Four-time Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) premier division champions Naparima College and the newly promoted St Mary's College were the biggest winners on the opening day of the 2023 season on Wednesday, registering 10-0 and 8-0 wins over Chaguanas North Secondary and Pleasantville Secondary respectively.
Today, "Naps" and St Mary's will hope their players find their goal-scoring boots again, as the two teams meet in one of the marquee SSFL matches from 3.30 pm at St Mary's College Grounds on Serpentine Road, St Clair. Naparima won the first two editions of the premier division in 2014 and 2015, and they went back-to-back again in the 2018 and 2019 seasons. The SSFL then had a two-year hiatus due to covid19, and Naparima weren't able to find their championship touch last year as St Benedict's and Fatima College won the two national titles on offer.
This season, as Naparima look to find back their winning touch, manager Percy Samlalsingh says his team will play each game on its merit.
"We respect every team out there. Yes, we won 10-0, but we will approach the St Mary's game in the same way," Samlalsingh told Newsday. "We'll go out and play the football and try to execute well. We will take each game one at a time."I think we improved from last year. Hopefully, we can take a step forward and start recapturing some silverware. We want to win back some titles."
Naparima's 2022 captain Omari Asher has gone on scholarship abroad, but the Travis Mulraine-coached team remains a solid unit, with players such as Jabari Forbes, Kanye Francis and 15-year-old talent Akiel Vesprey within the ranks. All three youngsters turned out in the inaugural TT Premier Football League season, with Forbes and Francis representing the Tiger Tanks Club Sando team which qualified for the Concacaf Caribbean Club Shield tournament. Vesprey played for W Connection.
All three players scored for Naps on the opening day of the season, with the lanky Francis registering a hat-trick.
Samlalsingh hopes the goals can continue to flow, but he is also mindful of the threat of the hosts.
"Both teams can score goals and both teams can defend as well, so it will be about who can get the breakthrough first and who could take advantage of the next team based on the mistakes which will be made."
St Mary's will be no pushovers though. Last year, under the guidance of legendary SSFL coach Michael Grayson, the Saints gained promotion to the premier division after beating the pair of Arima North Secondary and Bishop's High School (Tobago) to the Big Five championship crown. St Mary's resumed life in the premier division in stunning fashion on Wednesday as a Ryan Radellant hat-trick led them to their thumping win over Pleasantville.
Arima and Bishop's had contrasting starts to the premier division season, as Arima got a credible goalless draw with Presentation College (San Fernando), while Bishop's were beaten 3-1 by fellow Tobago school Speyside Secondary. Today, Bishop's will hunt their first win when they host Chaguanas North at the Plymouth Recreation Ground in Tobago, with Speyside welcoming the reigning intercol champs Fatima in their contest.
Elsewhere, 2022 premier division champions St Benedict's College will go after their first win of the season when they host East Mucurapo Secondary at the Mahaica Oval in Point Fortin, while San Juan North Secondary host Pleasantville and will aim for a second straight win after defeating Benedict's 4-3 on Wednesday.