By Orville Higgins
The first phase of the CONCACAF qualifiers is over. Jamaica are into the last six. We have reached the last six for the first time since 2002, and we managed a first-ever victory over the USA along the way. The much-maligned coach Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore continues to be fairly successful in competitive football, and is probably not getting his just due from the Jamaican public.
No amount of backslapping and high-fiving, though, should prevent us from being honest with ourselves about the programme and admit that there are things which boggle the mind.
Most glaring of my concerns is the treatment of Jermaine Hue. If you understand anything about football, you have to know that Jermaine Hue, in the context of Jamaican football, is a rare treasure. No Jamaican player I have ever seen is a better and more consistent passer of the ball. Where his teammates struggle to find their own, especially under pressure, Jermaine can be relied upon to hit his targets consistently. He can do this at will, whether to a static or moving teammate, and (as his world-class 40-plus-yard pass to Dane Richards demonstrated in the Antigua game), he can hit them from virtually anywhere.
It seems a simple enough skill, but the ability to pass well is the most important art in the game. Hue is also one of the best dead-ball kickers around. With these attributes on his résumé, you would think he should be an automatic choice in any Jamaican squad.
And yet, a succession of Jamaican coaches, going back well over a decade, have inexplicably left him out, and he has made only sporadic appearances. There have been concerns about his fitness, about his unwillingness or inability to help out defensively, and some have gone so far as to question his commitment to his country and his heart for a fight.
All of that may or may not be true, but it shouldn't have mattered. He was quite simply too good to be left out and has been very poorly treated. He was brought into this campaign, at the eleventh hour, with two games to go. A coaching staff, desperate to find the creative midfielder that the team clearly lacked, were forced to call on him.
It wasn't a decision made out of a sudden recognition of his gifts, he displays it in the premier league every week; it wasn't because we were playing a different tactical game and needed his services, it was more that the coaching staff realised that they were drowning and Jermaine was the final straw to they had to clutch.
My radio programme on KLAS on Wednesday was inundated with calls thanking me for waging a campaign for Hue's inclusion, a campaign that they feel is the reason why he is back. I take no credit. Jermaine got called back, not because of a radio host who had always believed in him, but because the coaches were trying to further the cause of the team, thereby preserving their own job. They didn't want Jermaine Hue, but they realised they needed him!
In his two games, against Guatemala away and at home to Antigua, Jermaine has not only done well, he has embarrassed the coaching staff, plain and simple. In those two games, he was arguably the best Jamaican player on display. Over the better part of 180 minutes, Jermaine made more quality passes than all the other midfielders put together over the length of the campaign so far.
The coaching staff can hardly take credit for Jermaine's inclusion. You don't credit any coach for delaying the obvious. Others in media have at times called for him as well. Sometimes you wonder if the coaching staff weren't leaving him out for precisely this reason.
Jermaine has been down this road before. In two separate campaigns prior to now, he has been brought in late, at similar stages to where we are now. Whitmore isn't the only coach who has been forced to turn to Jermaine when others have tried and failed. On those other occasions, his immense skills didn't help us. They could help us now.
At 34, he may be on his last hurrah, but better late than never. You now have to wonder, though, about the ability of this coaching staff to identify and encourage talent.
KLAS sportscaster Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/ Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.