Category: General

Posts related to IAFA activities (also general category)

Announcement: Irish Wolfhounds World Flag Football Championship Fundraiser Established

12 men, 12 women, 24 athletes with a dream…

The 2024 IFAF World Flag Football Championships take place in Lahti, Finland this August 25th-30th, and after their fantastic displays in last August’s European Championships, both the Men’s and Women’s Irish Wolfhounds Flag Football teams have qualified for the international tournament. The tournament will play out over the week at the Pajulahti Olympic and Paralympic Training Centre, a world-class athletic facility and campus.

With a high-level competition such as the IFAF World’s, though, come high-level costs. Flights, accommodation, board, officials fees, tournament fees and other costs associated with the competition unfortunately add up to a large bill, with estimates ranging upwards of €45,000.

The Irish Wolfhounds National Program and American Football Ireland, therefore, have started a GoFundMe to help bring our best Flag Football athletes to Finland to represent Ireland and put on the green jersey they have earned the right to wear. While AFI are searching for other funding options for our Wolfhounds, we believe there is a growing, passionate community in the Irish American football scene to help supplement athletes’ efforts to get to Lahti.

“The team have had a very strong winter and put in a huge amount of work, both in the gym and through meetings with their respective coordinators. On the field there has been a marked increase in the standard of play and the coaching staff feel the squad has a bright future,” said Men’s Irish Wolfhounds Flag Football Head Coach Diarmid Brown. “Competing with the best teams in the world of flag football will provide countless opportunities for growth amongst the team, and the domestic game as a whole within the coming years. The future of Flag Football in Ireland is extremely bright.”

Those looking to donate to the Wolfhounds’ efforts to get to the 2024 IFAF Flag Football Championships this August can click here.

Inaugural AFI Hall of Fame: Class of 2023

(Note: Though there are some verbal accounts of previous versions of an Irish American Football Hall of Fame, official records of such have proven difficult to come by. Thus, this article is representative of the establishment of an official AFI Hall of Fame)

Earlier this year, the AFI Board established an Hall of Fame and a selection panel of qualified AFI representatives met to induct the first set of inductees into the the Class of ‘23. Our newly inducted AFI Hall of Famers are named below, but first, an insight into the selection process —

Who belongs in the AFI Hall of Fame?

“An AFI Hall of Fame Inductee is an individual who has contributed significantly to AFI incurring benefit to the game of Irish American Football. At the discretion of the panelists, considerations may include;
performance; impact; longevity; achievements; additional involvement outside of the primary-nomination category; incurred growth or benefit to the sport.”

Individuals may be nominated either by the public or by the selection panelists, for their contribution to AFI in the following areas:

Player — For individuals who contributed significantly to the benefit of AFI in a playing capacity.

Coach — For individuals who contributed significantly to the benefit of AFI in a coaching capacity.

Contributor — For individuals who contribution significantly to the game in areas other than playing or coaching. This category includes, but it not limited to: refereeing officials; sports administrators; or managers.

To be eligible for the nominating process, nominees must have been, at least at one point in time, a member of AFI and/or a member of a historical version of AFI (i.e. IAFA). To be eligible for nomination, a player or coach must have been retired from the role which they are being considered for, for at least five years. This does not apply to contributors. An individual may be inducted more than once under different categories, but they may not be inducted twice for the same category.

The Selection Committee 

The selection committee are responsible for deciding who is inducted into the AFI Hall of Fame. They collectively represented the island of Ireland over the years American Football has been played here. It was comprised of people who have played significant roles in the league, on or off the field. The selection committee were able to assess candidates from their own personal experience and memories. Additionally, the committee comprised multiple people who were involved for each decade, and as many as possible that span two or more decades so they could provide a point of reference. To avoid bias, representatives from the main football hubs — Dublin, Cork, Belfast area, Limerick — were included. In the case of larger hubs such as Dublin and Belfast, representatives of the main football “branches” were represented.  As teams have folded and individuals have migrated or set up new teams, it was important that several panelists had personal memories of historical branches. The selection committee was as follows:

Ciaran O’Sullivan; former Cork Admirals and UL Vikings HC, former Youth Irish Wolfhounds HC, current Irish Wolfhounds HC since 2014. He has competed in 6 consecutive Shamrock Bowls, winning 3, and 1 Atlantic Cup, which UL won.

Andrew Dennehy; Former coach and player with the Dublin Rebels, current coach with UCD, Amsterdam Crusaders, and Irish Wolfhounds. 20+ years of playing/coaching experience in AFI. Ten Shamrock Bowls (9 Rebels, 1 UCD), one Atlantic cup (Rebels), one Tulip Bowl (Crusaders), two Belgium-Netherlands Bowl (Crusaders).

Mark Lawless; involved in football since the early 90s, current Irish Wolfhounds QB coach, UCD OC and former West Dublin Rhinos HC. One Shamrock Bowl (UCD).

James McKelvey; Belfast Bulls/Belfast Trojans QB, involved since early 00s, retired as Belfast Trojans HC; played in 7 Shamrock Bowls, winning 5, and 3 Atlantic Cups, winning 2.

Alan Lomasney; Cork Admirals HC, Cork Admirals Youth HC, involved with Cork Admirals since early 00s, competed in 2 Shamrock Bowls, winning 1, and two IAFL1 bowls, winning 1. Multiple youth league titles. Current Irish Wolfhounds Youth HC and AFI Board Member.

