It didn’t take Gary Drake long to break out the “C” word when asked about Corner Brook’s Challenge Cup soccer squad.Drake, who runs development squads for the Leicester Football Club in England, is helping fellow countryman Ian Marshall run the city’s Challenge Cup practices while head coach Garland Oram is out of the country. Drake is visiting Marshall for the summer and will be passing on his expertise until he returns home in August.
He believes the team is looking good with a sprinkle of youngsters and a solid nucleus of talent to build on. But, he said, the level of commitment (the “C” in question) players bring to the turf will ultimately dictate how the team fares against the top players in the province.“If we can get everyone training and get everyone fit then we will have a good chance,” he said. “We need everyone to commit for 10 games of the season.”He insists players will have to make Challenge Cup a priority for the summer and be committed to playing every game, particularly the five road games. Competing against highly-skilled teams like St. Lawrence and Holy Cross, he said, will require players being in top physical form. “Everyone needs to be at least in a shape where they feel comfortable to play because it is a little different playing in the Corner Brook league than Challenge Cup,” he said.
On a regular basis, upwards of 30 players have been attending practice sessions with hopes of making the squad. On Tuesday night, hopefuls for the squad played a friendly against Bar Room Tactics FC of the Corner Brook Molson Senior Soccer League and came away with a 7-0 win.Drake, who played semi-pro at home, said he has been impressed with the effort of guys like Colin Lynch, Paul Prosper and Pat Fewer in both the friendly and the training sessions. More importantly though, a handful of Under-16s have caught his eye and, by no means, look out of place.“Obviously, Challenge Cup needs to be looking at the Under-16s as the future,” said Drake, who feels there’s a lot of energy in the midfield in the early going.
Coach Oram is expected back in the country on June 1, and the roster is expected to be announced the following day. The Challenge Cup season opens June 20.The Challenge Cup circuit features six teams, with one of them being the Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games team, which doesn’t qualify for the post-season. The top four teams advance to the playoff round for a chance at winning the cup, which means one team is sent packing at the end of the regular campaign.“The first expectation is to qualify for finals weekend and then whatever happens in the finals weekend ... we want to try and win it really, but obviously being the first year (back in the league) we’re expecting to do as best we can and use it as a learning process,” he said.“It’s going to be the best soccer that people have seen around Corner Brook for a few years,” he added. “It will be a good standard to come watch.”