MARTHA BRAE, Trelawny — With a change of culture and shifting of horizons, perennial minnows William Knibb Memorial have advanced their ambition from just qualifying from the first round to winning titles.
Under the guidance of Paul "Tegat" Davis, William Knibb Memorial came within touching distance of winning their first daCosta Cup title in 2002. But they lost to Rusea's High in the final and since then have not been anywhere close to being contenders.
However, if Dewight Jeremiah — who took over the job as head coach in 2019 — has his way, the drought will be over soon, maybe even this season.
"In terms of trophies I think this team is well placed to do so. William Knibb has never won a schoolboy football trophy. So be it the Champions Cup, be it the Ben Francis KO, be it the daCosta Cup, we think winning a trophy would be a big deal at William Knibb and we are out to try and get that this season," he told the Jamaica Observer this week.
William Knibb have had a good start to the season, winning their first two games, but Jeremiah says getting out of the zone is no longer the sole aim.
Last year, William Knibb started well, winning their first three games on their way to topping a competitive Zone A. But they collapsed in the quarter-finals, losing all their games.
"There were a number of factors that would have led to [faltering at the quarter-finals]. A lot were off-the-field issues but we did not have the depth in the squad.
"The off-the-field issues we had, a lot of those have been remedied, so I am expecting us to try and get into a better position to do better in the latter stages of the competition this year," he said after beating Muschett High 8-0 in Martha Brae on Wednesday. It was their biggest margin of victory in at least 20 years with a 7-0 win over York Castle in 2009, the next biggest.
Jeremiah argued that his team has matured since last season.
"[It's a] team that has a little bit more versatility, we retained six players but I think we have a set of boys who better understand what is required. When I first got here in 2019, they had not got out of the zone in six years and finished last in 2018.
"So my first order of business was to change the culture to [one in which] persons wanted to win and to own whatever zone they were in. I think that culture is beginning to set in and we are well on our way with that, so I think despite the fact that we have to come out of the zone to achieve our objectives, I don't think there is a single player in the squad whose main objective is [just] to get out of the zone," the coach said.
"Players are mindful of the fact that they have to keep themselves fresh, we have to stay injury free so they have to get the games done and dusted early so we can keep them fresh as the eyes are set on more than just getting out of the zone," he added, while acknowledging that this season they are in a zone that is not as competitive as Zone A was in the last campaign.
"Zone C is never as competitive as Zone A but what we have said to our boys is that whatever zone we are in we want to own it," he reiterated.
Given there are relative weaker teams in Zone C, Jeremiah was asked about the possibility of players getting complacent.
"I think as long as we can keep them focused on the objective they will know that winning a game or two they have not achieved anything yet and the fact that for the last two years since I have been here we have come out of the zone and we have topped the zones both C and A and I think they have recognised that doing that is not enough.
"We have whetted the appetites of the fans and the school population in Trelawny and they are expecting more and that expectation we don't see it as pressure but an opportunity to satisfy and bring joy to the community, so I think they are focused on that and that will help them avoid complacency," he explained.
"I think this team has the ability and the wherewithal to get them so for us as coaches we know that we need to deliver, we need to prepare them well. I think pre-season went very well and this is possibly — at least since I have been at William Knibb — the best my team has been conditioned and kudos to [track and field] Coach Rodrick Myles," he told the Observer.
The William Knibb coach said a longer-term plan is also incorporated in the project.
"It is really the continuity of the programme; that is also something that is very important to me so we have a lot of players who are coming through from Under-16 [level] and even now we have seventh graders in the squad.
"What we are trying to do is to ensure that as the years go by, William Knibb is not shocked by new players having to come in, but will always have a nucleus, a core [set] of players that will continue the tradition and the culture that we are trying to establish here," Jeremiah said.