Brian Sutton; Dublin Tornadoes QB and HC in the 90s. Played in 4 Shamrock Bowls, winning 3.

Greg Loughran; Craigavon Cowboys. Involved since the 80s, won Shamrock Bowl 1, extensive admin roles in AFI, previously Board Member and AFI President.

Spencer McDowell; current player with the Belfast Knights since early 00s, played in 3 Shamrock Bowls, Irish Wolfhounds American Football Team Captain.

Kelly Dwyer; involved since 2010s, previously a member of Officiating department, current Irish Wolfhounds Flag Football player, The Domestic Game podcast host, current AFI Board member.

The Selection Process

Throughout the induction process, the selection committee met online three times. The first meeting involved discussion of the Procedures and Protocols for HOF Selection which had been provided by AFI. It should be noted that, though there is a clause and a set of procedures which would come into effect if a member of the selection committee were to be nominated, all committee members voluntarily omitted themselves from consideration for nomination.

It was recommended by the committee, with this being the first Hall of Fame class which covers over 30 years of eligible Irish American Football, that there should be 2 inductees under the contributor category and 3 inducted per “era” under the coaching and player categories. The “eras” were defined loosely as 1986-1996, 1997-2007 and 2008-2018.

The second meeting involved the nomination and championing of individuals for HOF consideration. Committee members each presented their nominees, along with their reasons for nomination. Nominations by the public were also presented. In total, the committee considered 22 nominees, with many of these having received more than one nomination. The nominees were considered by the committee on excellence, longevity, and impact primarily. The third meeting by the committee involved the voting; and individuals with the most votes were subsequently inducted into the AFI Hall Of Fame.

So without further ado, along with their championing statements from their respective nominations, we present the..

AFI Hall Of Fame: Class of 2023

Contributors
Terry Lynch (RIP) Category: Contributor; Player and administration for Cowboys and AFI (then IAFA).

“Terry loved football. He loved football people. Having worked with Terry on several IAFA Boards and projects, I can say that only those close to him know the time and effort he put into ensuring our game was played, improved, and grew. Initially providing support to the IAFA Board on the Association’s finances, he soon became an invaluable Board Member and Officer. A steady hand on the tiller through some of our most turbulent times, when football in Ireland was under a real threat of collapsing, Terry not only shaped our policies, but his personality shaped our approach, and his leadership guided us to a place of positivity, security and growth.

Terry’s legacy can be seen on every football field and at every game played here. None more so than in our youth football programs. Instigating and coaching the first Irish Youth Team was sadly his last involvement in our sport and the foundation on which all our National Team Programs are based. His loss was sudden and devastating to his family, friends and the football community here. With his memory enshrined in the hearts and minds of so many, it is only right and proper that his achievements are enshrined in our Hall of Fame.”

Steve Stacher
Category: Contributor; Referee and Administration from 1985.

“There are some people, without whom, American Football would not be played on this island. Steve is one of those. Football would have struggled to gain momentum and survive in the early days without him. When there was little understanding of this strange sport, Steve was there, initially coaching the Tyrone Tornadoes in 1984 before becoming a full time official and Secretary to the Irish American Football League (now AFI). He represented Ireland as a founding member of the International Federation of American Football in 1998.

Steve retired from officiating in the late 2000s due to illness, and thoroughly deserves his place in the AFI Hall of Fame forever.”

Players and Coaches
1986-1996
:
Mark Harris
Category: Player

“Mark ‘Hoggy’ Harris, #39, who I am sure will be in your HOF in his own right was [allegedly] playing fully kitted football at the age of 16, pretending he was 18 so he could play. Hoggy was an absolute tackle machine even then, often intercepting the ball or strip tackle and recovering the ball multiple times during a game. Hoggy would go on the play fully kitted for the next 25-30 years.”

Dave Curran (RIP)
Category: Coach

“Coach Dave ultimately proved to be a defining person in watershed years of American football in Ireland. Initially with the Dublin Celts and subsequently the Dublin Tornadoes. His background of teaching History in the USA, being recognised Nationally for his experienced methods, allowed him connect with his class and teams. He brought his unique style of preparation, tenacity, fun and inspiring love for the game allied to his football experience that generated an immediate and sustained followership. Dave understood the character & personal background of each and every player he interacted with. From this, he built a game plan around their strengths and developed a team environment where players from diverse communities came together. They were prepared, grew to trust in one another to perform at a consistently high level, the Dublin Tornadoes losing just one game in a three-year spell, Dave made the hard work and match preparation enjoyable for the squad and ensured he found ways to recognise all contributions. There are many stories of late-night phone calls, training long into the night along with the introduction of video reviews, and of course his range of hats for all occasions! Coach Dave became a leader friend and Father figure to many of his players, impacting their lives for many years after his untimely passing. Dave died suddenly within days of delivering training as part of the first National squad seasons in Dublin and was remembered with his initials on the team jersey for Ireland.”

Philip McCowen
Category: Player

“Philip aka “Phil” will be remembered as a generational talent in Irish American Football. He fast became the benchmark to which others tried to measure themselves at RB not just his Dublin Tornadoes teammates but throughout the league. He became the focus of his teammates expectations of success on game day and similarly the cause of opposition’s dread, knowing the physicality that was to be unleashed repeatedly. Primarily a FB he played defence too with never a backward step taken. Phil delivered time and again becoming at the highest standard, he exuded leadership by actions ultimately going on to represent Ireland in the international stage. In each game he “made his mark”, through hammering blocks and devastating carries. He ran the ball with passion and commitment often through or over a defender rather than going around them. Phil is a great ambassador for our game and worthy recipient of this recognition.”

