CORNER BROOK When Mark Fitzpatrick first broke in with the West Side Monarchs back in 1997, he had no way of knowing it would take 16 years before he would play in a championship game.
The Monarchs, after all, were just three years removed from a Corner Brook Molson Senior Men’s Soccer League title and Fitzpatrick was one of a young crop of new players donning the gold and black, looking to continue those winning ways.
Fast-forward to 2013, Friday night to be exact, when the Monarchs meet the defending champion Steers Insurance Curling Rangers in the league final — their first since that 1994 victory over those same Rangers.
“You kind of expect to get one maybe a little earlier on ... you get kind of sick of seeing the same teams in the final each year,” said the 33-year-old. “I think this is good for the league and certainly good for us.
“Hopefully it won’t be the last time we get here.”
Not much had changed with the Monarchs roster this season. That is, until former English Premier League goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, now a resident of the area, decided he wanted to get a few games in.
Since Grobbelaar joined the fold, the team has undergone an undeniable alteration, as evidenced by victories in important matches against teams like the Health and Performance Physiotherapy Hawks and the Under-18s that punched their ticket to the big dance. Those are games the Monarchs have habitually let slip away from them in previous campaigns.
“We’re feeling good because we’re playing well,” said Fitzpatrick. “A whole lot of games turned out really well for us.”
Within that confidence comes the ability to prepare for Friday night’s encounter like any other game, even though it’s a game only one member of the current roster has been a participant in — at least, as a Monarch — before.
“We definitely don’t want to try to do anything different,” Fitzpatrick said. “We want to try and stick with what’s been working for us.”
In addition to solid instruction from playing coach Pat Fewer, who joined the team a few seasons back, Grobbelaar has been instrumental in orchestrating a game plan that features short passes, quick feet and a call for keeping the ball on the ground. To a man, the group believes in the system, to the point where they don’t even care what the opposition might be doing.
“We’re just going to try and play our game,” said Fitzpatrick. “I think if we stick to our style, we can come out on top.”
All that being said, Fitzpatrick is aware of his team’s underdog status against the Rangers — a club that has won nine of the last 10 league titles and defeated the Monarchs 1-0 on Sept. 29 to earn their spot in the final.
“It’d be silly to think we’re not the underdog here,” he said. “But we’re fine with that.”
The wild card, of course, is Grobbelaar. Though this game ultimately means very little compared to the epic championship matches the Liverpool FC legend has competed in during his illustrious career, one doesn’t become a successful professional athlete without an abnormally high compete level. Grobbelaar is wired to win, no matter the stakes.
“You can see his intensity out there ... he really likes to take control and get involved and it gets everyone else worked up too,” Fitzpatrick said. “I can’t wait to see how big of a game it is for him.”
Fitzpatrick hopes it’s just as big as it will be for him, and other veterans of the gold and black, who have persevered to, at last, reach that promised land.
“I knew it might take a long time to get there, but I was willing to stick it out and keep trying every year,” said Fitzpatrick. “We’re feeling pretty good that we’re finally getting a crack at it.”
The Monarchs and Rangers lock horns 7:45 p.m. Friday night at Wellington Street Sports Complex.