Once upon a time, Challenge Cup soccer in the province was outstanding. It wasn't just big … it was Texas football big.
But somewhere around 2000, things took a turn for the worse for the game, it's debatable. I don't know what the cause of it was, though some say it was the out-migration of a lot of potentially great players who never really truly got to shine in this province in Challenge Cup soccer like they did in their own age categories coming up through the system.
Others contend that it had a lot to do with poor coaching, that players were pushed out before they even got a chance to try out for their respective clubs, and that one of the biggest soccer dynasties in this province suffered the hardest by picking players and not giving them equal opportunity.
But those days are gone, and now we are left with a mere skeleton of a league that once prospered. No longer do club teams exist in places such as Lawn, Marystown, Burin, Grand Bank and the Guards in St. John’s.
The groundwork once existed for a phenomenal league to grow, but now the adjustment for an ever-changing generation and a drastically-changing league has been slow and painful to watch. Perhaps has been due to an older generation in place with old values for too many decades.
The always-controversial Final Four format for Challenge Cup provincial final weekend demonstrated some of the worst games displayed all summer.
With Holy Cross taking a dominating 5 -0 victory over St. Lawrence in the championship game, there is an obvious problem somewhere. I don't think anyone can really celebrate such a blowout victory.
This province aims to send its very best representative of senior men's soccer to the national championships every year. Was that what was demonstrated in the Final Four weekend? I think not!
All season, all teams play a regularly-scheduled format and then the top four teams are jammed into a compacted tournament format for playoffs.
In any sport, we know injuries are a potential factor. We want to send our best candidates to nationals, but I wonder if this can truly be achieved if all teams are not on an even playing field without a chance to recoup and re-strategize around potential unplanned losses of players, etc.
Some may argue that nationals take place in a tournament format. But those are stretched over the course of a week, and nationals are the final draw. Everyone attends knowing that this is the end of the season and they've had a chance to strategize for such an event.
If the event to determine a province’s top representative has not been properly planned, can we ever really hope to achieve national success?
Following a three-month season, it’s truly disappointing to have seen the way Challenge Cup soccer’s final weekend turned out. Instead of close, hard-fought glories, fans and players alike were left with shadows and dust of a game that once stood proud and tall.
Hitmen are softball’s Murderer’s Row
This past weekend, the Galway Hitmen won the Canadian senior men’s softball championship in St. Croix, N.S.
Being a softball fan and a native Newfoundlander, I took in the weekend games. I have seen many of these players over the last number of years, including their win in Fredericton a few years back.
While it cannot be argued that participation by all provinces in the national softball event has dropped, I would like to suggest that this team could quite likely beat any team from any era.
There has never been a team that hits from positions No. 1 through No. 9 like this Hitmen team. This lineup is very intimidating. If you have not been ruffled by leadoff hitter Mathieu Roy or taken deep by Jason Hill or Stephen Mullaley, you then have to deal with three Ezekiels and two Bolands who can flat out hit. Brad Ezekiel has a swing that can only be described as very similar to Ken Griffey Jr.
If that Murderer’s Row does not scare you, all-star Colin Walsh waits in the No. 9 spot.
This is a nasty lineup to keep down for seven innings, especially when Sean Cleary is dealing. Watching Cleary warm up is a delight when you consider his ability to make a softball do things it should not do.
He calmly and methodically ruins just about every at bat for the other team by surgically attacking the strike zone in a dazzling manner.
He is world class.
This team is a hitting machine, that is professional in every sense of the word relative to preparation and execution. Ontario, Saskatchewan, P.E.I., N.S. and B.C. all had some world class and Team Canada players.
The problem for them is that the Hitmen had a full team of them. It was no contest.
What is most amazing is that they are basically home grown. This comes from years and years of dedicated work and this team should be acknowledged. They are the best in Canada and some of these players are the best in the world at their sport.
When Ryan Boland hit his grand slam to end the championship game (it landed somewhere near Yarmouth), it cemented the dominant position of this team in the softball world.