NLSA Molson Challenge Cup

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Coach's Corner by Gord Dunphy - The Southern Gazette published on July 16, 2013

Blair Aylward 'The man in blue'

 The St. Lawrence Laurentians have played  soccer for over a century and one would
have to agree there have been some soccer greats during that time.You would also have to admit different players bring different styles of play to the field. Some are very skilled; others are tough, while others may be designated as role players.
Having said this, to become a winner, all of those players need to display a great level of desire, determination and dedication to be crowned champions.
Blair Aylward had all of these features while he was a member of the St. Lawrence Laurentians as a player. The man simply played with ‘heart’.
In 2009 Blair, and his wife Norma, were stuck with personal tragedy when they lost a son. For the next three years, Blair went through some trying times. Now in 2013, Blair Aylward is back and it is great to see to him on a regular basis at the soccer field.
He’s back proudly displaying the Laurentians’ blue but at another level of his great passion. The difference is, he is now the head coach of his beloved Laurentians.
Let’s take a look at this ‘Man in Blue’.

1.What is your full name?
Fabian Blair Aylward

2. What is your occupation?
Financial Consultant/Property investor

3. How long have you been involved with the sport of soccer?
Since I was 8, I think. I only really caught the blue plague when we moved from Little St. Lawrence to downtown St. Lawrence, around 1980.

4. What was your greatest accomplishment as a player?
Definitely the memory with greatest positivity was claiming the Bronze in Halifax in 2007. We lost the first two games but got to replay game two on a disputed call. We ended up getting in a zone, playing some of the best soccer I’ve witnessed, and won three national tournament games in less than 36 hours. “Zeros to heroes,” one would say.

5. What was your greatest disappointment as a player?
2002 Nationals in St. John’s was the most amazing sporting week of my life. We had won seven straight years but never got to host. We had a number of hall-of-fame veterans making one last grasp at our ultimate prize, and our community’s missing jewel.
I’ve never witnessed such a display of heart and have never been so proud and honoured to play alongside a bunch of men in my life. What we’ve dreamed of since we were kids and an opportunity to shut the doors on the disappointment of our heroes in 1975 and 1977. Everything was like a movie. But, sporting-wise, the ending haunts me, it haunts us all. It always will.

6. Name the top three players you played with?
#1 and #2 TIE: Mike Howlett /Richard Kelly: I could write a book on these two alone. Let’s just say, these are special talents. The kind I’d pay top dollar to watch. And I had a front row seat for free.
#3. I’m sorry Gord but I honestly can’t pick a #3 player. I played with to many quality players to break it down to just three. All I can say is it would have to come from Harry Kelly, Bob Spearns, Dr. Paul ‘Manager’ (Slaney), Clinton Edwards, Rudy Norman, Andrew Perrot, Derek Strang, Marc Pittman, Scott Bishop or Alec Turpin.

7. Name the top three players you played against.
I will just stick with locals here. I won’t include John Catliff or any other opponents I’ve played at National competition.
#1. Jimmy Flemming – If this guy were born in St. Lawrence, he would have made a name for himself in Europe. He has skill, natural physique, composure, class, speed and an ungodly acceleration unlike I’ve ever witnessed in this country.
#2. Dick Power – I only played against him a few times but learned gallons each experience. I slid at him my first ever game on KGV when I was 18, after busting his nose and thought he was going to kill me. He jumped my slide tackle, set up a goal and reached his hand down, still bleeding profusely, pulled me up and said “Get off ass your young fella! You won’t get far in midfield on the ground!” You were actually coaching and put me in Gord! Thanks for the clinic. That man was class.
#3. Brian Francis – He used to frustrate the hell out of me. He was too smart to hold the ball long enough for me to hit him. He made the game look so easy.

8. What’s one thing related to soccer that bugs you?
Lack of commitment!

9. What is your personal motto that you coach by?
Out train, out will. Sacrifice. Belief. Believe the improbable is always possible ... If you embrace the first three attributes!

10. As a coach, what do you feel are your best qualities?
My immense experience as a player, my understanding of how to motivate different personalities, my passion and my utter hatred of not giving everything humanly possible to be last man standing.

