The start of the 2018 Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Premier Division season is just over a week away and League and school administrators alike will be determined that the 2018 season is not filled with the off-field shenanigans that occurred last year.
In the north, the schools will be keen to hunt down some silverware at the national level, as East Mucurapo’s Intercol triumph in 2014 is the only national title any North team could point to since the Premier Division was started in that same season.
The southern schools have been dominant on that front and have accounted for all the Premier Division titles since 2014, while Naparima College and Shiva Boys’ Hindu College copped the coveted Intercol trophy in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
But with St Anthony’s College and Fatima College finishing third and fourth respectively in League play last season, 2018 might just be the year that a northern team rises to Premier Division supremacy.
Wired868 caught up with the coaches of Fatima, QRC, St Anthony’s, St Mary’s College, Trinity College (Moka) and the returning Mucurapo outfit to get their thoughts on the upcoming campaign:
Wired868: How has preseason gone so far and what is the mood in the camp like?
Wayne Sheppard (Fatima): Some of the boys had to go overseas on tour with the North Zone team and a number of the players also represented QPCC in the Republic Bank Cup. So the preseason the technical staff envisioned on paper didn’t come off in the timeframe that it was supposed to happen. We went on preseason tour to Florida […] but we didn’t do the level of preparation that we would have wanted on home soil […] The mood in the camp is good though and the guys have a nice bond. It’s a very young team and the backbone of the team is basically the Under-16 team that won the National title last year.
Dale Saunders (Mucurapo): The team has really been preparing well and the boys are eager for the challenges which lie ahead. We have had a very good preparation thus far so we are looking forward to good things for the upcoming season.
Nigel Grosvenor (QRC): They are all looking forward to the start of the season. There is a lot of psychological work that has to be done. Of course when Kenwyne [Jones] came on board as an assistant coach that brought a sort of excitement and he is really looking forward to the start of the season as well.
Ronald Daniel (St Anthony’s College): Training has been hectic and the boys have been working very hard. We had a camp which was very enjoyable for the boys and we are ready to get down to work.
Ryan Shim (St Mary’s College): Our preseason has been a bit challenging due to the weather conditions and other factors. Sometimes the boys reach Morvant junction or by City Gate and everywhere is flooded. It’s been difficult in that sense to get the full message across to the entire team. But the boys are feeling good […] we also had a few issues with boys going up to Form 6 and things like that but we got several key players back so we are in good shape.
Ken Elie (Trinity College Moka): I have adopted a very disciplined team and that has made the work a little easier because you know the type of things you could bounce up at the secondary school level. They had a very good coach in Mr [Marlon] Minguel and there were some off the field incidents that the school had to deal with. [Our] five day camp ended last week and the mood is good.
Wired868: Are there any new players in your team? And have there been any key departures?
Sheppard: We’ve lost the four seniors from last year who have now gone on to colleges in the States. That would be the skipper Joshua Araujo-Wilson, Andrew Peter-Abraham, Stephon Marcano and Isaiah Lamont. The boys stepping into their places will be Under-16 players.
Saunders: We have a few additions but I’m just waiting on some paperwork to be done before I can name them. We have one or two who will be coming from St Anthony’s College […] all our players from last year were in either Form 3 or Form 4 so we have all our players from last season.
Grosvenor: We have a lost two senior players; a defender and a wide attacker. The new guys who are coming into the squad are players coming up from the U-16 team. John-Paul Rochford will be in the squad and he is actually going into Upper 6. We still don’t know what’s going on, [Rochford] doesn’t know what’s going on and I don’t think [National Under-20 Team coach Russell] Latapy knows what’s going on either because they have not been training since they came back from the CAC Games.
Daniel: Che Benny, Jodel Brown, Jaydon Prowell, goalkeeper Jabari Brice and Derron John have all left. We have one or two new players who will be in the team this year. From the National Under-15 team, we have Josiah Edwards and we also have some young players from our youth programme who have reached the grade now and can work with the Premiership boys.
Shim: We’ve lost Matthaeus Granger who was solid and central midfield and defence. We have also lost attacker Trey La Motte and our right back Nathaniel Williams.
Elie: We have about five new players in the squad. Out of those five, two would have joined us in the last two weeks. Of course a number of people were waiting on their exam results in order to present themselves as viable candidates. It’s left to be seen if Kesean St Rose will be returning this season. While he was the star last season, there has been a lot of competition for that striking position and I will just say to hold your breath.