1997-2007:

(Note that selection committee member Andrew Dennehy declared a potential conflict of interest during this round of voting and subsequently abstained. The conflict of interest was that an immediate family member had been nominated)

Brian Dennehy
Category: Player

“Brian is a truly unique player in the history of Irish American Football. The results of his long carrier exemplify his tenacity, enduring commitment, positional skill an uncanny on-field sense to open defences. Brian competed in 11 Shamrock Bowls, winning 8 and becoming the first player to do so – something only 3-4 people have ever achieved to date – and picked up multiple Bowl MVP awards along the way. He played for the Dublin Tornadoes in the early 90s, Dublin Bulls and Dublin Tigers in the late 90s, and then the Dublin Rebels from 2001-2005. He also played on O and D for Ireland in the 90s. His impact went far beyond just winning medals – he was a critical factor in all of those teams success. As a player, he played every position on the field, but primarily running back and linebacker. He had elite speed, balance and vision packaged with a football IQ that was second to none and a killer spin move, leading to his absolute dominance on the gridiron over almost 15 seasons. He could take over a game. And in critical high-stakes situations where someone needed to make a play, he always delivered. He was also a player-coach for much of his career, including HC and OC roles, and introduced some innovations and concepts that were decades ahead of their time and that legacy has had a lasting impact on the league to this day. Continually pushing his own standards, he demanded those around him deliver for the team. Brian is a natural leader creating a bond that delivered many successful seasons through hard work but always with that glint and smile and renowned/unmatched knack for finding a way to win.”

Tobias Hanson
Category: Player

“Tobias was the anchor of the great Rebels OLs in the 00s. He started out with the Dublin Bulls and Dublin Tigers in the late 90s before joining the Rebels in 2003, where he played Left Guard for the rest of his career. He competed in 9 Shamrock Bowls, winning 5 (including 4 in a row with the Rebels from 2003-2006). His impact as a lineman can’t be overstated, with impact being the operative word. He was an absolute juggernaut in the trenches. While he was virtually unstoppable in a drive block, he majored in pulling. The Rebels run game for most of the 00s was built to have various ways of letting defenders into the backfield untouched so Tobias could annihilate them with a trap block. His combination of speed, power and violence meant he was always the hammer, not the nail. He had a friendly, reserved demeanor but with the ability to switch on an uncompromising physical meanness when the ball was snapped. And he often gave great tactical guidance to coaches, for example: “How about I push my man backwards about 15

yards and we run the ball to the left?”… A tactic that tended to be extremely successful.

Keith O’ Callaghan
Category: Player

“When I started the Cork Admirals, Keith was one of the first players to show up. From the first training sessions a few things stood out, outrageous speed and courage. When the games started everyone learned about Keith’s ability on the field. We found out how tough Keith was. The main offensive threat in every team he ever played on, he became the focus of defensive players and coaches alike. His football IQ meant very few if any missed steps through a career of over ten years, which saw his Admirals go from a fledgling team to a force in football.”

2008-2018
Jeroen Egge
Category: Player

“A founding member of the Belfast Trojans. Jeroen is a Duke University Alumni and All ACC player who brought decades of experience to the Trojan Offensive Line. His raw power and expert technical ability at either Center or Guard drove the Trojans to numerous Shamrock Bowls. He has a legitimate case to be called the best player to have taken the field in Ireland. Jeroen continues to pass on his vast footballing knowledge as Coach for the Trojans Offensive Line.”

Kieran Coen
Category: Player

“Kieran was a leader in a group of young players who changed how football was played in the University of Limerick and ultimately across the island. Anchoring the team’s offensive line as it transitioned from a young group with potential to National & European titles, “Coeny” played to a higher level than most people on the field. His dedication to the Vikings and the game combined with a hunger to learn and improve, underlined by a hugely positive attitude made Kieran a great teammate, formidable opponent and truly a Hall of Famer.”

Dave Colvin
Category: Player

“David Colvin was a prototype for the modern Irish Running Back. His agility, tenacity, and ability to leave opponents in his wake with a burst of pace saw David crowned Trojans MVP on multiple occasions. He was equally at home at receiver and was a Shamrock Bowl MVP at that position, as well as being one of the rare Irish players to ever score a touchdown against American College competition. A truly special player who was capable of what was expected of him as well as the unexpected.”

AFI are delighted to induct these icons of Irish American football history into our inaugural Hall of Fame Class. While we have been able to directly notify most of our inductees, we have been unable to contact the family of Dave Curran as some time has passed
since their involvement. We appeal to those reading; if you have the means
to put AFI in contact with Dave’s family, please do so. Or, better yet; please
share this article with them and on your socials and invite them to get in touch with our Facebook or Instagram page.

2023 AFI AGM Information

The Annual General Meeting of American Football Ireland will take place Saturday,  November 18th at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, BlanchardstownDublin 15 from 1pm.

All Clubs and Directors are required to have a representative attend the meeting to discuss the association business and take part in voting/election process.

