In just their first season of existence, the Cowichan 49ers became the first team from the region to win the Tony Grover Cup as the top over-35 team on Vancouver Island by beating Vic West 2-1 on Sunday afternoon.
It was something no one on the team expected to accomplish in the team’s debut campaign.
“No chance,” Cowichan head coach Kevin James said. “We wanted to compete this year and not get blown out.”
Stu Barker’s goal late in the second 15-minute extra-time period of the championship game on Sunday afternoon gave the 49ers a 2-1 win over Vic West and the Island masters title.
“It was one of those games,” a relieved James said after the match at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park. “We had chance after chance after chance, and their goalkeeper kept them in the game, without question.”
Vic West goalkeeper Andy Lang was outstanding throughout the game as Cowichan dominated possession and territory and generated an extraordinary number of scoring chances. He made a rare mistake following a free kick by George Thomas, mishandling the ball, which ended up sitting on the goal line. Barker pounced on the loose orb and the game was suddenly in the 49ers’ hands.
“Coming from another goalkeeper, I feel bad for their goalkeeper,” James said. “He stood on his head, but he made one mistake at the end.”
Vic West finished second in the Vancouver Island Soccer League’s Masters B division, while Cowichan missed winning the Masters A title by the narrowest of margins. Still the 49ers didn’t take their opponents lightly.
“We knew they’d be strong. We knew they’d be solid,” James said. “They deserved to be here. One bad bounce the wrong way and they’re hoisting the trophy.”
Cowichan centre back Adam Taft opened the scoring when the wind carried his corner kick just out of Lang’s reach. The 49ers’ 1-0 lead lasted until the 48th minute, when Vic West, playing with the wind at their backs for the first time, slipped one past Cowichan keeper Rob McIntyre.
Thomas came close to making it 2-1 with about 20 minutes left in the second half, but his hard shot rang off the crossbar.
Besides just the wind, the 49ers had to deal with the R.A.P. grass field, which is a little different from the turf they play on at home.
“The pitch evened the game out a bit,” James said. “It was bouncy. It didn’t allow us to play more of the pretty soccer we’re used to.”
Barker ended up with game MVP honours, something he deserved well before he scored the winning goal, having been Cowichan’s most noticeable player over the entire 120 minutes. Everyone who suited up for the 49ers on Sunday, however, made contributions to the team.
“The thing I’m most proud of, and it shows our depth, is that we had 21 guys here today, and 20 of them played,” James said. “The one who didn’t play is just coming off an injury. I don’t think too many teams can say something like that.”
The 49ers season isn’t yet finished as the team has qualified for the provincial masters tournament, and is awaiting the draw on April 13.