Jackson Cup hasn’t lost lustre for Cowichan LMG vets

Cowichan LMG is heading to the Jackson Cup final for the sixth time in seven years this Sunday.

Cowichan LMG is heading to the Jackson Cup final for the sixth time in seven years this Sunday, and hoping to win Vancouver Island’s biggest soccer tournament for the fourth time in that span, but it’s not getting old.

“If you grow up in Victoria or in the Island, the Jackson Cup is the showcase trophy you want to play for,” defender and assistant coach Tyler Hughes said during his team’s training session on Tuesday night. “My brother has won it, my dad won it, I’ve won it. It’s a big thing in my family. It’s a trophy you want to win.”

Cowichan won the trophy last year, the 100th time it was awarded, and the team is looking to repeat. The motivation to play well and win the trophy doesn’t fade, even with so many victories in recent years.

“It’s a special day,” head coach Glen Martin said. “For me it’s exciting because we get to showcase Cowichan soccer in front of a big crowd. It feels good every time.

“It looks like it’s easy to do because we’ve been there six of the last seven times, but it’s not.”

Hughes will be facing a familiar foe when Cowichan squares off against Bays United at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. His younger brother, Jordie, is one of Bays’ top offensive threats.

“I don’t like losing to my brother, especially,” Hughes said with a laugh. “It’s always fun playing him. We had good, healthy competition growing up. If you asked our mom, she’d say we were always competitive and we still are, over the smallest of things.”

Paddy Nelson won the trophy with Cowichan last year, and with Saanich Fusion in 2014 — scoring the game-winner against Cowichan that year. He admits the biggest motivation behind winning this year is just to beat Bays.

Nelson scored a team-record 27 goals in the regular season, although he has none through three Jackson Cup games. He’s not feeling any frustration as a result of that drought, however.

“Every game I haven’t scored, we’ve won, in a cup run,” he pointed out. “I think we’ve all played well. I’ve never felt down, at all. That’s the way it is sometimes.”

The key to winning on Sunday, in Nelson’s view, is for Cowichan to take advantage of their superior fitness and run Bays into the ground.

“It’s a big field,” he said. “It will probably be wet. That field is almost like quicksand when it’s wet. If we outrun them, that will be the biggest thing. Both teams will be up for it, for sure. It will come down to who works harder.”

The team’s long bench will be vital in the Jackson Cup final, Hughes added.

“There’s probably no team in the province with the quality and depth that we have,” he said. “[The Jackson Cup final] will take a lot out of you. It’s a grass field, a heavy field, so you’re not able to go with 11 players for 90 minutes. Our depth is a big advantage.”

With that depth comes plenty of experience. Cowichan has 17 returning players from last year’s Jackson Cup championship team, bolstered by the likes of Josh Cuthbert, who was third on the team in goal-scoring behind Nelson and Cooper Barry this year, Govinda Innes, and Jordan De Graf. The team just got Craig Gorman and Keevan Webb back from the UVic Vikes, and Martin said they will play important roles on Sunday.

“We have experience, we know the game, and we know who we’re playing,” the coach said.

While Cowichan has had plenty of Jackson Cup success in recent years, the provincial championship has proved elusive as Cowichan hasn’t been able to get past the semifinals. Another Jackson Cup win could be a springboard to finally achieving that.

“We know we’re in provincials, and this will help us get ready for that,” Hughes said. “One of our goals as a team is to win the Jackson Cup, and also the Provincial Cup. This is a good game to help us get ready for that.

“As a team, we have a very strong mindset and clear goals. Winning the Jackson Cup is one if the biggest goals of the season for us. It’s a game we’ve worked since August for, and we want to win it. There’s a lot of history to the trophy. It’s a very prestigious cup. It’s not easy to win.”