Dawson MacNeil has high expectations for this year’s Sydney Academy Wildcats football team, and for good reason.
MacNeil and the Wildcats had one of their most successful seasons in the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation in 2018, advancing to the Division 2 league championship, only to lose to Dartmouth High School.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, MacNeil believes the defeat has helped the team heading into the 2019 season.
“I think it gives us an extra push to know that this year we can get to the finals and that we can do it, it’s just whether we’re going to be able to work hard enough to get there,” said MacNeil, who will serve as one of the club’s captains.
“The expectations are high this year and we’re really hoping to have some success – we know what we have to do and we’re motivated to do well.”
Sydney Academy will open the new season this weekend when they host the Cobequid Educational Centre Cougars (CEC) of Truro on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Open Hearth Park in Sydney.
The club will have 20 returning players from last year, which is something MacNeil considers to be a benefit for the Wildcats.
“We have experience playing in the league and know what the league is all about,” said MacNeil, a Grade 11 student.
“The experience of getting to the league final is something nobody can take away from us, so it will really help the guys going into the new year for sure.”
Sydney Academy will have 35 players on its team this year. However, the club hopes to add a few more bodies as the season goes on.
“The core of the team is back, so we’re expecting to have some really good football,” said Wildcats head coach Lorne Burke.
“There are some teams in the league where they have a lot of athletes on their teams and they will be tough to play, but I think we’re going to compete better with some of the better schools and we’re excited about that.”
2019 Sydney Academy Wildcats schedule:
Sept. 15 – 2 p.m. – Vs. Cobequid Educational Centre
Sept. 21 – 4 p.m. - @ Northeast Kings Education Centre
Sept. 28 – 5 p.m. – Vs. Millwood High School
Oct. 5 – 5 p.m. - @ Citadel High School
Oct. 12 – 5 p.m. – Vs. Prince Andrew High School
Oct. 19 – 2 p.m. - @ Avon View High School
Oct. 27 – 1 p.m. - @ Cole Harbour High School
*All home games will be played at Open Hearth Park in Sydney.
The NSSAF football league will feature 20 teams this year. The clubs will be divided into two conferences – Nova and Scotia – and will feature Division 1, Division 2 and Division 3 schools.
Sydney Academy, a Division 2 school, will play in the Nova Conference and will face Northeast Kings Education Centre, Millwood High School, Citadel, Prince Andrew, Avon View and Cole Harbour over the two-month season.
Last year, the Wildcats faced the Cougars during the regular season and suffered a difficult last-second loss thanks to a field goal with no time remaining on the clock.
MacNeil, who’s entering his second year with the Wildcats, believes the loss to CEC was the turning point in the Wildcats season.
“I would say it was our eye-opener game,” said MacNeil. “It was a game where we thought we should have beat those guys, not that they were a bad team, but we had a very good game and led until the final second.
“We all left the field pretty upset about the loss, but we all realized that we can compete in this league and that we had a chance to win every time we went out there.”
MacNeil expects Sunday's game to be competitive and enjoyable for local football fans.
“It’s going to be a really good game and it’s good football to watch,” said MacNeil. “The more people who come out and support the program, the more excited the players get and hopefully the better we will do.”
Following Sunday’s game, Sydney Academy will hit the road on Sept. 21 to play Northeast Kings Education Centre in Canning, N.S. The club will return home to play Millwood on Sept. 28 in Sydney.