A glittering showpiece for football watchers
Jamaica College's Jahmarly Bennett (right) leaves Akieme Gordon of Manning's High floored during their ISSA/Wata Champions Cup quarter-final contest at St Elizabeth Technical in Santa Cruz last month. JC won 4-0.

Many, who in normal circumstances would have been in close attendance, got sidetracked as the local Under-19 schoolboy football season entered its final phase late last year.

The lion's share of the blame for that surely falls to one of the more enthralling FIFA World Cup tournaments in living memory, which ended with Mr Lionel Messi and Argentina triumphant.

Nonetheless, football lovers saw enough of the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) football season to conclude that, while the overall standard was perhaps no more than fair at best, there were some startling standouts in terms of teams and individuals.

Indeed, such has been the effect of the novel coronavirus pandemic that coaches, school leaders and the players themselves deserve high praise for the quality of their presentation.

From the perspective of team strength, Clarendon College, winners of the all-rural daCosta Cup and the all-island Olivier Shield titles, were obviously a cut above the rest in rural Jamaica. In Kingston, Jamaica College, champions of the urban Manning Cup and the all-island knockout Champions Cup, as well as Kingston College, Mona High, and St Andrew Technical were also of high quality.

We note that plans for the champion Jamaican schools to get additional exposure this month in a brief tournament involving top visiting schools from Trinidad and Tobago had to be shelved. We are told that the prospective visitors thought it prudent to withdraw because of preparations for upcoming Under-17 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. As we understand it, the Jamaica Under-17s are also currently in a preparation camp.

We recall that a high schools' tournament involving the two countries was staged previously to considerable acclaim. The hope must be that going forward, such can be fitted in annually, and even expanded to include other Caribbean countries, even while paying due regard to the requirements of regular schools' curricula.

It seems to us that, ideally, professional clubs and academies under the aegis of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) should be bearing the bulk of the responsibility for guiding talented teenagers to the higher level through age-group tournaments and related activity. Unfortunately, as we have pointed out repeatedly in this space, the absence of a developed professional environment for football in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean means that much of the development burden remains with schools.

In that respect we applaud ISSA for restoring the all-stars game between an All daCosta Cup squad and an All Manning Cup team set for the National Stadium in Kingston today.

Unsurprisingly, selections are skewed heavily in favour of the top schools. We are told that eight players from Jamaica College are included in the All Manning squad while nine of the All daCosta Cup aggregation are from Clarendon College.

In years past, what was then an annual showpiece consistently provided football watchers with solid perspectives of available talent. We expect no less this time around.

Without doubt, the players will be seeking to catch the attention of overseas scouts as well as enhance their credentials in the eyes of locals.

Also, we feel confident that Reggae Boyz Head Coach Mr Heimir Hallgrimsson, now in Jamaica to prepare for World Cup qualifiers, just over the horizon, will be watching very closely.

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