By Cameron Tobin for The Pearl
Mount Pearl First Choice Haircutters’ coach Andrew Murphy is hoping his squad can keep its streak of strong play going for one more weekend: If so, Mount Pearl could wind up as the winner of this year’s Challenge Cup on its home turf at Smallwood field.
The third place club, which has been on a streak for the past month or so, will go up against fourth place Feildians Ernst and Young on Friday evening at Smallwood. The next day the winner will play the loser of the match between first place Holy Cross and second place St. Lawrence. And the winner of that game goes to the championship.
Mount Pearl is heading into the weekend with the confidence of having a top notch keeper in Brandon Noseworthy and the league’s top scorer in Justin Pickford.
Murphy said Noseworthy has been the biggest difference in the team this season. He came up through the Mount Pearl Minor Soccer Association’s system, but played the past few seasons with Holy Cross.
“Having one of the best goalies in the league behind you gives the back line a lot of confidence throughout the whole game,” Murphy explained. “And we’re pretty balanced throughout our whole lineup. We’ve got a strong backline, midfield and attackers. And we’ve gotten a lot of support in our goal scoring this year. With Justin Pickford, we’ve got the league’s top scorer. Having him have a big year has been huge for us too.”
Making good on their scoring opportunities will be a key requirement this weekend, Murphy said. “We are very capable of creating scoring chances, so finishing our chances early in the game will be important.”
Sprinkled throughout Mount Pearl’s lineup are finalists for Challenge Cup awards. Murphy has been nominated for the Jeff Babstock Award for top defender, Noseworthy has been nominated for the Al Slaney Award for top goalie, Matthew Hamlyn has been nominated for the Johnny Breen Award for top midfielder, and Pickford has been nominated for the Dick Power Award for league MVP.
Murphy feels Mount Pearl is capable of beating any of the teams it might face given recent successes against them. “They're both strong and experienced in final weekends,” he allowed of the top two finishers. “But we are coming off a win against St. Lawrence, and we tied our record against Holy Cross, so we know we are capable of beating either team."
Mount Pearl struggled at the beginning of the season, largely due to the unavailability of some key players earlier in the schedule. Murphy is delighted with the way the team has gelled since then. “We rebounded well, which has been a pleasant surprise for us,” he said. "Once everybody got back in town, we've been on a roll ever since. We had four guys out of town and getting them back is just what we needed."
Still, Mount Pearl’s success is not entirely unexpected. The squad is built around a core of players who have carried the club through several Challenge Cup seasons.
“We are in great shape because of all the training we did in the winter, and we have guys who have played many years in the Challenge Cup,” Murphy said. “So our experience is a key for us."
Murphy believes the key to success against the defending champion Crusaders is stopping their offensive attack. " They have players who are among the top scorers in league. If we can defend well as a group, we'll definitely give ourselves a good chance."
St. Lawrence too will be a strong contender, Murphy admitted. “St Lawrence has a lot of players who seem to have been in the league forever and they know how to win," he noted.
But Murphy remains confident.
“It’s been a good season,” he said. “We’ve performed well against all of the teams all year, so we know going into the weekend that we are capable of beating everyone. We just have to put it all together for one weekend. And we’ve got everybody healthy and everybody is training really well, so we’re pretty confident going into the weekend.”