THE 2012 Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/Gatorade/Digicel Manning Cup competition will end as it started — a mouth-watering exchange, between title-holders St George’s College and the relative novices Hydel High, for the top prize in Corporate Area schoolboy football.

Last weekend, Cardel Benbow’s brace piloted St George’s into the final with a dominant 2-0 semi-final victory over rivals Wolmer’s Boys, while Hydel were given a historic berth after Giovanni Green’s extra-time winner doused Excelsior High 2-1. 

The teams are set to clash at 4:00 pm today in the championship match at the National Stadium.

In the minds of many this grand showdown epitomises the vintage tale of David versus Goliath, but for Hydel, the first-time finalists, it is the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs of a pair of 1-1 results against the 21-time champions in Group C during the preliminary stage.

The first of those encounters was the season opener when the Neville Bell-conditioned St George’s scored with virtually the last kick of the game to grab a point. The second also saw Hydel taking the lead before being pegged back.

Hydel’s head coach Geoffrey Maxwell, while expressing the “ultimate respect” for his opponents, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that his team should have won both games.

“We played George’s twice and they came from behind to draw with us. We should have won them. We have the ultimate respect for St George’s… they are the defending champions, but once the whistle blows there is no friendship there.

“We are pretty confident of winning the Manning Cup… we are not just there to participate. We trained well in the last week and a half. The players are looking extremely sharp, and I think they are ready to go,” said Maxwell, who guided Excelsior to the title in 1980.

MAXWELL... the players are looking extremely sharp, and I think they are ready to go
MAXWELL… the players are looking extremely sharp, and I think they are ready to go
Led by captain Errol McNeil, Green, Tajah Small and Patrick Okonkwo, Hydel’s only defeat this season came at the tail end of the preliminary round at the hands of Denham Town High.

They showed no hangovers from that result, however, winning the second round’s Group I on goal difference ahead of many-time champions Jamaica College.

Maxwell, a former national senior team coach, said his team has been battle-hardened this season, and he sees today’s match as a less difficult challenge than what was faced in the semi-final.

“I think the hardest game in any competition is the semi-final. We have gone through some very difficult games. We were in a (second round) zone with Kingston College, Jamaica College and Denham Town and we did very well. St George’s are going into the final with plenty experience… we are there for the first time and we want to make our mark,” he said confidently.

St George’s College, last season’s treble winners and an outfit gunning for a fourth title in five seasons, have lost only two competitive matches since 2010. Both of those have come this season. One was a 1-2 Walker Cup Knockout loss to Wolmer’s, and the other a 2-3 reverse to Camperdown High, in a game of academic interest in the Manning Cup second round.

Boasting several national youth players, including Zhelano Barnes, Oshane Boothe, Andre Lewis, Mark Brown, Romario Jones and goalkeeper Nico Campbell, those hiccups have come as a surprise to some.

St George’s coach Neville Bell defended his team and said he believes that the recent disappointments and the close encounters with Hydel will prove to be insignificant factors.

BELL... the players are up for it and they want to defend the title“The players are up for it and they want to defend the title. Our standards are high and when we don’t play a certain way or play excellent football then people say we don’t play well. I think we haven’t played brilliant football all season but we have still played well.

“Those two games (against Hydel) won’t have anything to do with the final. We certainly weren’t sharp in the first game. We played really well in the second one even though we didn’t win it. Now that’s over with and we have forgotten that. Hydel is a mature team and we hope that we play well against them in the final,” said Bell, who has coached at the national youth level.

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