Home sweet home

Crowd noise and grass field stymie Richardson foes

Crowd noise can disrupt play calls and communication between coaches and players on the field.
Crowd noise can disrupt play calls and communication between coaches and players on the field.
From Sept. 5, 2011 to Sept. 6, 2013, the Gaels went undefeated at Richardson Stadium, a span of 14 home games.
From Sept. 5, 2011 to Sept. 6, 2013, the Gaels went undefeated at Richardson Stadium, a span of 14 home games.

Pat Sheahan’s been on both sides of Richardson Stadium’s home-field advantage.

Having spent the past 15 years at the helm of the Gaels football program, he’s seen the benefit the home crowd can have on his players.

He’s also spent time on the other side of the sideline, coaching the Concordia Stingers when they used to travel to Richardson during the regular season.

“Typically for the big games, when the Queen’s student body and the Kingston community is out there supporting the team — the roar of the fans, it gives the boys a lift,” he said. “Sometimes the fans get involved in the game and they create excitement and they create a buzz and the guys feed off that.”

Prior to last week’s loss to the Ottawa Gee-Gees, the Gaels had been on a 14-game winning streak at home, dating back to a 26-2 defeat to the McMaster Marauders on Sept. 5, 2011. Even during their 3-5 regular season in 2010, Queen’s lost just once at home, in overtime.

Tomorrow, Queen’s hosts the Western Mustangs, last year’s Yates Cup champions. With the two teams being traditional rivals, there’s a good chance for a large spectator turnout.

When students and alumni pack Richardson Stadium, Sheahan said, it can drown out play calls and create potential disruptions for opposing offences. There’s a definite opportunity for home-field advantage to impact games, he added.

One case where the difference in road and home play came into effect was the Gaels’ four matches with the Guelph Gryphons over the past two seasons.

In 2012, Queen’s twice blew second-half leads against the Gryphons on the road. Guelph mounted a 22-point fourth quarter comeback in that year’s OUA semi-final, before winning in overtime.

Sheahan said the Gryphons fed off the atmosphere of their crowd in those games.

“There was a couple of times they were right on the brink of folding the tent, if you will, and they got that lift,” he said. “Obviously the players have to make a play to cause the fans to react, and the reaction of the fans has an impact on the players.”

A year later, Queen’s avenged both losses on home turf.

“When they were here without all that support, they did make a few plays, but they didn’t gather the momentum in the game they had in previous years,” Sheahan said.

When Sheahan was in charge of Concordia’s program, the confines of Richardson Stadium were often intimidating for visiting teams. Sheahan said higher attendance for games in the past created that atmosphere.

“You had to deal with a huge crowd, bigger than you would get at any other ball park,” he said. “You would have to deal with crowd noise, so you would have to prepare for that before you came down. And then you would definitely need to manage the swings in momentum.”

The impact of the crowd, Sheahan said, would essentially put visiting teams down 7-0 before the game even kicked off.

When he’d visit Richardson, Sheahan tried to keep his players focused on the on-field aspects of the game, but he conceded that the crowd would sometimes get to his players.

Within the OUA, there’s an added wrinkle to Richardson’s home-field advantage. Of 11 football teams province-wide, Queen’s is the only one to host games on natural grass.

Sheahan noted that the adjustment to grass from artificial turf creates difficulties for the Gaels’ opponents. Any speed advantage one team has tends to be cut down on a natural playing surface.

Overall, that makes Gaels home games a unique experience in the OUA.

“I’m not saying we get it right every Saturday, because we have some mediocre turnouts to games also,” Sheahan said. “But when we get it right, where everyone comes out and the football game is the priority event of the student body and the town for the weekend, there’s no other place like it. At least not in this conference.”

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