NOTWITHSTANDING THAT Pro Shottas won three of the five titles, the results for the two other winning teams matched them for significance in the weekend’s Guardian Group youth football finals played at the Wildey AstroTurf.
Pinelands won the Under-11s for the second year running and Gall Hill took the Under-17s in epic fashion coming from 2-0 down to beat pre-game favourites Pro Shottas 3-2.
The victories provide some light at the end of the tunnel for two communities that were former powerhouses in local football but are now struggling to make a meaningful impact on the game like they used to.
Both teams have been relegated to Division One and it looks like while Pinelands, in ninth position with 20 points from 17 games, will survive, Gall Hill are second from bottom on 12 points from 16 games and seem set to drop to Division Two next season.
In the past, both depended on youth tournaments to feed and sustain the senior divisions. Back in the day, Regents were the community club, producing the young talent like Colin “Potato” Forde, Roderick Huggins, Wayne O’neale, John “Wutless” Griffith, Derick “Billy” Hurley and others for Pinelands.
Eyre and Terry Sealy, Jeffrey “Chung” Grant, LeVere Blackman, Warren “Bingy” Sealy and Roger “Yaya” Callender, to mention a few, were the supply line for Gall Hill.
All of the above were genuinely talented players, who once they forced themselves into the senior sides, made solid contributions and were hard to dislodge. In fact, they became household names and were part
of the set-up of national teams at various times.
But times have changed drastically for both with an apparent steep decline in their structure, so even if they were still in the Premiership, the addition of young lions to bolster fading stock may not have made a huge difference.
If either still had a solid base, I don’t believe in the case of Gall Hill, in particular, that so many of their home-grown players would opt to play for other clubs when they needed to answer the urgent call to preserve their legacy and continue to build the self-esteem of very proud neighbourhoods.
Football success was a staple when they felt they had to boast or express themselves about who they were. The big following at games wasn’t just there to give support but it was as if they were part of the collective responsibility to protect the family silver.
It’s a road long travelled but there’s nothing to say that paradise can’t be regained. The success of both teams on Saturday can be used as a reminder that good things still come out of Nazareth. They can be used as the beacons to rekindle the fading hopes of the faithless. They can be used to send a strong message to naysayers that they are far from done.
They were very bold in their approach as they earned their respective titles. The Pinelands Under-11s were in the face of the Shottas every step of the way and even though they were outnumbered by the support for their opponents, they played with passion, purpose and desire from start to finish.
They may have been too young to have a philosophical reason for playing with such gusto but they got the job done in a way that would make the stalwarts proud.
Gall Hill’s backs were against the wall in the Under-17 final, with Shottas seemingly killing them off with a 2-0 lead. However, the lads kept their composure, stuck together as a unit, pushed back their opponents with sublime counter-attacks, took their opportunities, including one first-class free kick, and pulled off an unlikely triumph.
But that element of surprise is part of their DNA. It’s what Gall Hill teams of yore used to accomplish regularly. I saw that same light shining through on Saturday.
Full respect, though, to Pro Shottas who joined Paradise as the only clubs to qualify for all the finals in a youth tournament. They won three of them but nothing should be taken away from a phenomenal performance.
The teams are well drilled, well organised,well supported by parents and other well-wishers and here’s a model others can use to plot similar success.
• Andi Thornhill is a veteran sports journalist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org