Monday, January 22, 2018

Signal Hill, Naparima battle for SSFL record


BY ANY MEANS: Signal Hill's Shaquille Joefield, second from left, tackles Arima North Secondary's Marcus Gomez, right, during their Coca Cola Secondary Schools Football League InterCol semi-final at Larry Gomes Stadium last Friday. Signal Hill won 2-1 and will play Naparima in today's InterCol final at Manny Ramjohn Stadium, Marabella. Photo: ANISTO ALVES

Kwame Laurence

Signal Hill Secondary will travel from Tobago today to the Manny Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella to face "home" team Naparima College from 4 p.m. Only one team will emerge Coca Cola InterCol champions.

It is perhaps fitting that these two sides are battling for the 2010 InterCol crown. A lot more than simply the title is at stake for today's winners. There is the prize of becoming the most successful school in the history of the Secondary Schools Football League, and its predecessor, the College's League.

On the national front, these teams, along with San Fernando Technical Institute, have nine national titles. Signal Hill enjoyed their main period of dominance in the 1980s, when they took three National League titles (1984, 1987-88) and four InterCol crowns (1982, 1987-89). Their other two titles came in 1998 (League) and 1995 (InterCol).

For Naparima, after three InterCol successes in the 1970s (1973, 1976-77), it took them 22 years to earn their next title. They resurfaced in 1999 with the League-InterCol double, landed the InterCol trophy a year later, and then in four years, won their last three League (2005, 2008) and InterCol (2007) crowns.

"Naps" had a chance to grab their tenth national and seventh InterCol title last year, but were beaten to the punch by a less-talented, but game El Dorado side.

Behind these two resilient teams are ex-national "Strike Squad" forward Leonson Lewis, who took over as Naparima head coach this year, and one of the most renowned and experienced tacticians in Trinidad and Tobago, former senior T&T coach Bertille St Clair, who heads the Signal Hill technical bench.


Naparima have performed to their traditional strengths in 2010 despite having only five players with InterCol experience from last year. Their captain Anthony Parris is the only one to taste national glory in the 2007 InterCol and 2008 League campaigns.

According to Lewis, a record tenth title will be very "significant" for Naps, and for him as a coach.

"It will be the most important title I've ever owned. That will be really significant for me," Lewis told the Express.

Having seen Signal Hill play, Lewis is ready for today's test, even though he reserves full respect for St Clair as a coach.

"When I see Signal Hill play, they actually play football," Lewis said of his team's opponents today. "They try to pass the ball around, and they depend on Darryl Trim, their lightning quick striker.

"(With Trim) it's not a matter of if he going to score, it's more a matter of when. So it will be a big test for our defence to try to hold him."

But Lewis has full confidence in his team.

"I'm not even worried about my players playing good. My players can play well, they have proven that they are good football players. To win the final you have to play good. But you have to be smart in how you interpret things."

Signal Hill

Xavier King, the Signal Hill manager-turned acting principal, feels Signal Hill have been at a disadvantage, having to travel to Trinidad three times for the InterCol competition.

Now they head South with history beckoning.

Having St Clair return to their coaching staff has brought new energy to the hard-working Signal Hill.

"The years before, two, three years ago, he used to help, but was never on the bench. But he brings his experience to the game, especially after half time and has been a tremendous help."

Signal Hill have not seen Naparima, and will have to do their job the old fashioned way: assess their opponents as they play the first half. That tactic worked well against Arima.

King also explained that because Signal Hill are from Tobago, they have had little opportunity to see Naps before today.

But his team will play today for the pride of Tobago.

"It would mean a lot to the school and a lot to Tobago by extension. At this point it's not about the school, it's about Tobago and how people see football in Tobago. Tobago can't get past a certain level, so now that we are passing that hurdle, it's great on the part of Tobago.

"It would be a morale boost for the school and bring success in other areas."