It was about 20 minutes after the final whistle but Central FC striker Rundell Winchester was in no hurry to leave the Hasely Crawford Stadium and the scene of his most impressive triumph to date.
The 19-year-old Tobagonian set up Central’s equalising goal and then scored a superb winner as the “Couva Sharks” edged Defence Force 2-1 in the First Citizens Cup final. In the process, he helped Central secure its first domestic top flight crown after less than a year and a half in existence.
“I just can’t stop smiling,” Winchester told Wired868. “I’m just so happy right now… I want to thank my coach Terry Fenwick, and my teammates; and my mom for bringing me into this world…”
If it sounded like Winchester was accepting an Oscar; but there is a touch of Hollywood about the teenager’s rise from obscurity, which was completed a stone’s throw away from Movie Towne.
A year ago, Winchester was a Stokely Vale player in the Super League and an unknown commodity outside Tobago. This week, he replaced Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones late substitute in an international friendly against 2010 World Cup nation, New Zealand.
And, three days later, Winchester cut himself a slice of history for Central while winning the MVP award in a cup final to boot.
Defence Force coach Ross Russell might have been doubly distressed by the way the First Citizens Cup final unfolded.
Last November, Russell was national under-20 coach when the young Warriors finished dead last in a Caribbean group that included Haiti, Puerto Rico and Curacao. Winchester was not in his squad and, presumably, Russell had never heard of him.
It is farcical that scouting can be such an obvious problem in a country of well under two million inhabitants and in which one can drive from one end of the island to the next within three hours and Tobago is just a 15 minute plane ride away. But that is another issue.
The November 2012 Toyota Classic competition, which was a mixture of Pro League and Super League teams, alerted Central to the likes of Winchester, Darren Mitchell and Omar Charles and Sharks’ managing director Brent Sancho snapped them up in the January transfer window.
Yesterday, Central reaped the benefits although it was harsh on Russell and his soldiers.
“We were apprehensive at the start tonight and Army bossed us,” said Central coach Terry Fenwick. “No one has done that to us so far this season.”
Central whipped Defence Force 3-1 in their previous meeting this season but there was no sign of inferiority by the Pro League defending champion team as the “Teteron Boys” made a roaring start.
Devorn Jorsling did not feature when the two clubs met last month and he did not take long to make his mark last night.
In the sixth minute, he flicked through for winger Kevon Carter who was blocked by the legs of Central and Trinidad and Tobago custodian Jan-Michael Williams.
Three minutes later, Carter found Jorsling in space and the outcome was never in doubt when last season’s top scorer cocked his left boot inside the penalty area.
Jorsling celebrated his early strike with a typically creative celebration as his teammates lined up like bowling pins and the veteran striker rolled the ball to comically knock them all on their backs.
Fenwick changed tactics from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 system, which gave his players more straightforward man to man duties. But still his young team struggled against the direct and incisive soldiers.
In the 37th minute, a dangerous Kerry Joseph cross provoked a ridiculous, blind backheeled attempted clearance by Central defender Akeem Benjamin, who was fortunate to see the ball bounce off Carter and roll out for a goal kick.
Two minutes later, Josimar Belgrave opened the Central defence as casually as if it was an automatic door but Williams denied Carter with a tremendous save with his legs.
And, just as it seemed that Central would be happy to end the half with a one-goal deficit, the Sharks pulled level.
Winchester, now deployed on the left flank, stepped inside and curled a cross into the box where fellow teenager Dwight Quintero rose to force a header past Defence Force keeper Kevin Graham. It was almost the last kick of the first half.
Both teams chose to strengthen defensively in the second half as the versatile Curtis Gonzales and man-mountain Keston Williams were introduced for Defence Force while Central brought on Jamaican midfield sentry Toric Robinson.
But neither team could find any rhythm offensively as the game trudged towards to extra time.
But Winchester had other ideas.
The Central build-up was sharp but not electric. Right back Elton John passed inside to Oliver who, under pressure, stabbed up the left flank where Peltier had swapped places with Winchester.
Peltier stepped in off the wing and played a crisp, low cross-field pass towards Winchester, who was in the inside right channel. And Winchester gave the ball a gentle tap to his left before absolutely hammering it with his left boot; and the sphere flew towards the near post “vee” and into the back of the net off the underside of the crossbar.
Defence Force could not find an answer to that strike.
“That goal meant a lot to me,” said Winchester. “It is the first time I’ve scored a goal in a final; and to score a goal like that!
“And then I only just got a (national) call-up… It is such a great achievement for me where I came from…”
It was Fenwick’s first trophy since 2011, when he led Jabloteh to the TTFF FA Trophy before the San Juan club temporarily withdrew from the top flight due to financial problems.
“The first (trophy) can be a bogey,” said Fenwick. “Now that we have won it, I think we can relax and enjoy our season a bit more. Hopefully we can grow from strength to strength after tonight.”
Winchester was still walking around, grinning from ear to ear and clutching his MVP trophy.
“I will just keep on working hard,” he said. “I know hard work brings success…”
Fenwick credited the Tobagonian for a brilliant and decisive goal. And then he made it clear that the teenager still had a lot to do to satisfy him.
“I thought he was poor for most of the night,” said Fenwick, a former Tottenham captain and England World Cup defender. “He kept losing his footing and giving the ball away… But then he can score goals like that; so you don’t want to take him off.”
About a dozen Tobagonians travelled to Port of Spain to see last night’s final and they cooed proudly about Winchester’ winning goal. Perhaps they were here last Tuesday too when Winchester made his international debut and almost sniffed out a late winner against New Zealand.
At the rate the young Central striker is progressing, Tobago football fans will probably be making themselves comfortable in the Hasely Crawford Stadium for years to come.
Central FC (4-1-3-2): 21.Jan-Michael Williams (GK); 2.Elton John, 24.Akeem Benjamin, 12.Jamal Jack, 3.Keion Goodridge, 10.Marvin Oliver; 11.Darren Mitchell (22.Keon Trim 75), 15.Kaydion Gabriel (6.Toric Robinson 53), 13.Johan Peltier, 9.Dwight Quintero (19.Dwight Pope 87), 17.Rundell Winchester.
Unused substitutes: 25.Javon Sample (GK), 4.Omar Charles, 16.Akil De Freitas, 23.Hector Sam.
Coach: Terry Fenwick
Defence Force (4-4-1-1): 1.Kevin Graham (GK); 13.Marvin Jones, 5.Devin Jordan (8.Curtis Gonzales 46), 6.Rodell Elcock, 21.Aklie Edwards; 23.Kerry Joseph, 14.Cory Rivers (captain) (3.Keston Williams 58), 18.Sean Narcis, 11.Kevon Carter; 10.Josimar Belgrave (26.Richard Roy 77); 9.Devorn Jorsling
Unused substitutes: 25.Sheldon Clarke (GK), 12.Jemel Sebro, 15.Jerwyn Balthazar, 17.Ross Russell Jr.
Coach: Ross Russell
Referee: Neal Brizan
First Citizens Cup final
Central FC 2 (Dwight Quintero 45, Rundell Winchester 85), Defence Force 1 (Devorn Jorsling 9) at Hasely Crawford Stadium