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Gaels eager for preseason test

August 22, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

It wasn’t done with specific benefit to the Queen’s Golden Gaels in mind, but redrafting the Ontario University Athletics football schedule last spring certainly did the Gaels a good turn.

What football team preparing for a season without 18 players who started in the Yates Cup game a year ago — plus two others who would have started had they not been hurt — wouldn’t welcome a chance to audition potential replacements?

“There’s lots of opportunity for people to establish themselves,” said Gaels coach Pat Sheahan, whose team will host the Concordia Stingers in a preseason game Sunday afternoon at Richardson Stadium, where game time will be 1 o’clock.

“There has been in training camp some great skill demonstrated but games are different. We all know that,” Sheahan said. “I would like to see if the guys who have executed at a high level during the week do so in a game.

“You can’t be an all-Canadian practice guy. You really need to bring it to the game.”

In December, when the OUA unveiled its schedule, this weekend was going to be when the regular season began. Believe it or not, just 11 months before the national championship had to be played, there was no site for the Vanier Cup game so the league assumed it would be held on the same weekend as in 2013.

By April, when it had been decided to play the game in Montreal, the date of the Vanier Cup turned out to be a week later than the OUA had anticipated. Therefore, the league had an extra week to finish its regular season and playoffs. As a result, it pushed Opening Day back to Labour Day.

That gave teams an opportunity to delay the start of training camp and, if they desired, to schedule an exhibition game in the middle of it.

With 25 players with intercollegiate experience no longer around, Queen’s jumped at the chance, and that’s how the Gaels came to be hosting the Stingers, the team with which Sheahan cut his head-coaching teeth for 11 years, starting in 1989.

The opportunity presents a number of advantages for the Gaels, Sheahan said, not the least of which is it accelerates the rate of practice.

“When you’ve got two weeks you don’t feel this pressure to get stuff in, there’s always time,” he said. “When you know you’re playing on Day 7 you’ve got to get stuff in, so the foundation is laid for the season now.”

There’s no escaping, however, the fact that decisions have to start being made soon on who will be playing when the Gaels open the season Sept. 1 in Windsor.

“You want to test some things,” Sheahan said, “and you want to test some players, because the guys who are in that 35 to 55 range (47 can dress for a game), who ends up in the 30s and who ends up in the 50s may very well depend on what they show on Sunday.

“I do believe there are guys who are NFL guys in practice who have the inability to bring that to the game and, vice-versa, there’s guys who just aren’t great practice players but, for some reason, when they’re in a game they can rise to the occasion.

“Let’s see if we have any of those.”

It also provides a break in the monotony of practice that begins to dull the learning process after a while.

“It gets a little stale, hitting your own guys all the time,” Sheahan allowed. “Football is very much tied to the emotional part so it’s an opportunity to get fired up about something. I know we’re supposed to get fired up (all the time) but about Day 13 of training camp the fire is burning at a low level, I can tell you.”

Not only are preseason games about winning jobs, even on teams replacing five receivers, two running backs, six offensive linemen, four linebackers, three defensive linemen, four defensive backs and the long snapper. With an expanded roster, Sheahan said, more players will have a chance to wear the game jersey and to compete.

“For some, this will be it. This may be the only game they dress for this season,” he said. “The whole idea of getting them in so they get the feel of what it’s like, that’s another positive thing. They grow as football players.”

 

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