Elections to the AFI Board of ManagementThere are 4 positions open for election this year:

  • 1 x 3-year term – AFI President Term (completed by Aidan Maguire)
  • 1x 3-year term — Board position term of Paul Kirkwood (Term Completed)
  •  1x 3-year term — Board position term of Frieda Gallagher (Term Completed)
  • 1x 3-year term — Board position term of Steve McDonnell (stepped down from the board during his 2nd year)
All candidates for election must be members in good standing with at least 3 consecutive years affiliation to AFI. The role of a Management Board members is to promote the growth and development of the sport in line with our governing documents and the Governance Code.
New Club Applications
As per Section 1 A.6 of the AFI Bylaws, all new clubs memberships are to submit a request in writing to the AFI Commissioner at least 1 month in advance of the AGM (by end of October 18th).

These must be sent to commissioner@americanfootball.ie

Application forms for associative membership for all new clubs can be requested from the Commissioner or Dept. Director
Proposed Amendments to the AFI Bylaws, and Proposals or Resolutions for Consideration
Any proposal or resolution for consideration, and voting thereon, at any AGM shall be submitted in full, via email, to the Commissioner.
These must be sent to commissioner@americanfootball.ie
The proposal(s) or resolution(s) for consideration should arrive with the Commissioner not later than 2 weeks prior to the date of the AGM at which the proposal is to be considered and voted upon (by end of November 4th). 

2023 AFI Gala Awards Night

American Football Ireland are delighted to publicly announce the inaugural 2023 AFI Gala Awards Night, taking place Saturday November 18th at Crowne Plaza, Blanchardstown from 6:30pm. As American Football Ireland continues to build, we believe it is important to recognise and celebrate the success and achievements of our clubs and individuals on and off the field that help to further the development and growth of the sport in Ireland and of the association. This event will help celebrate the best of AFI membership: from player performances to volunteers; from backroom staff to referees; and everything in between. The event will also see the official induction of the very first official class to American Football Ireland’s Hall of Fame. Tickets are €60, and will include a 3 course meal, drinks reception and evening entertainment. Book your spot at this amazing event here.

The nominations for each Player award can be found below. More award shortlists, including those for the 2023 Class of the American Football Ireland Hall of Fame, will be announced at a later date.

HOPE Through Football September 2023 Clinics

HOPE Through Football camps return this weekend to Sport Ireland Campus in a continued collaboration between AFI, the HOPE Through Football initiative and #ShareTheKnowledgeUK. The partnership has brought both online and in-person clinics to the Irish American football community, delivered by worldwide experts like European and college football coaches, former NFL players and NFL Hall of Famer Rod Woodson.

This weekend sees 2 fantastic one-day camps take place in Blanchardstown, Co. Dublin. On Saturday 23rd from 9:30-5pm, the future of the Irish American football scene will be coached by former NFL coaches and current, highly experienced coaches from the UK and Ireland the basics of the sport, and is ideal for current Youth football players and interested 15-18yr olds who have always thought about playing American football. This clinic costs just €10, and includes a packed lunch and event t-shirt. Athletes are asked to bring moulded stud football boots, with on-field drills taking place at the Sport Ireland Campus indoor arena. Tickets can be purchased at this link.

Sunday 24th from 11-3 sees 2 NFL veterans take American Football Ireland coaches and football enthusiasts into the classroom. Former NFL Defensive Coordinator Chuck Bresnahan will deliver content to those looking to up their game on the defensive side of the ball, while Former NFL WR and Pro Scout Quinton Smith will dive into details on how to improve offensive efficiency, among other topics. This clinic is free to all. Parking for this event will be next to FAI HQ at Sport Ireland Campus. Places must be reserved through this link.

This weekend boasts fantastic opportunities for football coaches, players and fans alike to truly develop their football IQ and learn from the best the game has to offer. Make sure to get your tickets for each event through the links above!

#Ball4All — “Where are you really from?” by Coach Stephen Archibald

“Where are you from……no, where are you really from?” 

The good news is I haven’t heard this question in a long while. In saying that, I have heard this question enough times to be well versed in my response – ‘I’m Black Irish’. 

For context I’m a defensively minded, ex-player/current Irish Wolfhounds coach, with a cockney accent. I am both black and white, English and Irish, live in Dublin but my mam is from Cork – I am conflicted in my identity in many ways!  

From an inclusivity perspective I cannot claim to be a saint. I have a sharp tongue (thanks to my Corkonian mother) and have wielded it poorly in my youth. But like the Country and American Football Ireland (AFI), I have grown and matured.

I joined the league as a player in 2001. We had a small group of dedicated players and teams, driven by a shared love for the sport and a vision to establish a competitive football culture in Ireland. It was very different from today’s AFI, but it immediately felt like a family. Like all families our teams were a little dysfunctional. We often accepted poor behaviour, disguised as ‘acceptable’ banter of its era.  

I have stories of discrimination that would get many cancelled – I also have stories of great ally-ship where my family/team have protected me. I feel fortunate that in all the teams I have been part of in Ireland, I have always felt safe to be true to my identity. But has everyone else?

As I have moved from player to coach my circle of influence has changed and this has raised some questions around inclusivity: 
In our teams do we feel safe to be true to our identities? 
Do we foster an environment where anyone or everyone can participate? 
When it goes wrong who do we turn to and what will happen?  

