CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – There’s a simple goal, at least on paper, for Richard Lush and Island Mariners heading into Saturday’s home opener in Cornwall.
“To be a realist… and win a damn football game,” said Lush, Mariners player-general manager, at a recent practice. “Winning makes it a little more fun to come to practice and not (worry about getting) your butt kicked.”
Last year, the newly-formed Mariners (rising from the ashes of the P.E.I. Privateers program) went 0-6 in its first season and bowed in the playoff semifinal to the Saint John Wanderers.
This year, the 0-2 Mariners (and 0-9 since last May) face the defending champ Moncton Mustangs (2-0) in its first Maritime Football League matchup at home for the elusive first win. Game time is 2 p.m. at the Terry Fox Sports Complex.
Moncton leads the four-team circuit, but not by much as it’s outscored opponents 69-46 in wins over the fledgling Halifax Harbour Hawks and Saint John, which has won four MacIntyre Cup titles this decade.
The Mariners are coming off substantial road defeats to Halifax (39-9) and Saint John (63-12), but new head coach Ryan Dempsey sees improvement at every practice.
“It hasn’t reflected that in the score unfortunately, but we’re working more as a unit, seeing who can do what,” said Dempsey, a former Privateers player “There are a lot of new guys, young guys out of high school, guys who haven’t played football in a while. It’s a slow process, but we’re making those steps. It may take a while, but it will be well worth it.”
Player commitment, always a bugaboo with the Privateers, looks improved this season as Lush said he’s got 43 bodies on the roster, including players from the varsity programs in Souris and Summerside. Last year, the Mariners played games with as little as 18 on the field.
New faces include Jarvis Simmonds taking over Dave Clark’s starting quarterback job as well as offensive co-ordinator Devon Sparman and special teams co-ordinator Cole Brydges.
Returning are Kyle Richardson, 52-year-old defensive lineman Donnie Mitchell and 2017 all-star offensive lineman Chris Murphy.
The speedy Clark, despite goading from his GM, is on the fence for committing to the season given his recent return from the world cheer championships and the toll it took.
“There’s a lot of wear and tear on the body. I definitely want to this year and I’m training to see where I’m at,” said Clark.
As to where Saturday’s game stands, Dempsey, who’s from Moncton and knows many of the players on the Moncton roaster, said winning comes down to planning and a little seat-of-the-pants modification.
“We have as game plan that we believe will work, (but) we’ll have to make adjustments (at halftime). Whoever makes the better adjustments will come out on top.”
Saint John (1-1) visits Halifax (1-1) in Saturday’s other game.
NEED TO KNOW
A Maritime Football League primer.
How many teams? Four — Saint John Wanderers, Island Mariners, Moncton Mustangs, Halifax Harbour Hawks.
Who’s the champ? Moncton, second title since 2010.
Who’s the league for? Players 18-years-old and up.
When do they play? Saturday: Saint John at Halifax, 1 p.m.; Moncton at Island Mariners, Cornwall, 2 p.m.
He Said It: “Having veteran players embracing the program and not fighting the program is encouraging.” Richard Lush, Island Mariners general manager and player, on veterans supporting the second-year Mariners program.
Contact the Mariners at email@example.com.