The masters A Cowichan 49ers have advanced to the final of the Tony Grover Cup tournament. (Submitted)

The masters A Cowichan 49ers have advanced to the final of the Tony Grover Cup tournament. (Submitted)

Cowichan 49ers advance to Tony Grover final

Masters A team advances to cup championship game

The Cowichan 49ers locked up a berth in the Tony Grover Cup final with a thrilling 1-0 win over SFFC Old School at Tyndall Park last Saturday, but it was a costly victory as the masters A soccer team lost Neall (Rocket) Rowlings to a broken leg.

“We are delighted to be going to the Tony Grover final in our inaugural season,” Cowichan goalie Rob McIntyre said. “We have a special group of guys on this team and we all play for each other. With that being said we are having a hard time celebrating this win as our thoughts are with Neall; he gave a short speech before the game letting all of us know how much he wanted to win this and go to the final. The fact he won’t be able to participate hurts. We will be going in to this final to win it for Rocket.”

With about a minute left in injury time, Rowlings was working hard in the SFFC end when he went into a hard challenge and suffered a broken tibia and fibula. He had to be stretchered off the pitch and was scheduled to have surgery on Monday.

The game had been intense from the start, and Cowichan caught SFFC off guard by pushing the tempo in the early going.

“We played a 3-5-2,” McIntyre reported. “Our game plan was to push the pace and utilize the middle of the park with arguably the two best centre midfielders in the division.”

Those centre mids are George Thomas and Darcy Kulai, although Cowichan also boasts Richard Lord and Henry Nelson, who would probably start in the middle for any other team.

The Niners scored what ended up being the only goal of the game around the 30-minute mark when Thomas sent a perfect ball into the box for Darcy Penner, who headed the ball into the far corner.

“We played very well defensively and didn’t give them much in the way of chances in that opening half,” said McIntyre, who stopped SFFC’s best scoring chance, a partial breakaway where he came out to cut down the angle and made the save.

SFFC carried the play early in the second half and created some decent scoring chances, including one on a deflected shot in close as McIntyre got his fingertips on the ball, sending it off the crossbar to one of the Saanich forwards, who misplayed the ball.

Around the 80-minute mark, Rowlings was robbed on a breakaway by SFFC keeper Scott Samuelson. Not long after, Darren Meiner was kicked in the head as he broke in on goal, earning a red card for the culprit and a penalty shot by Thomas that Samuelson stopped. A yellow card issued to SFFC for a late challenge soon after that put the team down to nine men, effectively handing the game to Cowichan.

The 49ers will face the Vic West masters B team in the Tony Grover Cup final at Royal Athletic Park at noon on April 2.