2023 AFI Season Preview – Prem Division

It’s almost here! The 2023 AFI Kitted Season is upon us, with every Irish American football enthusiast staring a hole though Kickoff Sunday March 5th on their calendar. Days remain until it all begins, so let’s break down each division as they enter the 2023 season!

UCD (6-1-1 in 2022 Premier Division, 2022 National Champions)
Shamrock Bowl XXXIV winners UCD will look to defend their National championship this year in a fierce Premier Division. There is very much a “run-it-back” feel on campus, with coach-defined “football-nerd” Arun Mooney, Sean McVeigh, Cian Lawlor and co. ready to cause defensive coordinator fits around the country on  a weekly basis as they did last year. With Wolfhounds staff galore on the UCD sideline, the Students also brought in some powerhouse talent this offseason, with Graham Jenkinson joining the O-Line, among some other big transfers in. DB Eoghan McMahon headlines the defensive backfield after a stellar rookie season, as the UCD defense will continue to cause chaos on football fields this season. Will they repeat their Shamrock Bowl success? That remains to be seen, but they are surely favoured preseason to at least return to the final dance in 2023.

Dublin Rebels (8-0 in 2022 Premier Division, Shamrock Bowl XXXIV finalists)
The Rebels completely up-ended expectations in 2022 after their previous 3-5 campaign, going undefeated in 2022 and pushing their way into the Shamrock Bowl. Conceding less than 80 points during the regular season, the Rebels offense also averaged more than 40 points per game. Captained by QB Ty Henry, boasting a young wideout corps of Greg and Dan Johnson and Dave King, and with Wello Omorodion to pound the rock with, the Rebels were a force of nature last year and look set to be just as dominant in 2023. Adding DE Evan Allen to an already frightening front 7 that includes the likes of Conrad Cook and Kenny McCarthy, look for DBs like Rex Harding and Cathal Keane to continue to prop themselves up the interceptions list this season as QBs force throws under pressure. The Rebels seem intent on forcing a Part II to last year’s Shamrock Bowl, just with a different final result.

Cork Admirals (5-2-1 in 2022 Premier Division)
After a rocky start in 2022, the Admirals went on a 6-game unbeaten stretch which saw them race into the playoffs and hold the eventual champions to a tie game at home. Though the ensuing playoff game did not finish how they’d have liked, getting to that point after the rough patch they endured had to be seen as a success in its own right. QB Stephen Hayes calmed the Admiral following after a quiet first two games with an 18 TD season, with the likes of WR Jahn Dasini and Kit O’Keefe reaping the benefits. Not to be ignored is the stagnant Admiral defense, who pitched 2 offensive shutouts in 2022, thanks in large part to contributions from the likes of DB Liam O’Leary, pass rusher Shane Hourihane and all-round athlete Ayo Mumuni.  Always a dark horse, a new threat to look out for over the next few years is the 2x National Youth champions starting to graduate to the Senior side. Look out for RB Jake Kennedy to make an impact this season.

South Dublin Panthers (4-4 in 2022 Premier Division)
An up-and-down year in the kitted season continued on into the offseason it seems for the Panthers. Their flag team went undefeated and winning a National Championship in its own right before learning of departures of both players and coaches in the lead up to and after Christmas — with both Kevin Klatt and Brendan McAleese stepping away from the South Dublin club in favour of joining the Wexford Eagles, while the transfers of both Allen and Jenkinson will affect both sides of the trenches this season. Ian Cahill steps away from signal-caller duties to assist at linebacker this season, making the QB room in South Dublin unclear. Young receiver Jamie Leonard will likely be relied upon to keep the passing game moving for whoever steps in at QB and keep the Panthers on the board. On defense, South Dublin will need to rely upon DB Andrew Reddy to keep opposing arial attacks at bay. It’s difficult to predict how the Panthers season could go with so much change in just one offseason, but one thing’s for sure — there will be plenty of eyes on the South Dublin side from all around the country.

