Abu Dhabi Wildcats aim to break drought in Desert Bowl rematch with Dubai Barracudas

Jay Asser 22:27 15/03/2018
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  • Wildcats running back Vivaldi Tulysse in action this season.

    It won’t be Tony Robinson‘s first rodeo, but for the Abu Dhabi Wildcats coach, this Desert Bowl has a different feel to it.

    The past two Emirates American Football League (EAFL) seasons have ended with the Wildcats falling short at the 1-yard line, figuratively speaking, and seeing the title slip out of their grasps.

    As they head into their third straight Desert Bowl and prepare to meet the Dubai Barracudas at Dubai Sports City on Friday, Robinson believes their fortunes will be different this time around because his team is different this time around.

    After being humbled at the start of the season by dropping their first four games, the Wildcats righted the ship with their first win ahead of the playoffs before knocking off the reigning champion Al Ain Desert Foxes in the first round.

    It’s been an usual path to get to the final week, but Robinson feel it’s only strengthened his side.

    “We don’t have the number that we’ve had in the past, so that’s made me coach a better and smarter game, and it’s made the guys play a smarter game,” Robinson said. “It also removes the mentality of ‘if I don’t do it, somebody else will’. So everyone has the mentality of ‘if we’re going to get this done, I got to do it’.

    “In terms of our play and for each one of the guys being accountable to the other guys, it’s a lot different than what it’s been in either of the past two years.”

    So while the Barracudas enter the match-up having already shut out the Wildcats in their only meeting back in late January, coach Zavier Cobb is putting little stock in that result.

    “At the time we played them, they were a depleted Wildcats team. Probably the worst Wildcats team I’ve seen since I’ve been here in the UAE and been part of the EAFL,” Cobb said. “Since then they’ve had a few veterans come back, so they’re definitely not the same team they were at the beginning of the season and it’s shown the last few games.”

    Working in the Wildcats favour is also a little extra motivation in a rematch of the 2016 Desert Bowl.

    In that contest two years ago, the capital’s team were burned by a controversial unsportsmanlike penalty on a late go-ahead touchdown run by Vivaldi Tulysse.

    Instead of lifting the trophy for the third time in four years, the Wildcats were left ruing an officiating decision and thinking what could have been.

    “There is a bitter taste left and it burns a little bit every time I think about it or talk about it,” Robinson said. “That’s just part of being a football coach and a football player, you remember those things. Those guys are going to remember that particular game probably for the rest of their lives.

    “So anytime that comes up, it does put a little salt in the wound, so to speak. But it also puts a little fuel on the fire because the guys have been much more in key and in-tune to not having the silly mistakes we’ve had in the past.”

    Cobb, however, has his own bitter taste that he wants to get rid of after the Barracudas plummeted down the league standings last season.

    Now, they not only have an opportunity to claim the club’s second championship, but also to finish off a perfect, unbeaten season – not that Cobb is concerned with the extra details.

    “It’s just a number to me. We want the title of champions and I think we deserve it,” he said. “We didn’t get that last year. We sat on the sidelines and the stands with a bunch of wishes and should-haves. Now this year we have the opportunity to capitalise on our failures from last year.”