A rough-and-tumble semifinal win on Saturday night propelled the Cowichan Craig Street 49ers into their second consecutive Tony Grover Cup final.
The 49ers beat the Cordova Bay Bobcats 2-0 in a brutal match at Lochside Turf, earning a chance to defend their Vancouver Island masters soccer championship.
“It was a battle,” Cowichan head coach Kevin James said. “It wasn’t pretty. It was an extremely physical game. Things got sort of heated on both sides. A lot of bad fouls weren’t called, and a lot of minor fouls were called. It was hard to read the game. Both teams had a hard time on that end of it.”
Cordova Bay resorted to embellishment as the game progressed, which occasionally worked in their favour, leading to frustration, and sometimes retaliation, on the Cowichan players’ behalf.
“It worked for us whenever we got away from trying to play their style of game, and brought more skill into it,” James related. “They couldn’t play with us when we played that style of game. But we bit a few times.”
For the most part, the Cowichan players kept their heads. They did collect a couple of yellow cards, but nothing that will impact the cup final. Credit goes to Dave Tuckey and George Thomas for keeping things under control on the pitch.
“We had a couple of guys step up and pull in the reins,” James said. “They both took good leadership roles that helped us, especially in the second half.”
Brad Thorne scored for Cowichan in the first half, and Darcy Kulai added one in the second half.
James kept his bench short, and while that led to less playing time for some players, they understood the rationale.
“Some guys didn’t get minutes, some guys had limited minutes,” James said. “When you have depth like we have, things can go sideways. When you get to where we’re at, I’m not gonna make changes unless we absolutely have to.
“We have something special and they’ve bought into that. It makes it easy for me, coaching-wise.”
Cowichan will face the Gorge Masters A team in the Tony Grover Cup final at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park on March 25. Gorge finished second in the A division, one spot back of Cowichan, and only three points behind. The 49ers won 15 of their 17 games this season, and the other two matches were a loss and a tie against Gorge.
“Even though we’re the league champs, in some regards, we’re the underdogs because we haven’t beaten them this year,” James acknowledged.
The 49ers are still going into the final with “100 per cent confidence,” James insisted.
“We know we can [beat them],” he said. “If we play hard, we can win, No question about that.”
Cowichan beat Vic West 2-1 in the cup final last year. Gorge knocked off Vic West 7-1 in the semifinals this year.
“Gorge is Gorge,” James said. “They’re a solid team. They have a lot of good players. They’ll show up to play. We’re going to have to have a great game [to win], and so will they.”