Don’t look now, but York9 FC is undefeated at The Island Games.
Sure, they started the campaign with three draws, but Wednesday’s high-octane 3-2 win over Forge FC proved that the Nine Stripes have designs on a deep run in PEI.
Y9 coach Jimmy Brennan sat in front of the media last Saturday, after drawing Valour FC 0-0, and said that he wasn’t overly concerned with his side’s failure to convert chances, given that they were, in his words, “getting into the right areas,” winning battles in midfield, and making good attacking runs.
All three goals on Wednesday may have come from set-pieces, but Brennan still saw the offensive breakthrough as a just reward for his side’s play.
“You’re getting set pieces because you’re doing the right things,” Brennan said. “You’re getting fouled, or you’re getting to the byline and you’re trying to create something, where it gives you an opportunity to get a corner or a free kick, whatever it may be.
“Like I said before, it was about us getting into those final areas, being creative, getting opportunities. I think we handled them well today and I’m delighted with how we executed. … It was only a matter of time where we said things are gonna start clicking for us in that final third.”
It’s always validating for a team to see something go precisely to plan, which is essentially what happened for York9 when they scored their second goal against Forge. After working hard to win the corner, Kyle Porter sent his cross perfectly to the near post over plenty of traffic, where Joseph Di Chiara was waiting to flick home.
According to Brennan, the play was pretty much just how he’d drawn it up on the training ground.
“We go over them an awful lot on the pitch, and also in presentations to make sure that our delivery’s good, our runs are accurate, and today it paid off,” he said.
Di Chiara himself added that a slight coaching adjustment just before his 34th-minute goal also helped him find the right spot.
“They actually told me I think maybe five minutes before, they told me maybe change your run a little, start a little deeper and go to that first post,” Di Chaira said. “So it ended up being a good delivery and I got my head on it.”
Di Chiara earned special plaudits on Wednesday for his man-of-the-match performance, which saw him not only score twice but win 16 duels, make six tackles, and remain perfect in his passing until the 90th minute (he missed two in stoppage time).
“When you see Joe play in a match, that’s how Joe trains every single day,” Brennan said of his midfielder. “Right after the match I gave him a hug because I knew he deserved it, and the goals were gonna come for him. Overall I thought he was spectacular today. What a performance from him.”
The whole match was far from a perfect showing for York9, who allowed Forge back into it with two goals just after halftime, but they certainly deserve credit for recovering from a moment that could easily have sunk them.
A quick collapse like the one they’d suffered by the 52nd minute could force a team to crumble, but Brennan credits his players with sticking it out, winning a penalty to reclaim the lead, and ultimately shutting things down.
“You concede two goals within six minutes and that’s not good enough, that needs to be corrected,” he said. “But I looked at the bench and I said, ‘We’re alright here, we’re gonna nick another one.’ And we did.”
Now that York9 has broken through offensively and found their first win — and against Forge, no less — they feel like the best is yet to come at The Island Games. They moved into third in the table with the win, and a close derby win like Wednesday’s is one that could certainly galvanize a team in a short season.
“It was huge for us just to get that win,” Di Chiara said. “Six points right now allows us to have a little bit of breathing room after the three straight draws, and we can build from this. It’s huge, it’s huge for us.”