Diversity and inclusivity for Irish American Football on the island of Ireland is incredibly complex with challenges on North, South, Gender participation, LGBTQ+ and Race and Religion. None are easy to address!

I certainly don’t have the answers, but in the past two decades I have witnessed a remarkable transformation in the league’s approach to inclusivity. The most significant turning point came with the launch of the “20×20” campaign, which along with flag football, has massively increased female participation.

However for me, I felt immense disappointment in June 2020 when I felt like the rest of the sporting world took a stance on inclusivity and racism but the AFI stayed silent. Another Pride month had gone by, another set of black males had been shot in the US. Sporting organisations around the world assured us they wouldn’t tolerate discrimination. Our league’s silence was  on both issues was deafening.  

So again I asked: 
Do we feel safe to be true to our identities? I did not at the time.

Do we foster an environment where anyone or everyone can participate? Passively but not actively and not across many of our inclusivity challenges. 
When it goes wrong who do we turn to? I turned to my team and they acted like my family. I felt heard and I felt safe. I turned to the Board. Again, I felt heard and they have since taken actions – slower than I would like, but they are pushing on many levels driving policy initiatives aimed at combating discrimination. I applaud all these efforts but there is still much left to do. 
 
American Football Ireland is a great family. This year I have seen more forward progress as most teams are actively promoting a message of inclusivity. I hope you always feel welcomed, safe and included. If you don’t please tell the AFI https://www.americanfootball.ie/governance/management-team/ 
 
“Where are you from,….no, where are you really from?” 
I’m a mixed race man from Dublin via London with a Corkonian for a mother and a Cockney accent. I love American Football and the Irish Wolfhounds. More than this I love my Irish American football family and hope we continue to grow and expand with the principles of diversity and inclusion embedded within our community. 

#Ball4All — “Embracing Diversity and Unity” by Ayo Mumuni

For the past 12 years, I have had the privilege of being a part of the Cork Admirals, a remarkable Irish American football team. As a black athlete, I want to share my overwhelmingly positive experiences within the team and highlight the unwavering support, respect, and inclusivity fostered by coaches Lomasney and Kelleher. Not only have they consistently focused on our abilities as athletes, but they have also cultivated an environment where diversity is embraced, and lessons extend beyond the football field.

A Color-Blind Environment
Throughout my time with the Cork Admirals, the topic of race has never been an issue. It has never even come up in conversation or been a factor in how I am treated as a member of the team. The coaches, Lomasney and Kelleher, have always emphasized the importance of abilities, skills, and character, never allowing color or ethnicity to play a role in their evaluation or treatment of players. This inclusive mindset has created a level playing field where every athlete is given an equal opportunity to showcase their talents and contribute to the team’s success.

An Incident-Free Journey
I am grateful to say that I have never encountered a single incident of discrimination or prejudice during my time with the Cork Admirals. The coaches, players, and staff have consistently exemplified respect, acceptance, and unity. Regardless of our diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, we come together as a cohesive unit, united by our shared passion for the sport. This collective focus on camaraderie and support has not only enhanced our experiences as athletes but has also contributed to building lifelong friendships and a sense of belonging.

A Welcoming Irish American Football League
Beyond my experiences with the Cork Admirals, I have observed the same level of acceptance and inclusion within the wider Irish American football league. I have witnessed players from various backgrounds and ethnicities join teams and receive the same warmth, encouragement, and mentorship that I have been fortunate to experience. Coaches across the league not only teach us about football but also instill valuable life lessons, emphasizing the importance of respect, teamwork, perseverance, and personal growth

Football and Life Lessons
One of the most significant aspects of my journey with the Cork Admirals and the Irish American football league as a whole has been the coaches’ dedication to shaping us not just as athletes but as individuals. They have gone above and beyond to provide guidance, mentorship, and support, imparting valuable life lessons both on and off the field. Through their leadership, I have seen not only my own personal growth but also witnessed the positive transformation of other players from diverse backgrounds, who have thrived under the guidance and care of our coaches.

Conclusion
My experience as a black athlete with the Cork Admirals has been nothing short of extraordinary. Coaches Lomasney and Kelleher have consistently fostered an environment that celebrates diversity, unity, and mutual respect. Their unwavering focus on ability rather than color has created a team dynamic where every athlete feels valued and supported. Moreover, the Irish American football league as a whole has proven to be incredibly welcoming, embracing individuals from different backgrounds and ethnicities. As I reflect on my journey, I am grateful for the valuable life lessons I have learned and the lifelong connections I have made. The Cork Admirals and the Irish American football community exemplify the power of inclusivity and the beauty of unity in sport.

#Ball4All — “OG Women of AFI” by Lyndsay McVeigh

Football for me isn’t a “thing” to do on a Sunday, it’s a 7 day a week commitment and that isn’t just because I live with a Head Coach! Football is something I love, something I want to help grow and something that I feel genuinely proud to be a part off.

I was speaking with the living AFI Legend that is Dr Kelly Dwyer and we both agreed that at this point football makes up about 90 percent of our personalities and we honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m 13 years, two governing bodies, many, many away trips and two football teams deep now. I like to think of myself as an “OG” woman of the AFI but truth be told the league has always had a female presence. I’ve seen WAGs make the transition from spectator to the like of Bowl Ref, Coach, Starter and Commissioner. I myself have gone from videographer to a member of the AFI comms team and the occasional ref. I’ve filmed teams across Europe, sat in on Div 3 Huddles, and have had the opportunity to capture so many league firsts. Never once have I felt out of place in what is considered a “Sport played by Men”.

