Schools’ final graces big stage
School’s soccer finally got a chance to step to the top of the class at Kensington Oval on Independence Day and the young players passed the test with flying colours in showcasing their skills.
And Derick “Billy” Hurley, coach of repeat champions Samuel Jackman Prescod Polytechnic (SJPP), gave full marks to the organizers of the LIME Pelican Football Challenge for allowing the Schools’ Under-19 League final to precede the highly anticipated championship match between Akademiks and Phoenix UFO Toyota Fire House.
“It was a very good move. It provided the avenue to expose the talent that is in the Under-19 Schools’ football to the public,” Hurley told MIDWEEK SPORT in a post-match interview following SJPP’s defeat of Queen’s College 4-3 on penalties after the score was locked 1-1 at the end of regulation time.
“This standard of play in finals has been going on, as far as the Under-19 football, for many years but they never got the opportunity to be exposed to the public,” he added.
Hurley, a former standout midfielder with Pinelands’ successful teams in the mid-1980s, said this was a regular feature in Trinidad and Tobago.
“At the pro club that I’m attached to in Trinidad, they have 10 000 and 15 000 people at the final, so this was an opportunity for a school final to be played before this crowd.
“Teams that did not know of players, would now get the opportunity to see talent in these youngsters and would draft them in when it comes to the drafting time in the [LIME Pelican Football?Challenge] next year.”
Hurley, also a former national footballer, said the final was very keenly contested.
“It was a tight game. I think Queen’s College really put in a good effort but I knew when it came to penalty kicks, my goalkeeper Mario Alleyne would have stood tall.”
Hurley said he tactically changed the team’s set-up for the bigger field at Kensington Oval while also ensuring his players didn’t get carried away by the occasion.
“We changed the formation this time. We played with five men in the midfield to outman them in the midfield, and it worked for us,” he said.
“Because they were playing before a big crowd, I tried to keep them as calm as ever and not to be overawed and to play what we have been playing the whole season.”
The imposing 18-year-old Alleyne turned from villain to SJPP’s hero after a goal-keeping misjudgment allowed Queen’s College to equalize, just before half-time, by saving two penalties.
“I thought the ball was going out but I misjudged it and the ball went in, unfortunately,” admitted Alleyne, who redeemed himself in the penalty shoot-out.
“I feel real excited. I was under a lot of pressure because I knew if I didn’t save it, it would’ve gone down to sudden death.
“I was feeling a little tired but I told myself, this is my last year in Under-19, so I just want to do this for my team and myself.”
Alleyne said their opponents were not pushovers.
“They were a very tough team. Everyone expected us to roll over Queen’s College but we pulled out all the stops and we are crowned champions.”