Robert Bailey, Gleaner Writer
The 2012 ISSA/Gatorade/Digicel Manning Cup competition kicks off today and all eyes will be fixed on last season's all-conquering defending champions, St George's College, as they begin the quest for a second consecutive lien on the trophy when they tackle Hydel High at the Montego Bay Sports Complex in Catherine Hall starting at 2 p.m.
Having secured the triple - Manning Cup, Walker Cup and Olivier Shield - last season, the St George's camp will be confident but under some pressure to repeat this feat.
The Neville 'Bertis' Bell-coached team will therefore be hoping to start their campaign on a winning note against Hydel.
"We had a very good preseason and with all the players confident and ready and raring to go we are looking forward to the opening match," said Marcel Gayle, assistant coach of St George's.
The North Street-based institution will be missing attacking players such as Richard Garvey, Kareem Manning, Davion Kelly and Ricardo Henry, along with defenders Oshane Jenkins and Adrian Graham, who have all left school.
Gayle added that these players will certainly be missed, but notes that they will be relying on a total team effort throughout the season.
"We are the defending champions and, as such, our aim is to retain our title, so we plan to put in the work required and, hopefully, at the end we will achieve our goals," Gayle said.
Romario Jones, Cardel Benbow, Kendon Anderson, Mark Brown, Oshane Booth and Nico Campbell are among the key players returning for St George's this season.
On the other hand, Hydel's coach Geoffrey Maxwell, whose team made it to the quarter-finals of last's competition, is very optimistic his team can pull off the first upset of the season.
"Our aim is to win the match against St George's, or if not win at least come away with a draw," said Maxwell.
"We had a very good preseason in which we have played about 12 practice matches and winning about 10, including victories over Calabar, Camperdown, and a number of St Catherine schools," he said.
Maxwell added: "It all now comes down to the players to carry out the things that we have taught them, and if they do that I am confident we can repeat or do better than what we did last season."