I may be known as “wee” Lyndsay around the league but I’ve always been treated like one of the “team” no matter where I’ve went. The NFL celebrate women in football as something ground breaking but the AFI have been doing this from as long as I’ve been associated with the league.

From profile pictures to podcasts, women have be producing a high proportion of the AFI’s social content for a number of years. This content has had the league grow from a niche sport to 3 divisions of competitive football, a national programme and now the development of a grassroots programme. Arianne, Charisse, Kelly and that’s but to name but a few, you’ve paved the way for female content creators within the AFI and I’m so proud to have stood beside you along the way. I cannot wait to see where this journey take us. To the next 13 years!

Ball 4 All — “Queer as Flag” by G Appleyard

By way of introduction I have been involved with AFI flag since 2021. I’m a queer, non binary person that before flag hadn’t set foot on a sports field since I was in school. I’m also a “plus size” or fat person that couldn’t run the length of myself when I started. My catching skill was reminiscent of when you throw a treat at a dog and it just bonks them on the head. However the joy of sports set me on a journey that changed my life and the trajectory of it drastically.

Sports that involve any amount of contact tend to not be appealing to people born as women. The same is true for anyone falling under the LGBT umbrella. The old school “locker room talk” and predominantly male presence can feel incredibly intimidating. Lack of knowledge, prejudges and the liberal use of slurs being used in these environments can feel as though you always have to fight your corner.


As someone that doesn’t use the pronouns or name I was born with I’ve rarely had anyone I’ve played with or against have any issues. Slip ups in name or pronouns are natural when it is a change their language. So far as trans people go I’m very laid back when it comes to those things as long as I know I am respected as an equal.


On the rare occasion I’ve had to call out anyone for anything that has made me uncomfortable, I’ve been met with support from anyone that knows me. And it’s usually less to do with bigotry and more to do with lack of knowledge and ignorance.


There are likely teams and coaches with people that are bigoted and lack the desire to understand. However just a reminder they are afraid of you. They think different is scary and are scared what it might reveal in themselves. The biggest scariest bigot you can find is likely more scared of you than you are of them. This is a few and far between experience though. With more inclusion comes more conflict. There have even been talks of diversity and inclusion roles within the league at the higher levels. Often well managed teams will already have this! Which makes dealing with anyone difficult much easier.


I am in a unique position of my husband also being involved with the league. As well as being part of other male dominated sports. The masculine side of my personality thrives throwing balls and getting crashed into by my “bros”. Which feels very validating to be welcomed with open arms and accepted into the team with not so much as a side ways glance. So I’ve always felt secure enough to be open about my gender and sexuality without fear.


The ever increasing presence of LGBT people, women and fat people within this modern sport fills me with joy. It’s finally reflecting the way the rest of the world looks in reality. Which is also the joy of playing in a mixed gender league.


With trans people, queer people and women being stripped of their rights in many countries it’s a temulculous time to be open with your identity. Representation for people is more and more important.


I hope the teenagers questioning their sexuality see our rainbow shoe laces and see we are not to be feared. I hope the kids that feel like they are different from everyone around them and don’t feel like their body fits, hear my name called and my pronouns used, and feel safe. I hope that fat people look at me and my husband run and crash and tackle and catch with confidence and wonder how they can get that confidence.


The world is not black and white and neither is flag football. It’s for all. We are a rainbow spectrum of talent, skill, shapes and sizes. There is a place for you.

Preview: AFI Gameweek 14

School’s out for summer, which means playoff football is right around the corner! Just a handful of gameweeks remain until playoff pictures are locked in and loser-goes-home matchups grace our fields, but to get there we have some important games to get through to decide playoff seeding, qualification and — in the case of this week — potentially relegation. Let’s take a look at what Gameweek 14’s 3-game slate has on offer!

Division 2
Wexford Eagles (4-0) @ Causeway Giants (3-2) — Limepark Playing Fields, Ballymoney, Co. Antrim, 2pm
Potentially a preview for the Division 2 Bowl this July 9th, the Eagles travel to the Causeway to protect their undefeated record when they take on the Giants. The Eagles have been rolling this year thanks to a relentless defense and a fast-paced, powerful offense. Coach Kevin Klatt will be thrilled with how the Eagles’ return to football has gone after missing the most of the 2022 season, and will surely see this game as a great way to see how the team is clicking heading into a big 4 weeks for the club. The Giants, meanwhile, have been keen throughout May to fix some tendencies and tweak gameplans to work themselves into high-gear come July 9th — while their record says 3-2, that includes a forfeit win from Trinity, and their last result was a 35-6 loss to this weekend’s opponents. Look for the hosts to get QB Jig McCoy rolling with some momentum-builders early while attempting to maximise the efforts of Tony McCloskey (4 sacks, 2 forced and recovered fumbles) and Ross McKenzie (2 sacks) up front to slow down the Eagles pass rush. That being said, every player on the home sideline will likely need to be at their very beset to overcome this Eagles side.

