Orville Higgins | JC were greater warriors
I became poorer on Tuesday night after the Walker Cup final between Kingston College and Jamaica College. I was stupid enough to bet a substantial sum of money (substantial by my own limited budget) that KC would have won.
It wasn't any spur-of-the-moment, impulsive decision. I did careful analysis. KC have, after all, been the most impressive school so far in the Manning Cup. Most pundits, including me, felt the Purples had more talent than any other team. Plus, they were playing the most eye-catching brand of passing football. They have scored a record number of goals, and had gone through the season never looking likely to lose. They were the defending Walker Cup champions, a trophy that mysteriously kept eluding JC, who have run roughshod over everybody in virtually everything else for the last five years.
One could be excused for thinking that the Old Hope Road boys were jinxed from the Walker Cup. All of those reasons pointed towards KC beating JC in the Walker Cup final and convinced me that I could stake a bet on the game. When you add the fact that the North Street school had beaten JC this year, ending a record non-losing streak, it seemed a safe bet to back KC to win.
In sports, nothing is absolutely safe. I knew that, of course, but my lessons were reinforced on Tuesday. I expected KC to start with the confidence of a team who knew they were playing good football and who had beaten their opponents a few days before. That was never the case.
For some reason, the Ludlow Bernard-coached team was like the proverbial deer trapped in the headlights. They were strangely subdued. There is a thin line between a team that's calm and cool vs one playing without energy and passion. I would have felt okay if KC had started composed and organised, even if they were not gung-ho. KC, however, started uncertainly, almost timidly. I can't say it was complacency. Why on earth would schoolboys be complacent in a final?
Much praise has been heaped on JC coach Miguel Coley. He is certainly earning his spurs. As I have written before, his monumental success with JC cannot be explained simply by the fact that the Dark Blues have a superior recruiting record. Miguel is both an astute tactician and a wonderful motivator.
I realised after five minutes that the North Street team, and my pocket, were in trouble. Jamaica College oozed confidence from the kick-off. They were quicker to the 50-50 balls. They showed greater energy and enthusiasm. That seemed to have thrown off KC and from very early in the game, I realised that I was going to leave the stadium poorer than I came.
The talismanic Jamaica College striker Tyreek Magee was allowed free rein to roam and he made KC pay with two goals in the first half. Tactically, KC got it wrong. One thing coaches must do is ask who is the most dangerous player against them. When the answer is as obvious as Magee, he should never have been given so much time to express himself. Rashawn Mackison, on the other hand, was never allowed too much time on the ball when he got possession.
When I was leaving the stadium, I heard the KC faithful blaming coach Bernard. They felt he was outcoached. Sometimes coaches suffer more from incompetence from their players than from coaching, but I can understand where Ludlow's critics are coming from. Coaching skill is one thing, but coaching temperament is another. KC's loss on Tuesday was not because of any great tactical manoeuvring on JC's part. Coley's team simply played harder. They appeared they wanted it more. This is something that Coley must be credited for.
After losing to KC late October, JC could have entered the Walker Cup final a little unsure of themselves. They played with authority and confidence. There must be something about Coley's coaching style that allows his players to perform with this kind of confidence in big games. KC, on the other hand, appeared overawed by the occasion for much of the game.
I still feel KC have more talent than JC. It's clear to me, though, that JC players are greater warriors with a coach who has been there and done that. It was a dream Walker Cup final. JC have drawn first blood. In many heavyweight contests, there needs to be a rematch. These two could yet meet in the Manning Cup final. Who should I put my money on?
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.