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Senior Gaels playing so others can savour a championship

August 30, 2013

Make no mistake. Few things would provide as much satisfaction to the Queen’s Golden Gaels as a victory over the McMaster Marauders in their Ontario University Athletics football game Monday.

It’s not for the reason you might think, however. They don’t appear to be consumed by the kind of emotion that often comes with getting even with the beach bully who’s been kicking sand in your face.

To hear the Gaels tell it, even for a foe that’s been humbling them since 2009, pragmatism has trumped thoughts of vengeance at practice this week. Practicality has eclipsed emotion.

“I know a lot of the guys on the team really want to beat Mac,” Derek Morris, the veteran offensive lineman from Napanee, said the other day, “but we’re more interested in winning games like Mac and Western so we can set ourselves up at the end of the season to be in that bye week scenario and have home playoff games.”

Morris is one of a handful of Gaels who have been on the winning side of a football game with McMaster. A lot of football has been played in the ensuing four years but it doesn’t take any prompting for Morris to remember those two games of 2009.

“The first game was close, 8-7,” he said. “The second game we really took it to them.

“That was (quarterback Kyle) Quinlan’s first year. Then he came back and kind of took it to us the next three years. We wanted our shot again at them last year and I felt like if we’d had our shot, I’m not saying we would have beaten them, but it would have been a good game.”

Alas, the Gaels didn’t quite make it to the Yates Cup game last year, where they’d have had their second crack at McMaster. That train derailed in Guelph, where Queen’s suffered an overtime semifinal defeat that a lot of people around the team are tired of hearing about.

It was a such a sobering experience, John Miniaci says, it simply won’t go away that easily.

“A lot of guys still have regret with what happened last year in the Guelph game; feel the heartache,” he said. “That was the lowest point in my career. Seeing the graduating players like Joshua Sultana, Ben D’Andrea — for that to be their last football memory? I don’t ever want anybody else to feel that ever again.”

For the big defensive lineman from Toronto, that translates into a determination to be prepared for all the big games this year, starting with Monday against McMaster.

“This game sometimes is not going to come down to x’s and o’s,” he said. “It’s going to come down to who wants it more, and the effort you put into it.

“That’s what McMaster has had all these years, that championship-team mentality. They do not back down. They came in feeling like they were the big dog, the Alpha dog, and it scares a lot of teams. That fear actually hinders your performance, your ability to prep for them.”

Miniaci recognizes it in others perhaps because he was introduced to it when he joined the Gaels in 2009, in time for their championship run.

“Those guys knew what they were doing, every single game, no matter what the situation was,” he said. “Look at the Vanier Cup. To come back from 18 points down and win it, the poise that they had. They never, ever backed down from anything.

“It helps that a few of the guys on the team have been to the top of the mountain, they’ve been the pinnacle, they’ve been to the Vanier Cup. They’ve seen the view up there and it’s something we want everybody to see.”

Miniaci would like nothing better.

“This year I have a whole new motivation. I’m out there playing for the rest of the guys on the team. I want to see the Giovanni Apriles, the Matt Websters, the Andrew Lues. I want to see them hoist the Cup this year.”

He believes it to be a realistic goal, if for no other reason than the difference he’s seen in practice this week, compared to the pre-McMaster week of practice a year ago.

“Last year was a little bit of being caught up in the awe of Kyle Quinlan, the potent Mac offence, they won the Vanier Cup the year before,” he said. “You get caught up in that fear of how powerful and how good that team is and you get distracted from assignments. You look back at that game, the plays that they got, we gave to them. We missed assignments and that can happen sometimes when you get caught up in the opponent you’re playing against.

“This year we have that veteran presence. We’re not caught up in that at all. We’re focusing on ourselves. We have confidence in our technique, in our plays and knowing what we have to execute. Now we have the motivation and desire and the attitude that we’re not going to back down from anybody, no matter who we’re lining up against.”

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