daCosta Cup.

“We have some good players from last year, about six or so, plus we have some good players from the under-16 team, so we will be competitive,” he promised.

The first order of business, he said, was to get out of the tough Zone B, “then we can assess where we go from there”.

Manchester High

Manchester High have promised much but have failed to deliver over the last few seasons — dominating their groups, scoring a lot of goals, but have come up short — and coach Andrew Edwards is well aware of his team's history over the past few years.

But for two big losses, 4-1 to Clarendon College in the interzone round and 5-2 to Cornwall College in the quarter-finals, Manchester High's season might have been better, but Edwards thinks they have “a very good chance this year”.

Having retained 70 per cent of their players from last year, Edwards said with their performance in the preseason “against all major contenders”, they are confident they will vie for trophies this year.

“From that perspective of seeing the top teams and what they have to offer, then we have a good chance,” he said.

Manchester have yet to win a title at this level, despite good seasons under a variety of highly touted coaches before. But Edwards, who was at the helm when STETHS won the daCosta Cup in 2009, thinks they are on course to change the story.

Ocho Rios

Ocho Rios were one of the surprise teams of last year and in his first year at the helm, Carlington Dodd took them to their best-ever season, qualifying for the Flow Super Cup and advancing to the quarter-finals.

While being hesitant to say much, Dodd admitted this team could be better than last year's, but they are not counting their chickens before they are hatched.

“We have to stay humble and we have to play the games first,” he told the Observer.

A number of the teams they faced in the preseason were impressed with the balance they saw in the team, and Ocho Rios could add to the success they had last year.

Munro College

In his first stint at Munro College, Hopeton Gilchrist took them to the final of the Ben Francis KO in 2009, and he hopes to go one further this year if the former champions are to break their 53-year major title drought.

“We have been working hard and our chances, I would say, are as good as any other,” Gilchrist told the Observer.

The signs, he said, are good. “The players have shown me they want to win. I see commitment, resilience. They have shown maturity that they can maintain composure and go out and do what is required of them,” he said.

It is a rebuiling project, however, as he said they only retained about four players from last year's starting team and eight from the entire squad, though he would have players who were rural area under-14 and under-16 champions two years ago.

“We have a unit that can produce the goods and can go all the way,” Gilchrist said.

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