Orville Higgins | KC in pressure cooker
I was among those who turned up at the Stadium East field last Saturday to watch the schoolboy football double-header. It appeared as if the entire island was there.
People did turn up because they wanted to see the defending champions, Jamaica College, taking on Bridgeport, but the real reason for the massive turnout was the much-anticipated clash between Calabar and Kingston College. These two schools carry the largest fan base in the Corporate Area. In hindsight, maybe ISSA should have used the National Stadium instead, but then hindsight makes us all geniuses.
The Jamaica College game told us what we already knew. This JC team is not going to give up its title easily. They are not as flashy and marauding as other Dark Blues of recent vintage, but as the season progresses, the air of invincibility is returning.
Their victory over Bridgeport was expected, even though both teams had played to draws, 1-1 and 2-2 earlier in the season. We all expected that at the business end of the season, JC would somehow get the job done.
People have said that Miguel Coley has an easy job because he coaches 'press-button' teams that are superior in quality based on their extensive recruiting system. It is unfair to go down that road. The success of JC over the last few years cannot be separated from the success of Coley.
At the schoolboy level, Coley has proved that he is a master motivator and strategist. Getting talent is one thing. Transforming them into a unit that hasn't lost a Manning Cup game in five years is something else. JC beat Calabar earlier in the week to become the first school to qualify for the semis, where they seem to belong as a matter of course. Coley is one of the most dominant schoolboy football coaches in modern Jamaican history. Recruiting alone cannot explain that.
The other game between Kingston College and Calabar proved to be one of the most exciting Manning Cup football matches in years - not only because of the high quality on display, but because of what was at stake. Neither of these schools likes to lose to the other, and nothing brings out the best in them like facing their arch-rivals. It was obvious after the first 10 minutes that KC had more quality players. Their passing and running off the ball in the first few minutes reminded me of that out-of-class Rusea's team in the mid-1980s.
FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY
This KC team passes as well as any in schoolboy football this year, but that's not always enough. Where KC were bristling with talent and skill, Calabar showed that they were very big on heart. Egged on by their massive support base, they kept fighting and squeezed in the equaliser just before half-time. Neither team could break the deadlock in the second half in what was a tense affair.
One of the things that stood out for me is how reserved the KC supporters were relative to the Calabar crowd. Where the Calabar supporters were beating drums and shouting and applauding for every ball won and every attack broken up against them, the KC faithful were strangely subdued. They came out to watch a game, one they thought they would win. They were there apparently to admire. They didn't come to cajole and encourage and motivate their team. It appeared that they didn't think they had to.
The popular belief is that the results in the preliminary rounds may have lulled them into a false sense of security. That may be one explanation. The other explanation is that the KC crowd is cautious. They haven't won the Manning Cup in more than 30 years, and they don't want to be seen celebrating wildly now in case they lose again.
Purples fans would have seen other KC teams flatter to deceive over the years and are now hesitant to go all out in the stands until the trophy is lifted. They know the mouthing would be severe if they behave too boisterously and lose again.
This Saturday will be interesting. KC need only a draw against JC to make it to the semis. JC are already through but are not expected to do them any favours.
Spare a thought for KC coach Ludlow Bernard. KC are favourites - overwhelming favourites. Most agree that they have the most talent. If KC win the Manning Cup, he is the hero of a generation. If he loses, he will be remembered as the coach of pretty football but who doesn't have the mettle of a champion.
Bernard has huge pressure on him. I don't envy you, Luddy. Tomorrow, the drama continues again. The JC-KC game is a must-watch.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.