With the youth program taking shape throughout the early-to-mid 1980s, it was only a matter of time before new young players began coming out of our own system to play for our men’s team. The program even produced “second generation” players such as Peter Barbaric, whose father Ivan played during the professional years in the 1970s.
On and off the field you could sense the growing feeling of community. Team events such as the trip to Bermuda in 1989 (pictured) helped Croatia Hamilton players create lifelong friendships.
Throughout the late 1980s the A-Team was coached by John Zefkić. Zefkić not only led the men, but he also contributed countless hours to developing the youth teams for numerous years. His spirit on the field was second-to-none.
That spirit was also matched by Club executives. They brought teams from Croatia and hosted friendly matches against NK Medjugorje in 1988, NK Croatia Brihovo in 1989, and NK Vukovar in 1991. The games attracted thousands of spectators and raised funds to help support our community in Hamilton and in Croatia.
With our children playing together from such a young age, our teams in the late 1980s and early ‘90s became known for their camaraderie. In contrast to the 1970s, most players that graduated to the men’s program were now Croatians from Hamilton.
The pride of representing their heritage and their city helped the Club attain first-rate performances at the CNSF Tournaments. Under the guidance of coach Zvonko Zubrinić Croatia Hamilton hosted the tournament in 1993 and reached the final, but came up short against very tough Vancouver Croatia squad.
During the 1990s, the team continued to build from their own developmental system. Only a couple of Croatian imports, notables such as Željko Islić and Bero Krilić, were brought in to help strengthen the team. This helped to obtain a third-place finish at the CNSF Tournament in 1997.