Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Hubert Lawrence | Changes needed in schoolboy football

Published:Thursday | December 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Mickel Graham (left) of Wolmer’s Boys tries to get the better of Cornwall College’s Clifton Russell during the ISSA/Flow Super Cup final at Sabina Park in November.

So many teams enter the Manning Cup and daCosta Cup schoolboy football competitions these days that, when you add the traditional October rains, it must take a miracle to fit every game in those Cups, the Ben Francis Trophy, the Walker Cup and the exciting Super Cup into the Christmas term. It can't be easy. ISSA, the governing body of high-school sport, does a remarkable job at pushing through such a packed schedule.

This year, 39 schools started the Manning Cup, which is played among teams in the Corporate Area, with approximately 80 schools in the daCosta Cup, which is contested by Rural-Area schools.

Change is the only way forward. At present, the Manning Cup features a grouped round-robin first round with matches played on a home-and-away basis and then a round-robin second round. Then semi-finals ensue leaving two teams to play for top honours in the final. The daCosta Cup is somewhat similar with its Inter-Zone round mirroring the Manning Cup's second round.

Some propose a two-tier system but there are other solutions. One is to replace the round robin Manning Cup second round and the daCosta Cup's Inter-Zone rounds with knockout play. That would move things along more briskly. As things stand, teams play three matches in eight days in the first round, and those who survive stay busy with qualification for the Walker Cup for urban teams and the Ben Francis Cup for rural teams. Add the Super Cup, which pits the top eight first round Manning Cup teams against their daCosta Cup counterparts, and you have a hectic time for the student-footballers who play for the better teams.

 

LIMITED EVENTS

 

In athletics, ISSA has steadily reduced the number of events each athlete can do at Boys and Girls' Championships to combat burnout. When Norman Manley ran for Jamaica College in the early days of Champs, he was all over the meet. In 1993, a pair of the great man's successors at Jamaica College - Oral Telphia and Patrick Samuels - did seven events each in Class 3. Now, the maximum number of events one boy or girl can do at Champs is four. Given the concern voiced by fans about prospects like Calabar's wonder boy, Christopher Taylor, that may change. Football must be wary, too.

If the Super Cup was played in the Easter term, the qualified teams would have more time to rest, and the players would have to meet the ISSA minimum academic requirement in the previous term to be eligible. It's a win-win.

Some worry that football in the Easter term would take the spotlight from athletics, but that's unlikely. If the Super Cup was played on Friday nights and Saturdays in January, it would be finished long before high-school track season begins to approach prime time. In any case, the crossover might give rise to Super Saturdays in January where venues like the National Stadium and the Montego Bay Sports Complex can host both schoolboy football and high school athletics in one weekend.

Big teams with deep squads can ride out the current crowded schedule with astute player rotation. However, that doesn't save the best prospects from hyperactive playing schedules when their schools make progress. That's simply because an ambitious coach is going to play his prime assets more often when the stakes are higher. Guess what? They're exactly the ones Jamaica needs to preserve as the nation seeks a higher perch in the beautiful game.

That's why playing the Super Cup in the Easter Term makes sense. Either that, or the Manning and daCosta Cup competitions need to move from round-robin second round play to a knockout format. Allied to the increase in sponsorship mooted by ISSA, continued improvement in coaching and the spread of better playing surfaces, such changes will help Jamaica build for a future in football.

- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.