It’s the fitness, says Paul Mullett, but teammate John Breen swears it’s the quickness that is the first to go when you finally realize it’s time to step away from soccer’s top level.
The two Holy Cross Trinity Pub masters (35 years and over) soccer players agree on one thing: getting out of bed after a game these days takes a little more time and effort.
Breen and Mullett are competing in the Molson provincial masters tournament which continues today at Smallwood Park in Mount Pearl. The B championship game is set for noon Sunday and the A division final is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Breen, 55, has been playing masters for 20 years, one less than he played at the senior level. And, for a few years, he played in both divisions.
“I just can’t get away from it. It’s in my blood … I have passion for it. I really enjoy it,” said Breen.
Playing the game for over 40 years does take its toll, however.
“I’ll get up in the morning after a game and I’ll be stiff and all that, but after a few hours you loosen up,” said Breen.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to run around the (Quidi Vidi Lake) pond yet,” he added with a laugh. “But it’s great to still be at it with the boys.”
For Mullett, 52, who is in his 17th masters season after playing with and coaching Holy Cross seniors, it’s physically tough just to walk the day after a game.
“I’m playing on two wonky knees and some people say I’m crazy to keep playing, but I love it,” said Mullett. “The need to play never leaves you.”
“The camaraderie with the boys is a great bit of fun. After the games, you get to razz the guys for mistakes which is something you never did at the Challenge Cup level.
Still wants to win
“You want to win any time you step on the field, but if you don’t win, it’s no big deal at this level. When we played Challenge Cup, you lived and died with the result of those games,” he said.
Breen said the key to playing masters is to play smart and not run all over the field.
He agrees with Mullett in that he still goes out to win every game, but it’s not the same as when he played with the dominant Holy Cross senior teams of the 1980s.
“I don’t go in for 50-50 balls the way I used to,” he conceded with a smile.
Playing masters soccer isn’t the only way Breen and Mullett stay close to the game these days.
They coached at the provincial under-14 girls’ level this summer and enjoyed it immensely. St. John’s claimed the under-14 girls’ Atlantic championship in Charlottetown, P.E.I. in July.
“I’d rather play than coach,” said Breen, but coaching minor soccer gives him satisfaction just the same.
“When you see kids at a soccer field or at the indoor facility smile when they see you coming because you may have helped them develop their game for a few years, that’s pretty satisfying,” he said.
As far as his minor soccer coaching is concerned, Mullett said it’s good to give something back to the game.
“If you’d seen the look of the girls’ faces after we won the gold medal, you’d understand why we do it,” said Mullett.
“The kids developed by leaps and bounds from the start of the season. They listened and that’s a credit to them.”
Mullett said both coaches talk about helping kids develop to the point of earning a university scholarship in Canada or the United States down the line.
“If we only help one of them to achieve that level, we’ve done our job and it’s all worth it.”
In terms of how long he will continue to play masters, Breen said, at this point, he’s taking it game-by-game and year-to-year.
Mullett, meanwhile, maintains he’ll continue to play masters soccer, “until I get my knees replaced.
“And that’s coming soon,” he added with a smile.