With the Jackson Cup final knotted at 0-0 after 90 minutes of play last Saturday, the Cowichan LMG players knew had to keep going at the same pace in order to keep Bays United at bay in extra time.
“It was like we took a collective breath,” striker and game MVP Paddy Nelson said. “We all got in after full time, and it was, ‘Alright, let’s go again.’”
Cowichan kept going hard, and Bays couldn’t quite keep up with them down the stretch. Nelson ended up setting up Cooper Barry’s game-winner and added a goal of his own for insurance as Cowichan prevailed 2-0 to win their fourth Jackson Cup in the last six years.
Late in the first 15-minute overtime period, Nelson got into the box and drew all the attention to himself before slipping the ball to Barry in the middle. Barry’s point-blank shot broke the scoreless draw and stood up as the decisive marker in the Vancouver Island senior men’s soccer championship game.
“It was all Pat,” Barry said. “Just to cause the turnover and take a guy at speed like that at that time of the game is amazing.”
The championship was the third in three years for Nelson and Barry, who won it together with Saanich Fusion in 2014 — beating Cowichan in the final — before switching teams and winning two more. For the Cowichan club, it was the sixth appearance in the final in the last seven years, and the fourth championship.
The team has become a fixture in the Jackson Cup final, and has won the league title two years in a row, but a provincial championship has proven elusive. The Jackson Cup championship, while still special, has become a step on the way to success in the B.C. tournament.
“It feels a little different in that our sights weren’t set on the Jackson Cup [this year],” Barry said. “Last year, this team hadn’t won the league before, so there was a lot of excitement, and a lot of anxiety, around that. This year [for the Jackson Cup], it was just pull up our socks and get down to business. Everyone is going in the same direction.
“Our focus for the Jackson Cup of course was to win, but it was also important to keep playing in preparation for B.C.’s. We didn’t want to rest on our laurels. We didn’t want to hit a high and then hit cruise control.”
Nelson didn’t want to downplay the importance of winning the Jackson Cup, but made it clear the team wants to win provincials.
“We’re all just happy to get this game over with, to be honest,” he said. “It’s a big game, and we’re glad we won. The hard work paid off in the end.
“This is not where we want the road to end, at all. We want to beat the best teams in the province. Every game from here on out is going to be like that one.”
Along with Jesse Winter, Brad Archibald and Dan Citra, veteran defender and assistant coach Tyler Hughes is one of four players to have won four Jackson Cups with Cowichan.
“They are all special in their own way,” he said, noting Cowichan’s historic rivalry with Bays, where his brother, Jordie, plays. “They are always tough games.”
Cowichan’s fitness, coupled with Martin’s brilliant management of his subs, gave the team the advantage over Bays as the game wore on through 120 minutes on a challenging grass field.
“We were getting stronger, while they were getting weaker,” Martin said. “The big difference was fitness. Our starting guys really can go 90 minutes.”
The match was the most physical of the six Jackson Cup finals Cowichan has played in, and Bays was handed a red card in extra time after Cowichan’s Govinda Innes was taken down hard.
“I thought we were the better team,” Martin said. “We were playing better soccer. They were playing very physical. We knew they’d play physical, but the referee didn’t handle it well. They didn’t need to do that to slow us down. The field does that.”
Cowichan’s four Jackson Cup titles puts them within reach of Vantreights, whose six are the third-most all time. Vic West, with 20, and Gorge, with 14, remain a little farther away.
Cowichan’s first game of the provincial tournament will take place at the David Williams turf on Sherman Road on April 23. The draw for the provincial tournament was held on Tuesday.
Cowichan matched its best result last year by getting to the semifinals before a heartbreaking defeat by Burnaby’s Estrella de Chile. The players are determined to get farther this time.
“We want to move on to the next level,” Martin said. “The guys want to win the next big trophy, and that’s the Provincial Cup. We were so close last year. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Hughes knows from experience that, as hard as the Jackson Cup is to win, the BC Cup is even harder.
“You have to win four very difficult games to get it,” he said. “It will be tough, but it’s a doable goal.”