Wired868: Who are your marquee players or players to look out for?
Sheppard: I can honestly say I have no marquee player for this season. It’s a collective effort; let me put it that way. I have some talented players but they are very young so I don’t want to put any pressure on them by saying that they’re players to look out for.
Saunders: We have Kidane Lewis, Zion McLeod, Jamali Alexis and Jelani Ferrari. I think those four guys will be my players to watch this season.
Daniel: Haile Beckles is back in school and I think he will have a fantastic season. I think he will be the person to carry the team this year. [Tyrese] Bailey is still in the school yes but I’m not sure about his status for the upcoming season because he is not with the team as yet. I’m not sure if he will be playing for the school or if he’ll be playing Pro League football; he’s currently attached to San Juan Jabloteh.
Shim: The guy with the target on his back is Tyrese Spicer. He’s back for us and he’s one year more mature. He has done the work physically and technically so he as an individual has improved. Maybe we just have to move him around to different positions and let the defence keep guessing where he’ll pop up next.
Wired868: What would be a realistic goal for your team to achieve this season?
Sheppard: We would have liked to consolidate on that fourth place finish from last year, and if possible, go even better than that. But as I said, it’s a very young team […] The targets for us are game by game and dealing with them as they come.
Saunders: For the work that we put in to win the Championship Division last year, and the work we have done in the offseason, we will be no pushovers. Teams will feel that we’re an easy opponent and they could get three points easily from us but we will be a strong unit and I believe a top five finish [in the League] will be realistic for us.
Grosvenor: We want to win the League. I’m not saying we will win the League but we would like to win it. We had a respectable season last year and, barring injuries and so on this year, we are looking to be in the top four.
Shim: We did this exercise just the other day with the boys and I asked them for their realistic and dream goals for the upcoming season. Most of the boys said a realistic goal would be to retain the North Zone [Intercol] title and the dream goal would be to win any National title. We haven’t won one in such a long time but any National title would be a dream for us.
Elie: Anywhere between the first three to four teams [in the League table] will be very realistic for us right now. There are a number of players from the Under-16 team who can compete very, very keenly for positions in the first team […] Right now, as it is, the bench will be difficult to make.
Wired868: Who do you expect to be your toughest challengers for this season?
Sheppard: Naparima, Presentation, St Anthony’s, all these opponents would be tough. You can add to that Trinity Moka, who now have a new in coach in Mr Ken Elie, who always looks to put out a good team. Then you have QRC who added Kenwyne Jones as an assistant coach […] for us, we respect every single one of our opponents so when we go out on the field we expect to put out our best performances.
Saunders: There are a lot of top teams in the League like Naparima and Presentation and every game is like a final. The teams that are able to deal with challenges and the situations that come their way on any given day and win football games will be the teams to emerge on top.
Grosvenor: In this Premier Division, all the teams are big challenges. We can’t take any team for granted because last year we drew with Naparima and we also drew with St Anthony’s. We’re playing East Mucurapo first but we cannot take them for granted. We will probably go into the game as favourites but the underdogs always have that advantage. They are coming back up into [the Premier Division] so it’s not to say they haven’t been here before; they will want to prove something.
Daniel: I think all the teams will be tough. No matter what, all the teams come to beat St Anthony’s College. The legacy of St Anthony’s College will always stand. We think that all 14 teams will be a threat to us and we will take all our games one by one.
Shim: I really believe Fatima would be the team that I see coming up this year, and they could pose a threat in our bid to regain the North Zone Intercol title. I think coach Sheppard has them on the rise as a football unit and I think they will be one of the teams to watch. They’re a young team but I think they are quite credible as far as football is concerned.
Elie: Well I must pay respect to the defending champions, Presentation College, of course […] but all the teams would have gotten players after the League ended last year so I would say right now it’s pretty even.
Wired868: Tell us a bit about your coaching philosophy and the improvements you would like to see from your team for the upcoming season.
Sheppard: We have been at Fatima for the last four years. And from the Under-13s come up we have tried to instill a philosophy of possession and a passing game, as opposed to an individualistic game which we see many teams doing. They try to collect the best players and try to win the game by the magic of a particular player. We are trying to get the boys passing the ball and understanding that not every pass is the same and you don’t necessarily pass the ball to the first person you see in the same playing jersey.
