Deputy Minister for Sports Henry B. Yonton announced at the weekend in Monrovia that the 2016/2017 edition of the annual County Meet would kick off in Robertsports, Grand Cape Mounty County on December 3, 2016.
Regrettably, athletics will not form part of the National County Sports Meet – Liberia’s biggest sporting festival for the third time in 10 years.
Athletes were absent from the track in the first County Meet organized by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration, owing to technical reasons.
Athletics was not included in last year’s event, due to lack of track and field facilities, as the country only available venue, the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex is undergoing renovation.
That means, instead of five disciplines, there would be just four at this year’s edition, namely: football, kickball, basketball and volleyball.
Liberia’s 15 counties have been split into four groups, with matches in the preliminary round expected to take place in the leeward counties.
Group – One will be based in Robertsports, Group – Two in Voinjama, northern Liberia, Group-Three will play in Sanniquellie, while the port city of Harper, will host Group – Four.
Group – one comprises of 2013 champion cum host Grand Cape Mount, 2009 champion Bomi, 2004 champion Gbarpolu and defending double champions Grand Bassa County.
Football pundits have tipped the host county, Grand Cape Mount and back-to-back champion Grand Bassa County to qualify from this pairing regarded as the ‘group of death’.
In Group – Two, Bong and Margibi counties closed tie with Lofa County will be put to test, as the three counties have been pooled in a group of three. Host Lofa and 2008 champion Bong are favorites to advance from this pairing.
Margibi, who painfully missed out on the quarterfinals last term at home, are expected to put up resilient in their quest to crouch in on a second title, having lifted the trophy in 2012.
Lofa County’s best performance dates back to 2004, when they settled as runners-up, after losing 2-1 to its own offspring and Liberia’s newest County, Gbarpolu.
Group – Three consists of County Meet power house and hosts Nimba, last year losing finalist Montserrado, 2007 Champion Rivercess and Sinoe counties.
Nimba County, who won the competition in 1978, 1979, 2010 and 2011 and finished as runners-up in 2014, will be playing before its home crowd is considered a clear favorite to win the group.
Montserrado County stands an excellent chance to outweigh Sinoe and Rivercess counties to gain qualification, having missed out on the trophy twice in recent time – runners-up in 2013 and 2015.
Group – Four features hosts Maryland, Grand Gedeh, River-Gee and Grand Kru Counties, in an all South-eastern affairs. Pundits have also tipped the host; Grand Gedeh County to advance from this zone.
Grand Kru County won the County Meet in 1974, 1977, 1985 and 1987 but has since struggled to make the cut.
Unlike in the past, where quarterfinal matches were played under the knockout system, the four winners and runners-up from the group stage would be divided into two groups of four for a round robin series; with the winners and runners-up qualifying for the semi-final.
According to Minister Yonton, quarter-final matches in this year’s County Meet would be played in Monrovia and Gbarnga, or Buchanan.
He said the rules and regulations for the 2016/2017 showpiece have been sent to the various county sports coordinators for their inputs and would shortly be circulated to all media institutions across the country.
The National County Sports Meet, inaugurated since 1956, is an annual sport event held in the spirit of unification and reconciliation.
The event is organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports in collaboration with the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Grand Bassa County is the defending football and basketball champion, while Nimba and Bomi counties are the reigning kickball and volleyball champions respectively.
1956: Maryland County – Montserrado County
1969: Grand Cape Mount County – Montserrado County
1974: Grand Kru County
1977: Grand Kru County
1978: Nimba County
1979: Nimba County
1985: Grand Kru County 2-0 Grand Bassa County
1987: Grand Kru County 4-1 Margibi County
1990: Grand Bassa County 1-0 Nimba County
2004: Gbarpolu County 2-1 Lofa County
2007: Rivercess County 2-0 Grand Gedeh County
2008: Bong County 4-3 Rivercess County
2009: Bomi County 5-2 River Gee County
2010: Nimba County 2-0 Grand Gedeh County
2011: Nimba County – Margibi County
2012: Margibi County 2-0 Nimba County
2013: Grand Cape Mount County 1-1 (aet, 3-1 pen) Montserrado County
2014: Grand Bassa County 2-1 Nimba County
2015: N/A (*was cancelled due to the Ebola epidemic)
2016: Grand Bassa County 1-1 (aet, 3-1 pen) Montserrado County