THE 2012 Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/Gatorade/Digicel schoolboy football competition kicks off today with a tantalising double-header at the Montego Bay Sports Complex in Catherine Hall, St James.

In the first game at 2:00 pm, last season’s treble winners St George’s College will get the urban area Manning Cup competition underway against Group C rivals Hydel High, while 10-time winners Rusea’s High will start the defence of their daCosta Cup title when they take on former champions Herbert Morrisson Technical in a Zone B clash slated to start at 4:15 pm.

Aside from losing to St George’s in the Olivier Shield play-off and a penalty shoot-out loss to St Elizabeth Technical in the Ben Francis Knockout competition, Rusea’s proved to be unbeatable last season.
Rusea’s coach Anthony Williams is expecting a keen battle with the Montego Bay-based Herbert Morrison in the season opener.

“We expect a tough encounter as we play Herbert Morrison in Montego Bay… you could very much say we are playing them in their backyard but we know what to expect. We are prepared for that,” he said in the Observer West newspaper on Thursday.

Herbert Morrison’s coach Dane Randall stressed the need to get at least one point from the encounter. “Most definitely three points is what all coaches dream about in all stages of the game. We want to put our best foot forward. I will still be happy if we get one,” he said. No other games will be played in the daCosta Cup today, but a full fixture is scheduled to follow on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Meanwhile, 2011 all-island kingpins St George’s brushed aside all challengers to secure the Manning Cup, Walker Cup KO and Olivier Shield titles.

The ‘Blues’ also comprehensively spanked Hydel 3-0 during their marauding run. Now without Oshane Jenkins, Adrian Graham, Kareem Manning, and Ricardo Henry — all members of a defensive unit that allowed a miserly six goals all of last season — for various reasons, the North Street-based school is favourite alongside Jamaica College, Calabar High and Wolmer’s Boys to win the Manning Cup.

Head coach Neville Bell believes he still has a unit strong enough to push for top spot this season and added that he expects the Hydel game to be a substantial test. “It’s the first game and as a coach there is some apprehension about it, but we have a quality team. If we play like how we are supposed to I think we will win,” he told the Jamaica Observer yesterday. Guided last year by veteran schoolboy coach Leebert Halliman, Hydel High were impressively dominant during the group stages but lost momentum in the second round and were eliminated from both the Manning and Walker Cups.

Now under the tutelage of the much-travelled tactician Geoffrey Maxwell, the St Catherine-located outfit are said to be quietly confident of improving on last season’s showing. Also in Manning Cup action today, Trench Town host Spanish Town, while Holy Trinity welcome St Catherine in Group E. A total of 11 matches are slated for Monday. In Group A Campion welcome 2004 winners Excelsior, while former champions Norman Manley host Greater Portmore.

In Group D, Bridgeport entertain Haile Selassie, Tivoli Gardens High host Innswood and Calabar welcome St Mary’s College.

Over in Group F, Wolmer’s visit Kingston Technical, St Andrew College travel to Oberlin, and Donald Quarrie host Jose Marti Technical. Group G favourites Charlie Smith High will visit Ardenne, while St Andrew Technical host Pembroke Hall and Kingston College welcome Meadowbrook High.