North East Stars have reunited with the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League crown after 13 years, thanks to a star-studded squad, “togetherness”, backing from owner Darryl Mahabir, and Derek King, who has once more proven his ability as one of the best young coaches of the twin-island republic.
King’s side won the Pro League on the penultimate day on Friday night after a second-half Keston George header – his first ever league goal – secured the 2017 title with a 1-0 win against a stubborn Police FC outfit at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
The 24-year-old George, who joined the Stars from then three-time Pro League holders Central FC last August, said, “Words can’t express (the feeling) because before the game I was talking to a friend and he (said) ‘you’re going to score the game winner today’ and I (responded) ‘I hope I do’.
“And to actually do it tonight was amazing — the best feeling in the world. From the time (the) ball hit the back of the net, it was just exhilaration.”
The talented midfielder-turned-defender added, “Tonight it was win at all costs. Don’t give up anything, stick as a team don’t matter what happens. And we did that really well.”
Adrian Foncette was brilliant throughout, including a double-save early on, but the Police custodian could not rescue his side when George headed substitute Kishun Seecharan’s right side into the far upper corner for the all-important goal.
The win improved the Stars’ tally to an unassailable 40 points before second-placed W Connection (33 points) – at the same venue – allowed third-placed Defence Force (30 points) to rebound for a 2-1 stoppage-time win. The race for the final CONCACAF qualifiers spot –top-two finish – will be decided on the final match day on Tuesday.
The true celebration, according to King, will, happen Tuesday with a party-like atmosphere when his new Pro League champions host San Juan Jabloteh from 6pm at the Arima Velodrome in their final match of 2017 before switching focus to next season’s CONCACAF qualifiers by way of the Caribbean Club Championship and the new Pro League season.
King, who, in 2009, led Joe Public to the Pro League title and became the youngest coach to win the crown, heaped praise on his North East Stars’ players, club owner Mahabir and staff for the club’s first league success since Guyanese coach James Mc Lean and the prolific Jerren Nixon guided them to the title in 2004.
“We have players here for the first time, some younger ones who have never won a title, and they stuck together as one and I think the togetherness and the Arima vibes really brought this team together,” King said. Stars owner, Mahabir, credited the players’ effort despite the financial struggles faced across the league. “Tough season but congrats to the guys,” he said.
The Sangre Grande businessman, who almost sold the etam prio to the season, was optimistic over the future of North East Stars with new financial partnerships a possibility, and appeared eager to see his side debut at next season’s Caribbean Club Championship.