11. As a coach, what do you feel are your worst qualities?
Impatience – I want my young players to know what I’ve learned over 30 years of soccer. Adjusting to seeing the game from the sidelines, and accepting the fact I no longer have any form of direct control of our fate once the game commences, is not always easy.

12. Name the toughest soccer player you ever played with or against in the province?
Alec Turpin – I’ve played against him, but played with him the majority of my career, thankfully! Both of our longevities may not have made it as far besides.
Harry Kelly – He could endure more pain than any human I’ve ever seen. His sacrifice was contagious. Not a measurable stat. But nothing we accomplished would’ve been possible without his insane will to not relent. He made us all learn to embrace pain and accept it as a companion and a necessity, if to be the victor.
Bob Spearns – What can I say? True leader, Warrior, Mentor.

13. What is the most vivid dream you've ever had when it comes to soccer?
May sound wacko talk to some, as it did for me when I was approached about importance of visualization when I was a teenager.  But the more determined and focused I became on winning, I would visualize and end up dreaming about many possible game situations. Especially before a final game. And in 1999, a few of those visions became reality. My mental memory made me react a millisecond faster on a couple of certain plays that may have sealed our fate otherwise.

14. What is your most treasured soccer award?
The National medals that I’ve won as a member of the St. Lawrence Laurentians are my most treasured awards. However, I also hold very dearly to my heart the Top Defender Award, which I received in Challenge Cup in 2000. I believe I am the only wing-back to ever get that honor. Thanks to Norbert Doyle and Scott Bishop, who taught me the trade, and were passed over before the league noticed how we could control a game from wing-back.

15. Who’s one Challenge Cup soccer player that is presently playing for another club that you'd love to add to strengthen your team?
Matthew Hamyln – Unique mix of athletic ability, soccer IQ, vision, etc. A midfield general that I think has only scratched the surface of his potential. I can remember him as a young boy, down helping us train for nationals in 2002, with his Dad (Jim Bob), a great soccer man and an even better person!

16. Playoffs always bring on extra pressure, do you feel any extra pressure the 2013 Challenge Cup playoffs are scheduled for St. Lawrence?
Playing in St. Lawrence there is always pressure. I think it’s an advantage! Most people think every team envies us just because we’ve won so often? Not entirely. It’s mostly because they wish they had the support we have! Thousands of people that care if they win or collapse trying and who follow them all over the country. It’s just not about the players when you’re a Laurentian. We have a responsibility to our fans, our town and our legacy. Our roster is 5000+ deep.

17. I know that for you, having played and now presently coaching the St. Lawrence Laurentians is an honor. What are your feelings?
I wasn’t ready for this. But, I abruptly disappeared from my team a few years ago for obvious life reasons. I felt I owed them whatever I had to give. I felt they needed my passion. From my dialogue with some players, I felt that’s what was missing most. I’ve played with half the dressing room. They trust me, believe in me and know I’d move mountains for them if I can help them succeed.

18. After 2013, what’s in store for Blair Aylward?
My family – Norma, Chase and Marc. I said previously I accepted to take on this challenge because I felt this team needed me. But I never realized how much I needed them again. It’s helping me climb the last few rungs to the sunlight. I’ll forever be in their debt. I will never ever forget both of my parents, they taught me family will always come first and there were times my sister, Tracey, gave me some good advice too. But, I will continue to support and assist to grow St. Lawrence and NL soccer in some (presently undecided) capacity.

19. What do you feel the future holds for Challenge Cup Soccer on the Burin Peninsula?
That depends on the long-term sustainability of the industries and economy in the region. No kids, no soccer. It’s that simple.

20. If you were president of the NLSA what’s one thing you would change?
The NLSA needs to put more emphasis on the rural areas such as the Burin Peninsula. The hot bed of soccer in Canada has ‘one’ Challenge Cup team. Ten years ago we had six. Why is that? Also, I’d make Challenge Cup games 15-minute halves and field size 70 x 50. That way I’d never have to retire and still be effective.

No comments:

Post a Comment