The Lions marked the 5th Anniversary of the 2010 Championship Season at the 2015 Lions Awards. The Rugby Report looks a back at that run to the final…
It was the culmination of many years work, polished off with a dose of Aussie influence. It was 5 years ago and it was a banner year for the Lions as they dominated the League and took the Northeast title.
Many in the team that season had been stalwarts from the club’s rebuilding years. Stalwarts like Adil Manari, Chris Gunsten, Carl Trezza, Kimani Davis, and Steve Raia had been regulars in the A side for a decade by then. More recent additions like Austin Enright, Alex Kallman, and captain Pat McJury had rounded out the first team regulars and brought new energy to the side; as well as Danny Kroll, who helped the Lions play a fast expansive game and proved to be a scoring machine.
Then there was the addition of coach Expo Mejia. Brought in through the Lions’ Filipino connection (we have had 5 players capped for the Philippines!), Expo was part of the Brumbies and Australian Rugby Union set up. And he came to town to bring it all together and get the Lions playing some of their best rugby in history.
Pat McJury thought back and shared, “It was just a good time for the club when both A and B players were all about the club. It was the start of the killer B’s. The numbers at training were great for both sides, and the competition on Tuesdays and Thursday was tremendous. The club was really organized in all aspects from Old Boys support, to coaching, to player and team management, player development, physios, game day logistics, etc. We had a dedicated team manager in Shashi Khemlani, who was worth his weight in gold. It really allowed the players to focus on the important things, like rugby. We were really hyper-focused on working hard at training, winning games, and playing good footy, but we still maintained the integrity and soul of what it is to be a Village Lion.”
“We won almost every game except one,” McJury continued. “And we won every drink up ( even though I was the weakest link for the latter ). We really took it too many of our rivals, and established, and won, the Village Cup, which we also won back this year after a bit of an absence!”
“The rugby we were playing under coach Expo was beautiful,” remembers Raia. “We were a well-oiled machine with a common focus of getting the job done on the pitch.”
After an initial loss to the CT Yanks, the Lions turned into a juggernaut. The Lions not only won, but they won big and they won in style.
Below, we take a look at that season, along with some commentary from the time:
2010 League & Playoff Schedule and Results:
September 11: Village Lions 22, Danbury 20
Chris Hitch on debut scored the matchwinner in injury time for Lions to win 22-20.
September 18 a loss to the Connecticut Yankees
September 25 a friendly against Filipino players striving for national team selection.
October 2, Village Lions 67, Montclair 14
A huge win with Adil Manari named Man of the Match
October 9: Village Lions 69, Union 69-0 (Friends & Family Day)
October 16: Village Lions 56, North Jersey 34
A 56-34 thumping of North Jersey, with Chris Hitch scoring 5 tries in his last game for the Lions before heading to Europe.
October 23: Village Lions 50, Montauk 24
Lions smash Montauk 50-24 after being down 24-22. Fourth straight week scoring 50 + points, putting Lions second in the standings.
October 30: Village Lions 45, Princeton Athletic Club 17
November 6: Village Lions 38, Lansdowne 26
The League season came down to an early November faceoff against undefeated Lansdowne, the rough and tumble Irish guys from the north Bronx. A tense first half gave way to the Lions’ now patented offensive explosion; the club’s 38-26 win on the fast Randalls Island rug gave the 6-1 Lions sole possession of first place. Practicing on smooth, expansive, well lit fields enabled the club to replicate a lighting quick style in matches.
As much a source of pride was the performance of the B team, which went undefeated for the season.
November 13: Village Lions 64, Newport 20
Lions defeat Newport 64-20, Danny Kroll contributing 39 points and earning a chandelier while Patrick H McJury flew in from Florida to captain us. Next Saturday we’ll play the regional semi final and final at Randall’s, the winner of that match will go to Nationals.
November 20: Village Lions 61, Connecticut Yankees 26
Northeast Title Match:
November 21: Village Lions 39, Middlesex 13
The final against a game young Boston team called Middlesex saw the Lions up 10-8 midway through the first half, the teams prodding each other for weaknesses like boxers. Near the end of the half, Stevie Raia took the pass from captain Patrick McJury. Middlesex saw it coming, but after taking on an irate bull in Portugal, a wall of rugby defenders is nothing. Raia hauled a half dozen Middlesex men on his back, his sheer will carrying him across the goal line.
Steve Raia again, “When I jumped up after scoring and started running back to halfway the sidelines were going bananas. It was an out of body experience where I just saw everyone jumping and screaming and felt like the ground was moving.”
Middlesex was a different team after that play, having taken on the Lions’ toughest, and been knocked on their asses. The Village Lions, sporting the red lion logo on their chest, ran away with a 39-13 win. The players came sprinting off the Randall’s Island pitch as the Northeast champs. Raia, at 33, forgot about his laundry list of injuries for a moment, and Chris “Gunner” Gunsten forgot he was 42, as the players ran through a thunderous tunnel of Lions, past and present, to the sideline.
Gunner held the championship plaque aloft. Some players went off to quiet spots for introspective moments: Hooker Austin Enright to think about the father he’d lost in the spring, Kimani Davis to connect with his best friend Seth Goldfein, who’d gotten him to play rugby at Bard, and died in a car accident. Davis then walked over to a few of the old boys he’d known when he first showed up for training way back in 1999. “I told you I’d be back,” he said with a broad smile and emotion all over his voice.
Raia had made good on his vow to get the Lions back to Division 1. “We’re not professionals—we do it because we love the sport, and you have to love the people you play with,” Raia says. “Some of my best friends in my life are on this team.”
The league would soon be re-organized so that a new Division 2 comprised of many D1 clubs would be established, which is where the Lions now play.
Looking back on his time in New York, Coach Expo offered, “Coaching the Lions team of 2010/11 was one of the most enjoyable times of my life. What made the group so amazing was their willingness to soak up new concepts and to implement different patterns on the field. I remember our attack was electric and we could score from any part of the field. Physically we were dominant in the collision area and that’s what laid the platform for those amazing tries. They were the greatest bunch of characters who worked hard and certainly knew how to party!! From the old war horses like Raia to the new guns leading the next generation of Lions players, we were the team everyone feared. It was an honor to coach a team all the way to the Nationals and I hope that in the near future that National title which eluded our team will sit proudly in the lions trophy cabinet.”
“What was really special about the run,” Raia recalls, “was that the club came together to fully support the 23 picked for game day each week. The B-side was at each match led by Youngie, the Old Boys and Women were in attendance and cheering us on. Every match in the playoffs felt like Friends & Family day and it carried us on and off the pitch. A magical time to be a Lion for sure.”
“That season,” McJury reflects, “really set an upward trajectory of the quality of play for the club; the rugby IQs of the players, and in general the direction of the club to encompass all halves of rugby – 1st, 2nd, and 3r. The fruits of those labors can be seen today with the quality, numbers, commitment, and support the club is enjoying.”
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