Cape Town – Promoted Highlands Park are now within a whisker of achieving the rare feat of finishing the season among the Absa Premiership’s “Top Eight” in their first season following promotion from the National First Division.
The “Lions of the North” are hovering a mere single point behind Bloemfontein Celtic in ninth position and with a marginally superior goal difference with six rounds of fixtures remaining.
But articulate, no-nonsense coach Owen da Gama says qualifying for next season’s Top Eight competition is not the club’s main objective for the 2018/19 season and would only be looked on as “the cherry on the top of an appetising confectionary” if it is ultimately achieved.
“What I think we can already claim,” said Da Gama, “is that after being regarded by many as just another promoted side who will battle to avoid a quick return to the NFD, Highlands are not only vying for honours, but have achieved the respect of every team in the Premier League and are improving and maturing with every game.”
What the modest Da Gama did not emphasise, however, was his own significant role in the one-time legendary “Lions of the North” roaring again – something that will place him in line as a candidate for the “Coach of the Year” accolade.
Da Gama, nevertheless, was forthright in praising his players for their enthusiasm, 100 percent effort and hunger to improve, with the results “speaking for themselves” and Highlands holding their own ultimately with the top teams in the log table while earning 10 of 20 points from matches against Mamelodi Sundowns, Orlando Pirates, Bidvest Wits, Cape Town City, SuperSport United and Kaizer Chiefs.
“Ironically,” said Da Gama, “there are many around who are unaware and do not appreciate the past stature and achievements of Highlands when they were regarded as the top team in the country during the 1960s and only disappeared from the top bracket in 1982 when the club sold its NPSL franchise to Jomo Sono who then formed Jomo Cosmos.
“This I believe is the legacy we are defending,” added the Highlands coach, “and what I tell the players that 2019 is only the start for restoring the past.”
As to making a start to this objective with Top Eight qualification, Highlands’ prospects look promising, with a more favourable run-in of fixtures than their immediate rivals.