Naps Ready for Pres Battle

After two years without football, defending champions of the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL), Naparima College, are raring for war against their bitter rivals Presentation College, in the competition’s curtain raiser this afternoon.

The two heavyweights will compete for the Tiger Tanks Cup, which is a one-off fixture between the winners of the SSFL Premier Division and the Intercol competition. The match gives both teams the opportunity to claim their first piece of silverware for the new season, and gain momentum for the league campaign.

In an interview with The Football 4tress on September 8, Naparima College manager, Percy Samlalsingh, expressed his delight for the return of school football. “For me, personally, it’s a great feeling because I’ve been working in the office for two years”, he joked, “But seeing the boys back out on the field is good.”

He continued, “The main thing is that the vibe (around the school) is spectacular. The boys haven’t seen football in two years and the players weren’t playing, so everyone is excited.”

As the pandemic passed, two generations of players and many supporter students who carried the ‘Naps’ culture left having been in form five or form six. To bridge the gap, Samlalsingh stated that the technical staff has been educating the new players about the importance of the San Fernando Derby against ‘Pres’.

“We lost 38 players from the two-year hiatus, but we have a few guys from form five and six who were at under-14 and under-16 level three years ago, so they know what this rivalry means to us. For the new players, I think when they see the crowd at the stadium, they’ll understand.”

“We also talked to them about how big this game is, especially since there’s a trophy at stake. Comparisons were made with the Manchester derby, the Milan derby and El Clasico – this is the biggest game in Trinidad and Tobago.”

The SSFL Premier Division was restructured in a new format for this season, transitioning from a traditional league format to a two-group round-robin format. Group A consists of Naparima College, St Anthony’s College, St Benedict’s College, Carapichaima East Secondary, Fatima College, Pleasantville Secondary and Speyside High School. Group B includes Presentation College, Queen’s Royal College, Trinity College East, Moruga Secondary, Malick Secondary, San Juan North Secondary and Chaguanas North Secondary.

Disappointedly, Samlalsingh expressed that he is not a fan of the new format and prefers the former structure of the league. “My disagreement, along with technical staff from other schools, is with the tournament’s limited nature”, he said. “We may hit the ground running but other schools might take some time to catch form. If a team is struggling after four games, they’d be in trouble because they’ll have three games to play to survive relegation.”

“In the old format, half of the season was six or seven games. Even if a team was win-less at the halfway point, they’d still have six games to try to stay in the league.”

He went on to say, “The competition this year will finish around the same time as when the league was one 15-team league. It would have been better to continue having all the teams playing each other.”

Naparima College won four of the six Premiership titles since its inception in 2014. The man who spearheaded that success was Angus Eve as the team’s head coach. With Eve now employed as the TT national team coach, Travis Mulraine has been handed the torch to continue Naparima’s winning habit. Samlalsingh believes that Mulraine is the man to keep ‘Naps’ at the top after serving as Eve’s assistant in his early years at the college. Mulraine also lead ‘Naps’ to winning the Barbados Cup in 2014, which Samlalsingh thinks gives him more credibility.

The team have been preparing for the season since July 11 and have since played friendly matches against La Horquetta Rangers, Malabar FC and the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). Samlalsingh stated that battling against these teams have conditioned ‘Naps’ well for the season ahead. The players to look out for, according to the manager, will be centre-back Josiah Cooper and midfielder Kanye Francis, both members of the TT under-20 national team.

‘Naps’ will take some stopping as they are unbeaten in the league for two and three-quarter seasons. Their last loss in the Premiership was against Fatima College on September 16, 2017.

The Tiger Tanks Cup fixture will kick off at 4:00pm at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva and will be televised on SportsMax TV.

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