Premier Division
Belfast Knights (1-5) @ Craigavon Cowboys (0-7) — People’s Park, Portadown, Co. Armagh, 2pm
Craigavon will have spent the last few weeks rallying the troops and getting any type of home field atmosphere they can as they battle the Knights in what threatens to be the Cowboys’ final Premier Division game until at least the 2025 season. Craigavon’s exploits on the field have not gone as hoped for the Cowboys’ faithful and will surely be pulling out all the stops they can to get a result in this one. Though his appearance in their loss to Cork 5 weeks ago resulted in a knee injury, one can only assume longtime Cowboys QB Peter Loughran will have been doing everything he can to get healthy and back on the field for this one and provide a true ace up the hosts’ sleeve. As for the Knights, they are not guaranteed safety themselves, and with a tough test @ UCD to end their season, this is also a must-win game for Belfast. The Knights have certainly played more consistent football than their opponents this year, and perhaps their experience in these do-or-die situations (involved in relegation battles in 2019 and 2022) may give them the edge in this one. Regardless, both teams will want to fight hard to make this as calm as an affair as possible and cruise to safety. Of course, these are the type of stakes that tend to lead to intense matchups…

Cork Admirals (5-1) @ Westmeath Minotaurs (2-4) — Mullingar RFC, Co. Westmeath, 2pm
Finally, the Admirals travel up to Mullingar to face Westmeath. A horrible Gameweek 13 (some would say unlucky 13) for the Cork side saw the Ads be thoroughly beaten by the visiting undefeated Rebels, letting go of their own win streak in the process. Unfortunate to not at least put up a presentable scoreboard, Cork will be adamant on making up for the loss this Sunday and planning for a big result against a Minotaurs squad that has no stakes left to play for on the season after securing Premier Division safety and being boxed out of the playoff race. 2 teams with talented QBs and a plethora of weapons at their disposal, the key to this game may be both teams’ defenses: how will the Minotaurs shape up against a playoff-caliber outfit, and how do the Admirals bounce back after a hefty loss from just a week ago? 

Writer’s Predictions
Eagles 26-12 Giants
Cowboys 14-18 Knights
Admirals 24-21 Minotaurs

Review: AFI Gameweek 12

Gameweek 12 certainly did not disappoint! With Saturday and Sunday both having a game finish with a margin of less than a field goal, while another game wrapped up with an upset shutout. With plenty of knock-on effects for the last month of the season, let’s see how this Premier Division-heavy slate played out.

SATURDAY
Premier Division
UCD (3-3) 24-25 Dublin Rebels (5-0)
A tight contest that went down to the wire at De La Salle RFC! The lead changed multiple times in this one, with both Arun Mooney and Ty Henry having great scoring days by contributing for 4 touchdowns each. The story coming out of this one will be the Rebels holding the Students to 0-4 on 2pt conversion attempts, which kept them in the game throughout. The game was decided just before the 2-minute warning, with Ty Henry throwing his 3rd passing touchdown of the day to Dave King to put the Rebels ahead by one point. A defensive stop on the ensuing drive ended the game and secured the Rebels’ fifth win on the season, keeping their undefeated season alive. UCD fall to 3-3, and while they still seem to be penciled in for a postseason appearance (provided they win one of their last 2 games: vs Panthers, vs Knights), it’s safe to say the vibe on campus right now is slightly more agitated than going into the season. The Rebels, meanwhile, are all but locked into a home playoff game this July. They travel to Cork Sunday June 4th in a showdown with the Admirals in a game that will see one team lose their perfect record.

SUNDAY
Division 1
NI Razorbacks (3-4) 12-14 Cill Dara Crusaders (4-2)
Another close game in this one, with the Razorbacks putting up a tough test to the hosts here. The visitors got on the scoreboard first early-on through Alex Kusmirek, but the Crusaders defense showed up in a hard-fought battle where touchdowns became a premium. Ultimately, Cill Dara went over in this one, with scores from Luke Carey (who added what turned out to be a crucial 2pt conversion) and Ben Costello proving to just be enough for the hosts to hang on to victory, despite a late comeback attempt and QB sneak from Mark Thompson threatening to tie the game late. Cill Dara play the Dublin Rhinos (2-4) this coming Sunday in a return fixture that will prove to be a key matchup in the Division 1 playoff picture. The Razorbacks chase for the #4 spot is in jeopardy after this loss, with a win now needed over the 6-0 Mavericks and two losses for the Rhinos to make the Razorbacks playoff eligible.

Premier Division
Belfast Knights (1-5) 0-27 Westmeath Minotaurs (2-4)
The Minotaurs managed to reverse the result of their away trip to Belfast 3 weeks ago with a big win at home Sunday over the Knights. Joe Kinahan and Jack Lynch connected for 2 scores Sunday and ran in a third, while Shaun Dalton housed an interception that killed a Knights drive that reached the redzone. The Knights reached the redzone multiple times Sunday but couldn’t push the ball over the goalline as the Westmeath defense stood their ground. The Minotaurs, now sitting at 2-4, have created a bit of momentum on offense that they’ll look to carry through to the end of the season with tough games against current undefeated sides Cork and the Rebels. Playoffs are still mathematically possible but even the most ardent of Westmeath fans will be more focused on finishing the year with good performances rather than living or dying by playoff dreams. The Knights, meanwhile, hit a bit of a roadblock and have 2 games left on their own campaign. @ Cowboys and @ UCD remain, and with the threat of relegation still looming, the Knights need to win 1 of those 2 games to secure survival in Premier Division.

