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Canada looking to defend world junior football crown in Edmonton

Undated photo of a football. (Photo by Jean-Daniel Francoeur from Pexels) Undated photo of a football. (Photo by Jean-Daniel Francoeur from Pexels)

Warren Craney has plenty riding on the 2024 International Federation of American Football (IFAF) world junior championship.

The global event begins Thursday in Edmonton following a six-year absence. Plans to hold the tournament in 2020 and 2021 were cancelled due to the global pandemic.

Craney will serve as head coach of Canada 1, aiming to earn the country a third straight tournament title.

He is the tournament's most decorated coach with four medals (gold in '12 as defensive co-ordinator and '16 as head coach; silver in '09 as defensive co-ordinator and '14 as head coach).

"This program means everything to me," Craney said. "I have a real passion for my country and what Football Canada is doing for the sport here.

"And being part of a true world championship is amazing."

Craney, from Montreal, also served as head coach at York University (2010-22) following a stint as Concordia's defensive line coach/ defensive co-ordinator.

While many of Craney's most cherished tournament memories involve winning, he has also enjoyed opportunities to become immersed in different cultures.

"Winning in 2016 in Harbin after spending 27 days in China, talk about a team-bonding experience," Craney said. "Having that gold medal in the middle of the field in China, I have a photo hanging over my desk at home because I knew nothing about Harbin before and then you walk in and it's a city of 25 million people.

"In 2014 in Kuwait, it was so hot that we had to practise at midnight. Another photo I have is we're out (on practice field) and it's midnight, its Ramadan and a temple in the background is lit up, which was surreal. These memories the program has given me are just in my DNA."

Canada will have two teams in the tournament. Ron Hilaire, a former head coach at McGill, leads Canada 2.

The United States, Austria, Australia, Japan, Panama and Brazil will also participate.

Canada 2 opens the tournament facing Austria on Thursday with Canada 1 playing Brazil later. If both Canadian teams win, they'll meet June 26, with the victor advancing to the final June 30 while the loser will play for bronze that day.

Both Canadian teams face the pressure of performing well on home soil.

"There absolutely is," Craney said. "We're trying to calm (players) down but they feel it.

"I tell them, 'This experience is your suitcase for life.' I'll argue with anyone that football is the only (sport) that emulates life."

Canada has dominated this event, earning medals in all five previous competitions — three gold (2012, 2016, 2018), two silver (2009, 2014). The Canadians and U.S. have met in four championship games, the lone exception being '18 when Canada defeated Mexico 13-7 before a record 35,000-plus spectators in Mexico City.

Craney assumed head-coaching duties from St. Mary's Steve Sumarah, who led Canada to gold in 2018. Craney was to be the '24 team’s special-teams co-ordinator before taking over the top job.

Craney's tournament experience is valuable given the world event plays American football. Craney has also benefitted from working with some of Canadian university football's top coaches along the way.

"My very first experience, I got a call from (Laval head coach) Glen Constantin that he was head coach of Team Canada and wanted me to be the defensive co-ordinator," Craney said. "Here I was this young coach from Concordia and at the first staff meeting the linebackers coach was Blake Nill (currently UBC head coach), the defensive backs coach was Kyle Walters (GM, Winnipeg Blue Bombers) and the defensive-line coach was Jeff Cummins (former CFL player, Acadia head coach).

"I'm where I am now thanks to those guys because they let me do what I needed to do and if they thought I was going off course, they'd pull me aside and have a private conversation. That experience shaped my life."

A huge challenge to earning Canada a third straight title will be having to win three games in 10 days. So Craney's players are on a hydration plan while extensive stretching and therapy programs have been established.

"We have a very good strength coach and a tremendous therapy staff so it's obviously listening to them," Craney said. "If I catch (players) anywhere on campus without a water bottle in their hands, the consequences are dire because we've put a heavy emphasis on hydration.

"Away from the science, we're also being smart because we don't need to tackle in practice. We did that in selecting the team but we're practising now just in helmets and I foresee doing that the rest of the way . . . because the teams in the gold medal game are probably going to be the two healthiest ones"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2024. Top Stories

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