American seminary soccer team falls short of Clericus Cup but savors growth

.- With their rabid fans looking on, the North American Martyrs came up short in their bid to upset the reigning champions of the Clericus Cup, a soccer tournament held every year between Rome's pontifical seminaries. Despite the 1-0 loss, the Martyrs took consolation in the strong team unity that marked the year and their work ethic.

As they prepared to face their rival Redemptoris Mater, the American seminarians meditated on the words of St. Paul:

"Every athlete exercises self-discipline in all things. They do it to get a crown of leaves that withers, but we for one that never withers. I, then, run in such a way so I'm not aimless. I fight in such a way so I'm not beating the air. Rather I knock out my body and enslave it, lest somehow, after preaching to others, I myself am proved unfit."

The "world cup of priests and seminarians," pitted defending champions Redemptoris Mater against the North American Martyrs from the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) for the second straight year.

This annual soccer tournament brings together 16 teams made up of seminarians, deacons and priests from the Pontifical Colleges around Rome to test their mettle in the battle for the cherished Clericus Cup.

Mentally and physically prepared, sharp from five months of twice-a-week practices and games on Saturdays and a greater focus on the prayer life of the team, the 25-strong American squad entered the game confident that this was their time to take home the trophy in front of the rabid PNAC fans, who were voted the best of the tournament.

Deacon Daniel O'Mullane, an assistant coach and player, was at the meeting four years ago where the team was proposed and remembers saying to the guys, "This is what our plan is, this is how we're going to play, this is who we are and this is what it's going to take to bring the cup home.

"At that point, everybody laughed at me and none of us, myself included, ever could have seen that we would be playing in two finals, back to back, in this tournament."

Leading up to the game, O'Mullane told CNA on Wednesday, they were riding a great year of progress on and off the field marked by a sense of fraternity and strengthened values of teamwork, discipline and fortitude.

"That's really what showed this year, we came together as a team."

So, Saturday's game (May 29), which marked the sixth time in four years the teams had met, was a heart-breaker when at the final whistle the score read 1-0 in favor of the Redemptoris Mater. Even more difficult to bear was that the Martyrs were beat for the fifth time by the same score, and it was in some part due to the performance of the same player that kept them from the goal last year.

The deacon said although no one is "happy" to have come up short, "in retrospect looking at where we've been able to come - from a group of guys that really had no idea what they were doing on a soccer field to really a viable soccer team, for us, it's an important accomplishment, it's something we can really look at with some sense of Christian pride."

Citing the importance of athletics to intellectual and spiritual formation, he hoped also that their work ethic on the pitch would be taken out into the world.

"Being able to take that off the field, I think, is to say that no matter what we are, no matter where we find ourselves, what work we're doing, what our apostolate might be, we have to work really hard no matter what we think our gifts are, to really give ourselves fully and really invest in what we're doing."

Deacon O'Mullane will be back next year, then as a priest, to take one more shot at the title and, perhaps, one more shot at redemption against the two-time defending champs.

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