Negotiating the learning curve

John Browne
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Jim Hamlyns young St. Johns team still very much work in progress

Jim Hamlyn knows patience is a virtue that can get tested when working with a young team, but the rewards can be great. Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

St. Johns Mitsubishi Under-18 All-Stars coach Jim Hamlyn is nothing if not a prophet.

After earning a couple of ties this past weekend on the Burin Peninsula, Hamlyn cautioned his team not to get too carried away by its modest success because the Molson Challenge Cup is a tough soccer league.

Were just trying to make sure we dont get too far ahead of ourselves, said Hamlyn earlier this week. We could come out Wednesday night and get pounded.

And Wednesday night, Hamlyns team was pounded 6-1 by Mount Pearl That Pro Shop/Molson at Smallwood field.

We turned the ball over a lot at midfield and they (Mount Pearl) made us pay, said Hamlyn said after a match that saw Justin Pickford boot four goals for the home side.

St. Johns opened the scoring and had a fair share of ball possession in the first half, but things began to fall apart early after the break, when its midfielders held on to the ball too long and the backline was often caught flat-footed on the oppositions long, accurate passes up the middle of the field, many sending Pickford away.

Come on, come on, shouted Hamlyn about 20 minutes into the second half, Were better than this.

Were going to have our highs and lows. Its a humbling game, Hamlyn said when it was all over.

With any young team, its all about trying to get to a consistent level of play, said the St. Johns mentor about his team which had been fairly consistent up until Wednesdays disaster.

Theyre a pretty good group of kids and the are fit. The big thing is that they want to be better, said Hamlyn, who believes his team will bound back from the big defeat.

St. Johns was the first team to earn a point off the league-leading and defending champion St. Lawrence Laurentians this past weekend when the U18s held the defending Challenge Cup champions to a 1-1 draw in St. Lawrence.

Hamlyn said his players were very pleased with that result, despite being outplayed.

Ive been going to St. Lawrence as a player and a coach for a long time, said Hamlyn. Wins are scarce down there, so when you get a win or a tie, get out of Dodge.

The young St. Johns team earned the draw mainly on the play of goalkeeper Matthew Bailote.

Matthew stood on his head in that game, noted Hamlyn. Hes a quality keeper. Technically very good.

The teams other keeper is Michael Bartellas, who was in net when the U18s upset Holy Cross last week.

A young team needs to get good goalkeeping, said Hamlyn. Theyve both given us the top-level goalkeeping.

Up front, the St. Johns team has a pair of quality strikers in Aaron Anstey and Matthew Osmond.

Matthews really blossomed, said Hamlyn. Hes got good pace. Hes got a nose for the net and hes a kid who is relishing the opportunity hes been given.

At midfield is leader Andrew Stanford.

Hes captain of the team and hes sets a good example in terms of leadership, noted Hamlyn.

Team defence is something thats taken a little longer to come around.

Weve finally got our back four sorted out, said Hamlyn. Neil Fardy is playing in the middle with Adam Drover. Neil can play with any defence in the league. Hes been a top-notch defender since he was 12 or 13.

Theres still more work to be done, of course.

Wed like to keep more possession and go forward more than we do, but overall, you need to keep the game close and take advantage of your (scoring) chances and weve been able to do that, said Hamlyn.

Were going to struggle at times simply based on the physical size of the opposition. Its really boys against men, but these are boys who can play. If you raise your standards and expectations, then your job then becomes to maintain those expectations and standards. It is meant to be difficult. Thats when you grow thats when you develop and thats when you produce better players.

Hamlyn who, by all accounts, is doing a superb job with the young team, hopes many of his players will go on to play for university teams and he expects a few to try out this fall for Memorial Sea-Hawks.

For me, its not so much about winning provincials or competing in the nationals. Its about developing these guys to become good soccer players, either in Challenge Cup at the university level or beyond that.

A goal this summer, he concedes, is to advance to the Canadian age-group championships, where the team will face another tough challenge. It will have to win the provincial U-18 title before getting a shot at the nationals in Fredericton, N.B., during the Thanksgiving Day weekend,.

Still, based on the teams play in the Challenge Cup so far, that doesnt seem to be much of a hurdle.

More Challenge Cup coverage, page C4

Organizations: Molson

Geographic location: Mount Pearl, Dodge, Fredericton

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