Strong finish key in title race
The guess as to who will win the 2015-16 Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) is no easier than previous seasons.
In the past five seasons, five different teams - Arnett Gardens, Montego Bay United, Harbour View, Portmore United and Tivoli Gardens - have won the nation's most prestigious football championship.
Throughout that period, Waterhouse have remained the most consistent team never to have won, finishing fourth, second, second, third and fourth.
Arnett, who had been fourth the previous two seasons and eighth the two before, made a huge leap last year under the guidance of it's community and one of the country's most successful coaches, Jerome Waite, to regain a title they last won almost a decade and a half ago.
This evening they will kick-start their title defence at their home stadium, Anthony Spaulding Sports Complex, to University of the West Indies FC, a first-timer to football at this level.
With several of his top players unavailable, Waite expects an uncharacteristically slow build-up to the campaign.
"Arnett Gardens will start slow this season, reason being a lot of players who participated in the Business House competition they have not shown up for regular training, as well as the players overseas.
"Although the core of the team is not here, I expect them to handle themselves. If you recall, our last 13 games we played leading up to the final, we won and we want to continue that unbeaten run," he added.
Strong start important
"As the defending champions, you have to take up the opportunity at the start of the season and not so much in middle or the end of the first round. You have to go out there and start as champions. "It's a season we are looking forward to and it's not how we start, but how we finish," he noted.
That latter sentiment pretty much sums up the crux to the title: It's how you finish.
How well the teams pace themselves will significantly impact their chances, a big chunk of which boils down to depth in quality to spread across three rounds of competition, plus the decisive final phase that involves the semi-finals and final.
Montego Bay United had been almost as good last season, but came up short in the final against an Arnett team that thrived on its consistency.
Having retained its quality squad, and with some additions, too, the western Jamaica standard bearers are hungry to regain the crown.
"Our aim is to get better and better each year. The mistakes we made last year, we'll address them and improve on them," said Orville Powell, the club's owner of an improvement that can only be marked by a championship.
Waterhouse have been knocking for some time, and again, they should have a say.
"We're trying to go all the way," noted new and experienced Premier League coach, Calvert Fitzgerald. "I've inherited a very good team, Anthony Patrick did a very good job and he left a very talented bunch of players. I just have to do my best to see if we can cross that barrier that has been evading us for so long."
Humble Lion crossed virgin territory into the semi-finals last season, but were undone by none other than the champions. Their ambitions are bigger.
"We have more depth ... we're aiming for the top spot," noted Daphne Taylor, a club executive.
Much of the others share a similar view, including Harbour View and Tivoli Gardens, which performed below their usual high levels.
Harbour View have added much quality to their numbers and expects to reap greater fortune, despite the generally modest offerings from head coach Ludlow Bernard.
"Our ambition is to finish in the top four and take it from there ... we're looking forward to a good season," he expressed.
Club president Edward Seaga pointed to Tivoli Gardens' shortcomings, noting that "we have been falling off because we don't have the top-level (players) like before".
However, this will not dampen their spirit and enthusiasm to rise again.
Portmore United and Boys' Town, champions in their own right, will also be looking to make their mark, as is Cavalier, who started well but fell away, Rivoli and newcomers UWI.
Most got their first taste of action yesterday, a long way from the line that draws the champion - at the finish.