The Dublin Rebels won Shamrock Bowl XXV with a nail biting 14-13 victory over the UL Vikings. The decisive TD was scored by RB Sam Hodgins in the 4th quarter. The game was played on front of a large crowd at Morton Stadium, Santry. Rebels Safety Marcus Naylor won the MVP Award.
The Shamrock Bowl comes just once a year. The culmination of a season’s workload, it is the pinnacle of the sport in Ireland. It’s an amateur, minority sport after all, and as such, it casts the reason for playing the game into light. The motivations may vary, but all were on display in Morton Stadium on Sunday.
As with any sport, the pursuit of a set goal is often reason enough, but the satisfaction is no doubt amplified in overcoming adversity along the way. For the Dublin Rebels and UL Vikings, adversity has become a given in recent years, irremovable from the goal. This year’s Bowl was no different. In fact, it highlighted the ferocity and competitiveness more than any other final. Just one point separated the teams at the final whistle, the Rebels stealing the title with a 14-13 win. And Limerick’s challenge came from every angle.
On offense QB Marc Ashworth was particularly impressive, looking more settled than ever behind centre after years of service from other positions. He connected for two touchdowns with receivers Breandán Curtin and rookie Seán McGoldrick, the latter making an incredible leaping catch in slippy conditions. Up front, the entire Vikings D-Line caused problems, while in the secondary CB Craig Brouder and veteran safety Liam Ryan picked up an interception each.
Facing such a challenge, the Rebels soon surrendered their early lead. RB Aaron Smith was the first to cross the plane, but some turnovers for the Vikes soon pinned the Rebels deep in their own territory. Unable to escape, Ashworth set up with good field position and went to the air for two scores in quick succession. Reeling, the Rebels went into halftime trailing 13-6.
But just as goals require obstacles, they also need a driving internal force. It’s true of every sport, but with fringe sports in particular, clubs are only what their members make it. With less money and less people, there are more sacrifices. There are no clubhouses. No toothless old men pining for the good old days, because all of them are still playing. Just as that mentality drove the Vikings’ challenge, so too did it drive the Rebels’ response. And that response came in units, the defence in particular. Of course, individuals stood out. Game MVP Marcus Naylor shifted momentum with an impossible diving interception, Kevin Healy collected two sacks, Bobby Smith made countless tackles. But the response was unified. The defence was simply frightening, and it was fitting that their two-point contribution from a 3rd quarter safety proved to be the difference.
The offensive response may not have been as pronounced, but crucially, it was enough. Leaning on the legs of RB Sam Hodgins, and the plowing mass of the offensive line, the Rebels jumped ahead early in the 4th quarter. 14-13. With the defence in such form, the lead, slim as it was, was never threatened. Still, everything churned slowly; the Rebels running game, the clock, the sidelined stomachs.
People play for the challenge, the adversity, and for their teammates, huddled together away from the passersby honking their car horns. They also play for pleasure, and never is it greater than in the Shamrock Bowl. There is an atmosphere unlike any other game of the season and the attitude and preparation of both teams improve the quality no end. There is a spectacle. Compared to the regular season, there is a grandeur that could seem artificial. But in reality, there is no delusion with this grandeur, because what is on display is sport in its truest form. A big field of lads killing each other for a glory that is only theirs. Players bettering themselves to win a challenge that few will appreciate, but because they’re so few, the appreciation is all the greater.
It’s the beauty of the sport, and the beauty of the Shamrock Bowl. For this year, the Rebels remain champions. The Vikings will return stronger than ever, as will the rejuvenated teams in the North and the improving teams elsewhere in Dublin. For them, there is added motivation in knowing that the Rebels had a far from perfect season. The gap seem to be closing. But until the teams go back to test that theory, the Rebels will celebrate their 7th Shamrock Bowl victory – their favourite reason to play this game.