Belfast Trojans (4-4 in 2022 Premier Division)
The Trojans were a tale of two halves in 2022 — going unbeaten at home but, with a daunting away schedule, were unable to pick up a win on the road. Going 4-1 in the final stretch of the season, ending in a banger of a game with Cork — in which a win would have qualified the Trojans for a playoff date. Unable to defend their 2019 National title, the Green Machine have had themselves a great offseason, picking up Vipers standouts Darren Quinn and Chad Higgins, Knights WR Jordan Clinton as well as bringing back some key pieces from injury. The defensive backfield, highlighted in their home stretch by DB Thomas Boyde, vastly improved from their unusually poor start to 2022, and seems ready to pick up where they left off from their great finish to the season. The wildcard for the Trojans is new QB Dominic Lynn, who steps in for retired Trojans legend James McKelvey. Can Lynn propel the Trojans back to their mid-2010s glory? We might get a glimpse of that this year.

Craigavon Cowboys (2-6 in 2022 Premier Division)
What could have been for the 2022 Cowboys. Starting 2-0, including a blowout of the Rhinos in the opener, what looked like a hot start soon turned into a quick meltdown, failing to pick up a win in their remaining 6 games. Craigavon will have been self-reflecting all off-season to figure out how to avoid a similar fate this season, and with QB Peter Loughran at the helm there is certainly scope for the Cowboys making a run for the playoffs this season. LB Shayne Mone will look to inspire more hard-nosed performances on defense, especially against higher-seeded opposition — despite their reputation coming into the Premier Division, the Boys in Orange finished the year with the lowest-ranked defense in the division in 2022. Keeping games within reach and tightening up on defense will for sure be the points of emphasis for the Cowboys this season, who will surely be aiming for more than just Premier Division survival in 2023.

Belfast Knights (1-7 in 2022 Premier Division)
The Black and Gold left it until the final whistle of last season to remain in the Premier Division for 2023, beating the Rhinos 34-0 in a game that ended up being a win-and-stay-in for the division. Having escaped relegation after their 2019 season, and again last July, the Knights will certainly be pulling every trick from their sleeve this season to keep themselves afloat. Losing key performers like DE Danny Moll and the aforementioned Clinton will not help, but the return of long-time Knight Marty Caskey to the lineup this season will give QB Stephen McDowell a trusted target on offense. HC Adam Devenney will be maximising the usage of team defensive MVP Robbie Alexander and DB Josh Harvey who showed up in some big ways in 2022. Coupling consistent performances from their offense and defense in crucial games will keep the Knights in contention this season, and — with some breakout performances and some luck going their way — could perhaps fight for the #4 seed in the playoffs. Overcoming a recent historical drop in W-L record, though, will be priority number one for the Knights.

Westmeath Minotaurs (7-1 in 2022 Division 1, Division 1 Champions)
After losing a 28-27 classic in the 2019 Division 1 final to Craigavon, the Minotaurs bounced back to the Bowl game last season and came from behind against the Vikings for a 16-13 win to secure the title and promotion. Strong defensive performances became a staple of the Minotaurs keys to success in Division 1, with team sack leader Steven Nally and Division 1 interception leader Peter Dempsey likely to be huge factors again in a Minotaur defense that has yet to compete against this level of football — with 2023 being the club’s first ever appearance in the Premier Division. On offense, young QB Joe Kinahan has a deep group of weapons including WR Alan Campbell and RB Rafael Monteiro, though the team may potentially be missing WR Jack Lynch for some time. Still, with HC Bill Dougherty at the helm, the Westmeath Minotaurs will likely not need much motivation this season with everything at stake, and don’t seem set on merely being a cameo performer in Ireland’s Premier Division.

The 2023 AFI Kitted Season is right around the corner, with more than 80 games scheduled between now and July 16th. Now we want to hear from you: who’s season are you most excited to follow in 2023?? Let us know on our Instagram, Facebook or Twitter!