Saunders: I have coached Central FC and won back-to-back titles at Pro League and the CFU level as well. It’s the same method. We work hard as a team and winning must become an attitude. We defend and attack as a team. Everything is about team and not necessarily about individuals. And we’re trying to build a cohesive unit and a team that is ready to compete at that level.
Grosvenor: My coaching philosophy has always been to get the guys to go and enjoy themselves. If I am not enjoying myself watching you, then you can’t be enjoying yourselves playing football. If you’re not enjoying the football then you won’t play proper football.
Daniel: My team philosophy is about working together and building a bond. And I think that’s the only way we can go forward; by working hard together. From a playing standpoint, I think we could improve in all departments and ensure we are together as one.
Shim: My style and the style of our football has been evolving over the last three to four years. We played a much more direct game in the early days and we are trying now to evolve it into a more possession-based style. But it’s possession with a purpose and not just possession for possession’s sake.
Elie: Particularly with this age group, simplicity does it. We really would like to see them exhibiting good technique and from there we would be able to go more in depth tactically.
Wired868: In order to lift the overall standard of football in the SSFL, what improvements would you like to see on and off the field?
Sheppard: I maintain that the SSFL is doing nobody a favour by having this League as a 20 and Under League. You are doing no favours to a boy who is going on 20 and is playing against boys who are 15 and 16. The League should be an 18 and Under League. In the case of Kierron Mason last year for example, that was a big man playing against little boys and it doesn’t help when you’re a national player. It does nothing to lift your standard especially when you have to go and play against the giants in CONCACAF.
Grosvenor: What I would love to see is the assistance to schools financially […] people will feel that the school has sponsors but the sponsors the schools get is not 100%. And you don’t get money to feed the boys and for transportation. The teams that finish first, second, third or fourth, they get financial rewards from the League. But what about the other teams in the League? They don’t get any money […] so I think the League needs to help out all the teams. And once you get that financial assistance the teams will be able to put out more.
Shim: The competition is great and I think this is one thing that this particular Premiership competition has done for us. I think everyone who’s serious in football at the SSFL level is really trying to improve themselves. People are looking at their coaching staff and are looking to improve their players tactically and technically by giving them as much exposure as possible. I think it is a good thing in that sense and has helped us to push forward and try to get to that next level.
Elie: The marketing of the League is the key […] I don’t think there is a lot of interaction among coaches at this level. And we need to see a little more of that, whereby coaches are sharing information and ideas with each other.
Wired868: For a second straight season, the League was hampered by off-the-field player eligibility issues. What can the League do to ensure that these scenarios do not occur again in the future?
Sheppard: I would love to see everybody on the same playing level when it comes to the registration of players. We are being televised throughout the region and we’re not looking good having teams winning games in the boardroom as opposed to the field of play. But if teams insist on infringing the laws then that’s where we will have to protect ourselves.
Saunders: Well, the administrators have to do their part. If you are running a football league and you have people working there and these things are being missed at the administrative level, something is wrong. I think these people need to be more efficient. They need to be more competent in what they do […] and once they do that the football will run more smoothly
Grosvenor: The League is starting on the 13th when it usually starts the same week school opens. But now they have pushed it back so the credentials committee and the schools will gave more time to get things signed by the supervisor etc. […] it’s a pity what happened to Shiva. How we deal with these issues will show what type of League we really are. It will look bad on the League what has happened, but they didn’t sweep it under the carpet. The schools were punished and it was dealt with right away […] decisions might be harsh but you have to stand by them.
Daniel: Some schools will say it’s not a professional league and it’s school football. The way we must win is by giving the students their education. Although we are focusing on sport here we want to make sure the schoolwork and sport can blend well together.
Shim: I would hope that what happened in 2017 was a lesson for all. I would hope that the powers that be—and the schools have to take some responsibility—do all to ensure that the rules are followed. I think teams have come to realize that nothing goes unnoticed in this League and teams will ensure that they do everything correctly.
Elie: I didn’t follow the incidents all the way but the core of those incidents had to do with the integrity of the coaching staff and the integrity of the school […] it’s just a matter of coaches and managers playing by the rules.
Editor’s Note: Wired868 continues its SSFL preview on Saturday 8 September as we talk to coaches from the South and Central Zones.