SSFL 2018: Ode to Naparima juggernauts; and three cheers to our Premier Division stars 

The curtain has fallen on the 2018 Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) with the juggernauts of Naparima College claiming a historic treble of titles in a season that offered exciting twists at the end.

Coach Angus Eve’s team never tasted the bitterness of defeat, as they claimed an unbeaten 2018—an ‘Invincibles’ season if you will.

Photo: Naparima College goalkeeper Levi Fernandez (second from left) is congratulated by Decklan Marcelle (far left) and his teammates after their South Zone Intercol final win over Presentation College at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium on 26 November 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

The same plaudits also applies to Pleasantville Secondary who walloped all before them in a record breaking season in the SSFL Girls competitions, as they won all four titles on offer with star forward Alexcia Ali leading the charge with goals by the dozens.

For Naparima, their fairytale story did not initially appear to be written in stone.

The ‘Lions’ of Presentation College (San Fernando) lorded over the Premier Division jungle, as they led the table for 12 out of 14 match days in the 15 team standings before being ambushed by the predatory ‘Naps’ when it mattered most.

Naparima certainly showed their credentials with a 3-1 league win over Presentation in a ferocious derby at Lewis Street. At present, there is nothing in local football—at any level—to match the fan-fare, banter and raw intensity of that southern school derby.

Arguably, Naps captain Levi Fernandez and his young men still needed some good fortune in the end as the final fixture list saw the Pres Lions travel to face a dangerous San Juan North Secondary at Bourg Mulatresse.

Photo: Pleasantville Secondary forward Alexcia Ali (second from right) tries to beat Signal Hill Secondary goalkeeper Aaliyah Alvarez (far right) from close range during National Big 5 final action at Plymouth on 4 November 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

And, in added on time, the referee ignored a desperate penalty appeal by influential winger Jordan Riley as Presentation were held 1-1, allowing Naparima to pip them to the title with a win away to Trinity College Moka.

Football finales don’t come much better than that.

The newly promoted trio of Pleasantville Secondary, Malick Secondary and Speyside High probably cannot wait to get started, as they comfortably bettered Chaguanas North and Holy Cross College in the Big Five competition to earn their spots in the 2019 Premier Division season.

Pleasantville and Speyside are both returning to the to flight while Malick Secondary are set for their first taste of the Premier Division, after knocking on the door for several seasons.

Malick’s ascent maintains a six team presence from the North, after the relegation of Fatima College. Tobago also retain a representative through Speyside—after Bishop’s High School finished bottom of the Premier Division—while Valencia Secondary’s stumble through the trap door means that the East Zone contingent drops to three schools in 2019.

Photo: Malick Secondary captain Krystean Morris (second from right) is mobbed by supporters after his team’s 2-0 Big 5 win over Speyside High at Serpentine Road on 30 October 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

For Valencia and Bishop’s, it is an immediate return to the second tier as they only won promotion in 2017. Fatima have had their share of relegation scraps over the past three years but there was to be no escape in 2018.

After the controversy of 2017, which meant curtains for Shiva Boys High School and Fyzabad Secondary, this year’s season was decided largely on the pitch—with the exception of second tier team, Arima North Secondary, who were deducted points for using illegitimate players.

The goalkeeping heroics of Naparima captain Levi Fernandez defined the 2018 season in the end, as the South Zone champs managed five clean sheets in the knock out competition and prevailed on penalties in the South Zone Intercol final against Presentation and the National Intercol final against San Juan North.

In the process, the boys from Lewis Street created Premier Division history.

Eve will tell you though, that he is already planning for next season. Challengers beware.

Top Five Performers:

Photo: Naparima College goalkeeper and captain Levi Fernandez makes a point after a penalty save against San Juan North Secondary during the National Intercol final at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 4 December 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Levi Fernandez (Naparima College)

The captain has grown in stature from season to season and now looks to be a shot stopper of real promise. Boasting the best defensive record in the league, this charismatic character between the sticks can be relied upon to make the difference when it matters most.

Jordan Riley (Presentation College, San Fernando)

A perennial star for the Pres Lions. Riley has always been synonymous with pace and trickery down the right wing; but in 2018, he added goals to his game—and consistent match winners at that.

Photo: St Augustine Secondary forward Kesean St Rose (right) tries to outrun QRC left back Naeem Bisnath during SSFL action in St Augustine on 22 September 2018.
(Copyright Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

Kesean St Rose (St Augustine Secondary)

It may not have been the best of seasons for the fabled ‘Green Machine’ but new acquisition Kesean St Rose definitely was a bright spot. The former Trinity Moka standout averaged a goal a game as he claimed the SSFL golden boot with 12 items.

John-Paul Rochford (QRC)

The T&T National U20 play maker is an outstanding player. His touch, creativity and dead ball ability is the envy of many around the SSFL and the country. A grounded young man off the field, much is expected of him in the future.

Photo: Naparima College defender Tyrike Andrews (right) pokes the ball away from St Anthony’s College attacker Haile Beckles during National Intercol semifinal action at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium on 30 November 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Tyrike Andrews (Naparima)

The former Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 defender was an imposing figure at the back for the champions. Ever consistent, he marshalled the back line superbly and is another player who grew in stature this season.

Match of the Season: St Anthony’s College 5, St Benedict’s College 6

Photo: St Benedict’s College forward Jaycee Paras (second from left) holds up the shirt of former teammate Reuel Tyson after his late winner against St Anthony’s College at Westmoorings on 29 October 2018.
Tyson, who represented St Benedict’s last season, died in a vehicular accident in Missouri on 27 October 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

This emotionally charged affair—after the tragic passing of former St Benedict’s standout Ruel Tyson—set a new benchmark for excitement, drama, tears and amazing goals. Both teams went gung-ho for the win with each goal seeming to better the last.

There was an effort from near the half line, pile drivers into the top corner, a Keon Boney beaver trick and a last gasp winner from Jaycee Paras, who celebrated with Tyson’s number 11. What more could you ask for?

Goal of the Season: Mark Ramdeen (Naparima) vs Pleasantville Secondary in South Zone Intercol semifinal

Photo: Naparima College attacker Mark Ramdeen (right) takes on Pleasantville Secondary defender Makwesi Dujon during South Intercol semifinal action at Marabella on 19 November 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

In a season with several brilliant long range thunderbolts, Ramdeen stole the show with a magisterial left footed effort reminiscent of a famous current Argentine player.

He put the ball under his spell before flicking past one defender, then another, and clipping it over the head of a third player before calmly slotted beyond ‘P-ville’ goalkeeper Raheem Lee, without breaking stride. Woof!

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