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York coach sees Gaels as the team to beat

August 24, 2013

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

A year ago, the York Lions lost six of their eight Ontario University Athletics football games. They lost three of them by a total of nine points.

That’s heart-breaking, to be sure. Turn those outcomes around and the Lions are 5-3 and solidly in the playoffs.

Looking back, however, Lions coach Warren Craney is just as happy his team didn’t make it.

“We felt we should have won at least three of those (six losses) but I think in hindsight being a 2-6 team last year will make us that much better this year,” Craney said.

“If we would have been 5-3 we might have thought we were a little better than we were.”

Legitimately getting to 5-3 and beyond, Craney believes, is imminent. When that happens, he says, largely depends on how quickly his younger players mature.

“The last three recruiting seasons have resulted in us getting some really good kids,” he said, “but (it’s a matter of) teaching them how to win, how to play in those tight games and how to achieve victory from those close football games.”

When it comes to recruiting, Craney believes he’s turned a corner. From the start he decided he wasn’t going to concede anyone to the traditional powers and after three years the approach finally seems to be paying off.

“When I took the job I thought long and hard about it,” said Craney, who came to York in 2010 after serving as the defensive co-ordinator at Concordia, where he coached, among others, Kingston’s President’s Trophy winner, Cory Greenwood.

“I was coming from a very successful program and it was very flattering how badly York wanted me. One of the things I made clear to them was if I was coming here I was coming here to win and I was going to recruit no differently than I would when I was at (Concordia). I was going to change the culture. We wanted to go toe to toe with the kids Western recruits, that Queen’s recruits and Guelph recruits and McGill recruits.

“We weren’t going to turn this program around unless we got the type of kids that they were getting, so we just went after it.”

The first year on the trail with York brochures in his pocket, Craney recalls, was tough. “We got one or two kids, the blue-chip, five-star kids, to say yes.” The second year, there were a couple more.

“This year, we got one of the top three offensive line recruits in Canada West, Trevor King,” Craney said, proudly. “We got two really stud receivers out of the CEGEP system in Quebec.

“We’re pretty excited and it’s funny. I think with the Internet and seeing the results of last year and, I’m hoping, my reputation, kids believe in what we’re doing and they’re seeing a program and not a team that was 2-6 last year.”

One day soon Craney hopes the Lions will go toe to toe with Queen’s, not just on the recruiting trail, but on the football field as well. Whether it happens as soon as Sunday, when the teams open the OUA schedule at Etobicoke’s Centennial Stadium, is another matter.

Craney paused when asked how he’s approaching the game.

“We know what we’re up against,” he said with a nervous chuckle. “You look at that roster — offence, defence, you look up and down and next to their names it’s the number either 4 or 5. They’re loaded with fourth- and fifth-year players.

“They’re at the top of their cycle. They’re the team to beat, in my eyes. I think they’re the top program in the OUA this year.”

Craney proceded to pay homage to a team that York has not only never beaten, but has come within three touchdowns only four times in 15 games. Last year, the teams also opened the season and Queen’s scored 33 points in the first 19 minutes of the game and coasted to a 48-13 win.

“I’m just trying to get our kids not to have happen what happened last year,” Craney said. “We played the first half scared. Not that we were as good as they are but it took us a half to realize that we can play with these guys if we just settle down.

“As good as they are, we can’t have the poor start that we had last year. We have to come out and play our game. We’re an inner-city school. We have to play a physical game.”

There are two schools of thought when an opening day opponent is one of the league’s premier teams. Some coaches prefer to play the best right away, to see where they stand. Others quietly wish they could work their way up to facing the better teams.

“To be honest with you I think it’s an advantage for me to play (Queen’s) early,” Craney said. “When they get rolling, they’re going to be rolling. Where we are with the program right now, not to say we’re going to win the game, but I think we have more of the advantage. We have a lot less to lose.”

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