Not the Corner Brook Molson Senior Men’s Soccer League championship, no — at least, not yet.
Their already-awarded prize is something he considers even more valuable.
Four years ago, there was no men’s soccer team in Stephenville. The town that had previously lost the Bay St. George Mets senior baseball team and the long-running men’s basketball league was dealt another blow, sports-wise, when the soccer team folded due to a lack of available players.
That simply wasn’t good enough for Keats and, after suffering through a two-year hiatus from the league, he spearheaded an effort to target young players and get the team back on the pitch. Three years later, the squad is thriving, having finished first place in the regular season standings playing an abbreviated, points-heavy schedule to reduce travel. There’s also now a Stephenville team in the Corner Brook Women’s Soccer League.
“It’s something for our minor players to look forward to, to be able to play with the local team,” said Keats of the senior clubs.
Of course, Keats isn’t saying he doesn’t want to hoist that trophy later today, but he doesn’t think a championship victory would have any more of an impact on the soccer community in Stephenville than the very fact a team exists at all.
“Young players that want to continue playing have a spot on this team, regardless of whether we’re in first or last,” he said.
That youth movement is the backbone of the club, said Keats. Younger players are routinely started and several have become go-to guys on the pitch alongside the veterans. It’s an effective mix he feels could certainly prove to be a successful championship formula.
But standing in their way is the Steers Insurance Curling Rangers, a veritable juggernaut that has won the last three league titles and 11 of the last 12.
Rangers’ Chris Griffin has nothing but respect for what Keats and the rest of the Stephenville contingent have accomplished in the three years since rejoining the league. He’s not at all surprised to see them in the final because he said, ever since he was coming up through the minor program, Stephenville has always produced quality soccer players and been a formidable foe.
But the plain truth is, the Rangers really don’t care who their opponent is. They always seem to find a way to make it to the championship game and, more often than not, pull out the win, regardless of which team is left standing stunned on the other side.
“We’re pretty greedy when it comes to the trophy,” Griffin said. “We don’t like sharing it around and we want to take it from anybody we can.”
It’s something Keats freely acknowledges. In the two previous times the Stephenville club has made the league final, both of which happened in its previous incarnation, they were defeated by the Rangers.
“It’s their league to win, every year,” he said. “But ... you’d like to beat the team that’s dominated the league if you’re going to win it.”
The championship clash occurs 3 p.m. today at Wellington Street Sports Complex.
A look at this season’s meetings between the Steers Insurance Curling Rangers and Clancy’s Pub:
June 7 — Rangers 4, Clancy’s 0
Aug. 30 — Clancy’s 3, Rangers 1
Sept. 7 — Rangers 3, Clancy’s 2
Sept. 13 — Rangers 2, Clancy’s 1*
Sept. 20 — Clancy’s 3, Rangers 2 (PK)*
* — denotes playoff round game