Western Bureau:Two down, one to go and that one is the Olivier Shield title, one that Omar Wedderburn, the St Elizabeth Technical (STETHS) head coach, wants desperately to complete a stunningly successful year.Having already stashed away the Ben Francis KO crown and the daCosta Cup title, STETHS now have a chance of winning a third title to cap what Wedderburn admits to be a fantastic campaign.”We are just enjoying ourselves; two titles with a really young team is an excellent achievement, but the work is not yet done. JC are a fine school with good talent and they want this as much as we do, but we hunger for it and that could make the difference,” Wedderburn said.STETHS will enter the Olivier Shield without their leading scorer Michael ‘Diddy’ Kerr.The prolific striker, with 29 goals to his name, has undergone surgery on a broken ankle, an injury he picked up in the daCosta Cup final against Dinthill. But Wedderburn is confident his unit can overcome that setback with a resounding victory.”Kerr will be missed, no question about that. But we have a squad of players that are all capable of delivering what is required. We definitely are going out there to win it for him as he has been a very important part of our success so far,” he said of his injured goalscorer.STETHS is seeking a second hold on the Olivier Shield, with their only lien so far coming in 1999 and with JC somewhat a familiar foe, having defeated STETHS for the crown in 2013, Wedderburn is eyeing payback.”Looking back to that year, it means they now have another chance to do it to us again, but we are not looking at it from that point of view. We are in this final to win,” he stated.
The recent group draw for the Copa Centennial coming up in June, which pits Jamaica in a preliminary group up against Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela, has ignited pleasant memories of the Reggae Boyz sojourn in last year’s Copa America in Chile, where they narrowly lost all three games against top calibre teams Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, with the general consensus being that not only were they not disgraced, but they represented and performed quite well.There were, however, some fundamental mistakes made in that run at the Copa America, followed by their run in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, where they historically got to the final.However, the very next game they played after than run was the crucial first round World Cup qualifier at home against lowly Nicaragua. Three of our key players; Wes Morgan, Jobi McAnuff and Gareth McCleary were missing in action, injured and or fatigued. Jamaica went on to lose that game after going down 3-0 and were on the brink of World Cup elimination at the very first hurdle.This was absolutely poor and naive resource management by coach Winfred Schafer and the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF). World Cup qualifying must be the priority with every other game and or tournament serving as part of the preparation process.Schafer basically ran the players into the ground at the Copa and the Gold Cup and subsequently turned out a weakened and jaded team for the first round of World Cup qualifying. Older players such as Morgan and McAnuff were overused and overworked in those tournaments with conventional football wisdom suggesting that was gross mismanagement on the part of Schafer, as these were key players to the team’s success and should have been handled with ‘kids gloves’ and deployed instead in tip-top shape in the high priority World Cup qualifying assignments.local based playersI have long advocated for the systematic infusion of our best young local based players into the national senior set-up in order to create a wider pool of players overtime for exactly these types of circumstances.If that philosophy was pursued with conviction and the belief that there are qualities that local based players can bring to improve the senior team and the very best of players were being exposed and invested in over the past two or three years, those players would be better and more complete players today and better prepared for international duty.With the clear and present danger of fixture congestion and overwork issues with the overseas-based players, in addition to the understandable injury and fatigue concerns from the clubs of these players, Schafer really had no choice but to finally select a local core of players all be it very late in the proceedings. If, however, as I suspect he does not truly believe in the quality of the local players, then he will hardly deploy them as he should, which would leave us very much back at square one with himself and Captain Horace Burrell more than likely heading off to England to continue begging unwilling mediocre players to become a part of Jamaica’s player pool.It would be far better for the development of our football if Schafer, even if his hands were forced by circumstance, learns to value, respect and believe in the quality of the best of our local players. There is no doubt in my mind that as we venture into this crucial year of football, that we can get quality playing minutes from some players based right here in Jamaica.My understanding is that Schafer will be paid his overdue salaries in very short order and these are the crucial crossroads and the big decision moments in which he should earn every single dollar of that salary.
The trouble with the Usain Bolt comparisons that are flying around is that the tall man from Trelawny is a once-in-a-generation superstar. To confer comparable senior international success upon Akeem Bloomfield and Chris Taylor because they have exceeded Bolt’s high-school times is dangerous. It’s pressure that they don’t need. Both boys have given evidence that they are extra special and could go all the way. Bloomfield’s conversion from the shorter sprints to the 400m yielded a national junior record of 44.93 seconds at Boys and Girls’ Championships last year. Taylor is a marvel and has the World Youth gold medal to prove it. Though this little dynamo set his personal best of 45.27 seconds in the high altitude of Cali, Colombia, he is clearly capable of going faster. Theoretically, gold medals and world records aren’t out of the question in the future. Even so, the temptation to crown either one of them ‘the new Bolt’ must be resisted. It is borne of respect for the tall man and his 11 individual World/Olympics gold medals and five world records. Surely, it is too much to guarantee that anyone will fill Bolt’s shoes completely. Bad memory shrouds how good the tall man was in the 400 metres when he was 16 and in his last year at Champs for William Knibb Memorial High School in 2003. With insistent rain sprinkling down, he used his speed early on the very track where he had won the World Junior title the year before. He kept his foot on the gas until he realised that his prime rival, Jermaine Gonzales, had stopped. His time blasted the record from 46.22 to 45.35 seconds. A full effort might have broken the 45-second barrier. He hasn’t paid the 400m much attention since, and his personal best of 45.28 seconds shows it. Later in 2003, Bolt equalled Roy Martin’s world junior record of 20.13 seconds. He took sole ownership of that record at the 2004 Carifta Games by winning in 19.93 seconds at age 17. Even now, no other junior athlete has run the 200m faster than 20 seconds. More important than all that is the need for Kingston College and Calabar to continue to manage these two lads well. Neil Harrison, the KC coach, has strengthened Bloomfield and has avoided the 100 and 200 metres to avert the disasters of the past. Similarly, Michael Clarke, the Calabar guru, has kept Taylor clear of troubles. One thing is certain. Taylor must need some recovery time after his 10-race effort at Champs. Together with Jaheel Hyde and 2013 World Youth 400m champion, Bloomfield and Taylor give Jamaica bright hopes for this year’s World Junior Championships in the 400m, the 400-metre hurdles and the 4x400m. Some of them may even see action at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. – HUBERT LAWRENCE has made notes at track side since 1980.