Column: A rivalry like no other

John
John Browne
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The St. Lawrence Laurentians Sean Drew (left) and Holy Cross Crusaders’ forward Chris Pope vie for a header during Sunday’s Challenge Cup final at King George V Park. The game, while not a classic, was emblematic of the longtime rivalry between the two soccer clubs.

It’s so ensconced in provincial sports history you may as well just call it The Rivalry and be done with it.
It’s Holy Cross Kirby Group Crusaders against St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians and it doesn’t get any better in any sport.

Sunday’s Molson Challenge Cup soccer final wasn’t a classic by any means, but it was a tight defensive battle decided by just a few plays —  a Laurentians’ shot off the post and a Crusaders’ deflected shot that found the corner of the net pretty much summed up the contest at King George V Park in front of close to 2,000 spectators.

St. Lawrence coach Derek Strang was one of the last Laurentians to leave the field Sunday and he made sure he acknowledged the Holy Cross victory as he walked to his team’s dressing room.

It’s something you would expect from the classy mentor. And, in talking to players on the winning side, they had nothing but respect for the Laurentians.

Some of the younger players on each side are probably only now realizing the significance of a Holy Cross-St. Lawrence final. The veterans have probably passed down stories of previous great clashes. My guess is that everyone on the field Sunday knew the importance of the match to some degree or another.

“Playing St. Lawrence in the final is the rivalry everyone dreams of when you’re playing soccer in Newfoundland,” said Holy Cross veteran Ryan Yetman.

Yetman, whose blast from 25 yards beat St. Lawrence goalie John Douglas for the insurance marker late in the game added, “I had a little chat with John after the game. He’s been a great goaltender in this league and I respect him.”

The admiration both teams have for each other is commendable. Both are desperate to win and absolutely hate to lose. But that’s as far as it goes. They play a tough, physical game but it isn’t dirty soccer.

“They are a great team,” said Holy Cross captain Jeff Slaney. “It’s a great rivalry and we were lucky to come out on top. We’re lucky to have such a great rivalry.”

The atmosphere at any Challenge Cup final is made that much better when St. Lawrence Labatt Laurentians are involved.

Hundreds come in from the Burin Peninsula to support the Laurentians along with hundreds more from the peninsula who live in the St. John’s area. Then you have the loyal Holy Cross fans as well as those supporting other teams who just want to see the championship game no matter who wins.

Holy Cross won the final 2-0 but, once again, it was the local soccer community that was treated to a match that meant so much to those involved while adding another memorable chapter to the illustrious history of both clubs.

The rivalry is passed on from generation to generation.

For example, Matthew Breen, the game’s MVP, is the son of former Holy Cross star John Breen who had his battles with the Laurentians over the years, starting in the 1970s.

“It was an even battle with St. Lawrence all year,” said Holy Cross coach Jake Stanford. “It was another tough game, but I think we were the better team overall.”

 

jbrowne@thetelegram.com

BROWNIE POINTS

 

“How do you expect the province to compete at the national level when we only play 19 or 20 games in a season?” Gerry “Farmer” Reddy asked me following Sunday’s Cup final... Holy Cross soccer player Alex Pretty, who is a member of the 2014 Challenge Cup winning Crusaders, is related to the former HC soccer great Sam Pretty who is in the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Hall of Fame... There’s quite a contrast in styles between a couple of superb Laurentian defenders. Marc Pittman plays like a linebacker whereas Clinton Edwards plays like a surgeon. Both very effective in their way... I’d like to talk college football with Condoleezza Rice...

Organizations: Molson

Geographic location: King George V Park, Newfoundland

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