Congratulations to Naparima College on winning the 2019 Secondary Schools Football League for the second consecutive year. Not only have they won back to back titles but, yet again, they have played unbeaten throughout the season. They are undoubtedly the best school team in the league and thoroughly deserve to be champions. This year, it again came down to the last round of games and it was a straight fight between themselves and Presentation College of San Fernando.
Unlike last year when they needed help from San Juan North Secondary to pip Pres, this year it was entirely in their own hands as all they needed against an inconsistent QRC team was one point. They emphatically defeated the Royalians 4-0 to begin the celebrations in front of their enthusiastic travelling supporters.
Interestingly, I was asked, “Is Naps too strong for this league?” In one word, no. When you look at their results, they drew three games and won five by the odd goal. They defeated both relegated teams 3-0 and 3-1, so the results point to the fact that they had to work hard for some of their victories. Where this Naparima team is strong is in their work rate and their mental approach. They fight for each other as a team and don't settle for a draw-they are always searching for a winner and mounting relentless pressure on teams that were visibly happy with a point. Even when they go behind they always relentlessly believe that they can turn the game around. Yes, they do possess some skilful players, but so do some other schools however Naps has developed what none of the other schools seems to have: that do or die attitude.
Pres finished as the bridesmaid for the second year; this time five points behind the champions. They are a talented team with some crafty individuals but they are not as mentally tough as Naps. Until they get over the big hurdle of defeating Naparima, they will always seem to be a step behind their fiercest southern rivals.
St Anthony's College led the northern charge but must start to win the big games. They can comfortably win against the schools in the bottom half of the league but when they come up against the top six, they either draw or lose and that, unfortunately, is where it counts most. They are as talented as the top two schools but they must closely examine why they don't get over the line when the talent is certainly there.
East Mucurapo Secondary surprised me this year. They are a good team and work hard. They led Naparima 2-0 but just couldn't hold on to record a famous victory. They should improve next year if they do not lose their quality players.
Another surprise was Carapichaima East Secondary who played well throughout the season and apart from the 5-0 drubbing they received from the champions, they would be happy with their performances over the season. I liked their style; their running off the ball was good and their midfield is creative.
San Juan North Secondary was a huge disappointment. They seem to only motivate themselves when they play the top two. Losing six games for this talented team is unacceptable and the entire staff has to take a long, hard look at what went wrong and put it right for the Intercol.
Two colleges - St Benedict's and QRC were up and down for most of the season. They would play one good game and then be outplayed in the next. They are not as talented as the top six, however, what you lack in ability you make up for with fight and discipline. Unfortunately, I did not see either of those qualities in Benedict's or QRC.
St Augustine Secondary is a shadow of the 'Green Machine'. They need to relook at their football development programme and get back to the basics because they have a great legacy in school football but at present, they seem to be very stagnant.
I was disappointed with Trinity College East. I thought this season they would have kicked on from last year and improved but they looked disjointed and inconsistent. I remain confident that they will get back on track and be better next season.
Pleasantville and Malick Secondary were back in the big league this year and both have some skilful players but, they needed to play as a team and only when they did that they got results. Pleasantville drew with Naps and Malick drew with Pres but both of them lost 8 games, how is that possible? Do they show more fight when they play the top 2 teams? If so, it must be a worrying stat for their technical staff.
Speyside High School just avoided relegation and conceded 42 goals but only 1 against Naparima - how do you analyse a performance like that? I am just happy a Tobago school has stayed in the top flight.
Trinity College Moka and St Mary's College were abysmal. It may be a blessing in disguise for them to go down to the championship and rebuild. Let us hope that when either one returns to the premiership that they will be far better prepared.
The following is my all-star team based on the performances I have seen for 2019.
GK: Emmanuel John - San Juan North
Defenders: Randy Antoine (St Anthony's) Jordan Barclay (St Anthony's) Tyrike Andrews (Naparima) Kareem John (San Juan North)
Midfielders: Isa Bramble (Naparima) Aleem Barclay (Capt) (Presentation) Josiah King (Carapichaima) Jaiye Sheppard (Presentation)
Forwards: Seon Shippley (Naparima) Akeem Mason (St Benedict's)
To pick 11 from over 175 players is never easy but for me those were the standouts. It's now on to the Intercol so good luck to all schools!
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.