At this point I will take a look and assess each game that I observed on Labor Day Weekend when St. Lawrence, Mount Pearl, Holy Cross and Marystown fought to win NL’s Senior Men’s Soccer Championship.
Game 1 was a match-up of Mount Pearl, who finished 1st, and the Laurentians, who placed 2nd, in Round 2. This game was originally scheduled for Friday evening but due to inclement weather the game was rescheduled for Saturday. When the game began, immediately you could see the players slipping and sliding when then were chasing and kicking the ball. At the 5 minute mark, the Laurentians opened the scoring when Adam Loder headed the ball towards the Mount Pearl goal. The goaltender fumbled as he appeared to slip and the ball found its way into the back of the net, giving the Laurentians a early 1-0 lead. This lead was short lived as Mount Pearl’s most dangerous forward, Ryan Caines, took a direct shot from about 30 yards out at the 8 minute mark. Caines, accurate but delicate, found the back of the net as the Laurentians goalkeeper seemed to have very weak footing on the slippery field, making the score 1-1. Three minutes later the Laurentians‘, Rudy Norman, gave St. Lawrence a 2-1 lead as he put in a rebound of a shot that Gerald Connolly failed to grab. For the remainder of the first half both teams were intense and a high level of soccer was being displayed by both clubs. But it was the duo of Norman and Richard Kelly that dominated the Mount Pearl defense. John Kelly’s assignment to play man-on-man against Rudy Norman left the middle wide open. This allowed Richard Kelly to toy with Gord Ryan and it appeared it was only a matter of time before this duo would destroy Mount Pearl. This devastation occurred early in the second half as Richard Kelly let a long blast go on Gerald Connolly. Connolly could only manage to wave at the ball, giving St. Lawrence a 3-1 lead. This goal at the 48 minute mark distressed Mount Pearl and, for the remainder of the game, the Laurentians gave Mount Pearl a clinic in soccer as they held onto their lead.
Game 2 was a match up against the up and coming Holy Cross squad and the defending 2004 Challenge Cup Champions, Marystown United (the winners of Tier 2). Most experts had predicted that Holy Cross would prevail in this contest. The game opened with two early misses by Holy Cross. Then both teams went at each other and it was a super shot at the 9 minute mark, which was taken by Patrick Fewer 20 yards out that opened the scoring. This goal was a beauty and it also let the youngsters on the Holy Cross team realize this game was not going to be a free ride to the semi-final. Marystown and Holy Cross continued to battle it out for the first half and if it were not for the cross bar on two occasions late in the first half Marystown would have added to their lead.
The second period saw Marystown go into a defensive shell. The United led by goalkeeper Scott Edwards and his fullbacks Craig Edwards, Vinny MacDougall, Colin Power and Chad Chislett, set up a protective wall. Marystown were pressured to remain in their own zone for most of the period. Holy Cross, in the second period, led by their young scoring ace John Hawco, kept running and attacking. In the last 15 minutes of the game they peppered Marystown. With luck and a great defense Marystown managed to hold on to a 1-0 victory.
When the game started I began to sense that Mount Pearl’s opening loss to St. Lawrence had cased the players to lose their confidence and the coaching staff to second guess themselves. This was very evident when I saw Kevin Oram starting in the center back position with John Kelly. Oram had played very little all season. Meanwhile the United team seemed to be much more poised. From the opening whistle Marystown were winning the majority of the 50/50 balls. Peddle had been added to their starting lineup and this move would further strengthen Marystown’s defense. Marystown’s early aggressive approach gave them a 1-0 lead. Mid-way in the period, Nick Hurley, an erratic-style forward, scored on a beautiful header that Darrell Steward passed over from the right wing position. This goal would remain to be the difference in the first half.
The fact that Mount Pearl had fallen behind even caused more turmoil and confusion for them in the second half. Coach Walt Mavin constantly took out some of his starters and brought in his alternates hoping one of them would do the job for him. I heard Mount Pearl’s fans openly complain about the fact that Ryan Caines and Bernie Manning were relegated to the bench when they were in dire need for a goal. This season, these two players had scored a total of 23 goals between them. In the meantime Marystown continued to play a very strong defensive system and did not allow Mount Pearl one quality scoring opportunity for the entire game. This game also ended in as a 1-0 score for Marystown and this victory can be contributed to a very solid team effort put forward by the players and how Coach Mel Stacey subbed his played during the game.
Who would have thought that in 2005 we would have a repeat of last year’s two finalists?
Not me, for sure! Yes, I felt St Lawrence would be there but not Marystown. I guess that’s the beauty of sports. St. Lawrence was there because they have a great soccer team and have league MVP, Richard Kelly. Marystown were in the finals because of sheer guts and determination. It was Richard Kelly who would open the scoring for the Laurentians at the 34 minute mark giving them a 1-0 lead. Richard took the ball at the 24 yard line and went around both Craig Edwards and Vinny MacDougall and then let a shot go that left Scott Edwards reaching and looking on in shock as the ball went in the net.
The second period saw Marystown take it to the Laurentians and they were rewarded for their efforts at the 63 minute mark when Craig Edwards blew a shot by John Douglas for a 1-1 score. At that time I wondered to myself, “Is this going to be a repeat of 2004 ?", when Marystown were down by a score of 1-0 at half time and they came out and tied it up in the second period, allowing them to win on overtime on a goal by Mike Wall. As it turned out, Chris Caines scored his third championship game winning goal at the 75 minute mark. His other game winners came in Marystown in 1999 and in 2001 when NL Canada Games Team played the Laurentians in the finals at St. Lawrence. Then at the 88 minute mark Rudy Norman scored from another Richard Kelly setup. This goal gave St. Lawrence a 3-1 victory and returned the Challenge Cup Championship to St. Lawrence, which marks the Laurentians’ twentieth Challenge Cup Championship since 1967.
For years I’ve been saying that Richard Kelly’s talents are unparalleled and when it comes to soccer the people of St. Lawrence should vote "King Richard" for Mayor. I’ve seen Kelly play on top of his game in 1999, 2002 and again this year. He is a very gifted player.
The Laurentians in 2005 will represent Newfoundland and Labrador on Thanksgiving Day Weekend while the rest of the province become cheerleaders hoping for St. Lawrence to bring home GOLD!
Gord Dunphy is a former 1990’s Challenge Cup All - Star coach of the St. Lawrence Laurentians and National Bronze Medallist. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org