Gameweek 1 promised fireworks, and OH BOY did it deliver! 207 points were scored across the 5 games around Ireland this past Sunday, with all but one game ending with a 2-score margin, including one that was settled by a 3-point victory. With Gameweek 2 already fast approaching, let’s take a look at what happened in the 2023 Season Opening games!
Causeway Giants 8 – 18 Trinity
A highly competitive game saw Trinity come out of Limepark as 10-point victors. Despite turning the ball over 3 times through the air (2x Dessie Mackie, 1x Nathan Chapman), Trinity Rookie QB John Gibbons stepped under center for the first time in a competitive setting and threw 3 TDs — twice to Conor Keeley and once to Lorenzo Bogni — in an admirable first-timer performance. RB Sean Emmanuel also had himself a day despite his limited appearances, eclipsing the 100 yard mark on just 6 runs. Trinity made it a difficult day on offense for the hosts, getting to the Causeway QB 3 times through Ian Richardson (x2) and Griff Steinmann, who came away with 12 total tackles on the day too. It would be unfair to say the Giants didn’t move the ball at all though, as they were certainly making plays themselves. RB Adam Smith punched in the sole Giants touchdown (Adam Wilson adding the 2pt), and the defense were certainly aggressive in turning the ball over to help out their offense as much as they could. On top of the aforementioned 3 interceptions, Tony McCloskey forced and recovered a fumble, while Gary Colgan recovered the ball on a blocked Trinity punt, with the Giants totaling 5 takeaways on the day. Unfortunately they could not keep secure possession of the ball themselves, with Trinity’s James O’Leary coming down with an interception and the defense forcing and recovering two fumbles of their own. Both teams have things to clean up (as to be expected from a week 1 contest), but this contest showed promise for both teams moving forward in Division 2.
NI Razorbacks 22 – 6 Antrim Jets
The run game dominated the box score in this one, with all 4 touchdowns coming on the ground. Both team’s QBs got involved too, with the Jets’ Scot McLean scoring their touchdown while Razorbacks QB Mark Thompson added two of his own to go along with player-coach Gareth Millar’s score. The Razorbacks controlled a lot of the game on the line of scrimmage, especially on defense, highlighted by 2 team sacks and a goalline stop by Nathan Toney and Louis Kusmirek on 4th down to keep the Jets to just their 6 points. The Jets themselves put up some great plays of their own on defense, including a forced-and-recovered fumble by DT Marc MacFayden, and a Stewart Lee MacFayden blocked FG. Unfortunately for the Jets they couldn’t quite get the offense off the ground, and with a game Razorbacks team in front of them, Antrim’s return to Division 1 did not go as planned. The Razorbacks, however, will be delighted with their Division 1 debut, and will certainly bring this momentum with them in their quick turnaround to Gameweek 2.
Cill Dara Crusaders 42 – 14 Donegal / Derry Vipers
The Crusaders got their 2023 season off to a flying start with a 6 touchdown performance against a typically strong Vipers side. QB Jordan Farrell put up 5 touchdowns to 4 different receivers (Kealan Farrell x2, Robert Brown, Karl Bracken, Ben Costello) while RB Luke Carey added his first on the ground of the year for the Crusaders. Of course, the defense made sure to shine too, with 4 sacks and 4 takeaways to coming from Sunday’s performance — LB Cormac Butler had himself a day, with 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and plenty of pressures on the Vipers QB. Donegal/Derry did get through on multiple occasions though, including a rushing TD from QB Gary Melly, and an offensive fumble recovery TD from Mark Gillen after a goalline fumble. The Vipers did manage to intercept Farrell twice, one each from JP McKee and Harry McLaughlin, showing some positive signs in pass defense that HC Paddy Maguire can build on going forward. It’s Cill Dara and their dominance, though, that’s the main takeaway from this game — can they keep this up and get to the Division 1 Bowl for the first time in club history this season?
UL Vikings 17 – 14 Dublin Rhinos
A much tighter affair in the end, the Vikings edged out a fighting Rhinos outfit in their first steps to getting back to the Division 1 Bowl game this season. UL started hot, building a 17-0 lead through 2 rushing TDs from Finn O’Donovan and an added field goal through Danny Quilter. Rob Browne and William Campbell picked up where they left off last season with a sack each, though as the game went on the Dublin side clawed their way back into it. Despite a setback through an Adam Ward interception for the Vikings, Rhinos RB Gary O’Rourke led the team in rush yards (70) and QB Ethan Foster kept his offense pushing down the field and started mounting a comeback, twice running in touchdowns (and one 2pt conversion). The Rhinos defense, which had starred in spurts in the Premier Division last season, was all over the UL backfield, totalling 6 sacks — three coming from Matt Mays. A tense final minutes of the game saw the Vikings come out on top, and it will be interesting to see how both teams carry themselves out of this one into their next fixtures.
UCD 26 – 40 Dublin Rebels
The game of the week for sure, and probably the game you clicked on this article for. The Premier Division opener was every bit of the banger it was hyped up to be, with plenty of highlight plays and standout performances to tout. Chief among those was Rebels QB Ty Henry, who opened his 2023 account with 4 passing TDs (Greg Johnson, Dave King, Jack Basquille x2), 2 rushing TDs and an interception of a tipped Arun Mooney pass while on defense. Henry operated great under the heavy pressure of UCD’s front 7, which did get through enough to keep UCD in the game — 3 sacks, including a strip sack from Eddie Goggins Jr that was taken to the house by Thomas Fitzgerald, and 2 other fumble recoveries being the highlights of the aggressive play by UCD’s defense. On offense, UCD never fully clicked, with QB Arun Mooney struggling overall despite a great TD pass to Pete Masterson midway through the game. RB Sean McVeigh featured heavily, punching in 2 scores, but between their own turnovers and the Rebels playing at their best, UCD’s National Championship defense has gotten off to a delayed start. Still, both teams combined to play a fantastic game of football, and — if the 2022 script is anything to go by — UCD losing in the regular season to the Rebels doesn’t bode well for the rest of the teams in the division going forward.
Gameweek 2 features a smaller, 3-game slate after last Sunday’s action-packed schedule. Make sure to keep an eye out for our preview for March 12th’s matchups, which feature a game from each division!