By Orville Higgins
Jamaica College's demolition job of the much-touted St Elizabeth Technical in the Olivier Shield play-off has once again raised the issue of the dominance that urban schools have enjoyed over their rural counterparts as far as schoolboy football is concerned.
Not since 2004, when Glenmuir did it, has a rural school won outright, and not since 2006, when it was shared between Glenmuir and Bridgeport, has a rural school managed to lift the trophy at all. The obvious explanation is that the Manning Cup is a much stronger competition than the daCosta Cup. Even if we accept that that is a fact, the obvious question that continues to jump out at us is, why?
Further examination of the facts is interesting. Since 2007, the Olivier Shield has been swapped around by only two schools, St George's College and Jamaica College. Since then, JC have won three, with St George's taking four. What may appear to be an urban dominance, then, may simply be the superiority of two schools with first-class programmes, which might not necessarily reflect the all-round quality of the Manning Cup itself.
Having watched both competitions over the years, I cannot see any discernible difference in quality between both competitions.
The argument has been made that urban youngsters are more inclined to sports than those in rural Jamaica. I am not inclined to agree with that. In cricket, STETHS have been a dominant force for the last few decades and usually outplay their urban counterparts off the park.
Holmwood, a few years ago, while Robert Lewis was alive, took over from STETHS and for a while were easily the top cricket school team in the island. Among girls, Holmwood have been the top netball and track and field school in Jamaica for the last 10 years, with only Edwin Allen, another rural school, stopping them from sweeping every title in recent memory.
So I don't buy the argument at all about urban youngsters more naturally gravitating to sports.
What is obvious is that some schools don't try to be all things to all people, and usually try to concentrate their resources in one or two areas of sports. STETHS, for example, were humbled by Jamaica College in the Olivier Shield, but I'm prepared to bet a decent sum that in any cricket match between the schools now, STETHS would win easily. It's all about what the schools see as priority.
We must be careful, then, in thinking that somehow the 'country yute dem caah play ball'.
JC, St George's and a few other schools have put together football programmes that have been far superior to what is seen in the rural parts, but we must not assume that the dominance of these two schools is an indication that town schools are necessarily turning out more quality players than urban schools. I have followed both competitions over the years, and the same lopsided 10-0 scorelines you hear in the preliminary stages of the daCosta Cup, you also hear in the Manning Cup.
One of the things that is also affecting the rural schools is that far more schools are now involved in the daCosta Cup than there used to be, and the talent base is now spread far thinner than in the Manning Cup. So it's not so much that the rural parts aren't producing good players. It's just that now they are not as concentrated in any one school.
When I was a student at Manning's in the 1980s, for example, we were the only school in the parish playing daCosta Cup football, and a youngster who wanted to play d' Cup would have to find his way to Manning's if he desired to stay in the parish.
More Manning Cup schools are involved than before, but for one reason or another, the urban teams are maybe slightly less affected by the spread of talent because the top Manning Cup schools in the 1980s are still highly sought after now.
So is it that urban youths are suddenly getting better than rural youths as far as football is concerned? St George's College and Jamaica College may simply just happen to be better than the rest.
Orville Higgins is a talk-show host and journalist at KLAS ESPN. Email feedback to email@example.com.