Craigavon Cowboys (0-7) 0-26 Belfast Trojans (4-2)
The Trojans put up their own shutout at home Sunday when they hosted the Cowboys and came out with a 4-score win. Mo Ramadan has been a big piece for the Trojans for years as a hybrid-FB, but had an outstanding day even for his standards this past weekend — the Trojans offensive MVP caught 1 of Dom Lynn’s 2 touchdown passes, and punched 2 touchdowns in on the ground. On defense, Head Coach Phil Gunning had asked for better play after their visit to Mullingar and they delivered, keeping the Cowboys at bay all game with multiple players getting in on numerous TFLs and limiting Cowboys yardage. A complete team performance will always act as a morale boost to any team, and its one the Trojans will be happy to have come by as they come into the last 2 games of the regular season, staring down playoff football. June 18th’s matchup with the Panthers (3-2) essentially acts as a “win and you’re in” game, and the Trojans will be chomping at the bit for that matchup. The Cowboys have just 1 game left this year, which comes June 11th at home vs the Knights. A loss relegates Craigavon to Division 1. All eyes will be on Peter Loughran’s availability at QB as his on-field presence is undeniable and a certain game-changer. A knee injury suffered at the beginning of May, though, may rule him out for that one.

Preview: AFI Gameweek 12

Don’t look now, but it’s almost the end of May… that means we have just a handful of gameweeks between now and the end of the regular season and playoffs! With fights for survival and playoff positioning truly heating up, Gameweek 12 has a lot on offer for the few games taking place this weekend. Let’s break down what each game has in store.

To start, 2 forfeits were announced earlier this week, when Trinity forfeited their game vs Causeway Giants in Division 2, and Antrim Jets forfeited their matchup with UL Vikings in Division 1. The Giants’ push towards the Division 2 final is given a massive boost, while last year’s Division 2 champions are left with the unfortunate reality that — barring a Donegal/Derry Vipers forfeit between now and the end of June that would keep Antrim’s status alive — the Jets will be facing relegation in 2024.

SATURDAY
Premier Division
UCD (3-2) @ Dublin Rebels (4-0) — De La Salle RFC, Palmerston, 2pm
Part 2 of the 2023 edition of this meeting of giants, as UCD come back from exams to take on the undefeated hosts. UCD will have been studying for more than just exams this month, as they will be chomping at the bit to avenge their season-opening loss to the Rebels back in March. UCD’s Arun Mooney has been in great form again this year — as he was during last year’s National Championship campaign — so it will be interesting to see if the break in games for the student side has derailed that momentum or simply given him a chance to recharge the batteries to get right back to work. Speaking of in-form QBs, March and April’s Offensive Player of the Month Ty Henry has been tearing it up this season, scoring with his arm and his legs. Much like the matchup from earlier this season, this game promises to be a shootout with plenty of points scored. A must-watch this weekend.

SUNDAY
Division 1
NI Razorbacks (3-3) @ Cill Dara Crusaders (3-2) — Newbridge College, 2pm
An intriguing matchup at the middle of the table in Division 1 this Sunday in Newbridge when the Crusaders play hosts to the Razorbacks. A win for Cill Dara leaves them sitting comfortably at the #3 seed in the division and guaranteeing playoff football for themselves. A win for the visitors, though, would make Division 1’s path to the playoffs just as intriguing to the casual fan, with the Razorbacks leapfrogging their opponents this weekend with just 1 game remaining for the Belfast side, and another Rhinos/Crusaders game to look forward to. As for this Sunday, the Razorbacks come into this one with a hot hand, outscoring opponents 58-0 in their last 2 games. Cill Dara earned a tough win over the Rhinos recently that has them where they’re at in the table right now and will fancy themselves to defend home turf. Both teams have huge incentives to win this game and the visitors will certainly look to make this a battle.

Premier Division
Craigavon Cowboys (0-6) @ Belfast Trojans (3-2) — Derramore RFC, 2pm
The Cowboys travel to Belfast this Sunday in need of a win from their last 2 games to have a chance of staying up in Premier Division. The Trojans, meanwhile, would benefit massively from a win themselves, with a result for the hosts creating some breathing room in the race to the playoffs. QB Dom Lynn will be in the spotlight again this weekend after making his first start last week @ Minotaurs since suffering an injury in preseason. How the Belfast offense functions with Lynn under center against a Cowboys team that held them to just 1 touchdown at People’s Park a few months ago will go a long way to projecting their success for the rest of the season. While a Cowboys result seems unlikely in this one, the Cowboys could do with some big plays to — if nothing else — build something towards their final game of the season at home vs Knights. A game to keep an eye on for sure.

Belfast Knights (1-4) @ Westmeath Minotaurs (1-4) — Mullingar RFC, 2pm
A game in which both teams are probably a win or 2 better than their records suggest sees the Knights travelling to Mullingar in an attempt to sweep their series with the Minotaurs. The first matchup between these two teams happened just 3 weeks ago (28-8 to the Knights) so this will likely be about which team makes the better adjustments to what they saw on the field and on tape last time out. Spencer McDowell and Co. will be looking to put up a similar start to this weekend’s game to the last time these 2 teams played, when they scored all 28 points within the first half — does Daithi McShane feature as heavily as he did, when he scored 2 touchdowns? On the other sideline, Joe Kinahan will be looking to feed his own weapons and have an offensive output more akin to last week’s matchup with the Trojans (32 points scored) than their last Knights game. A win for either team will provide a burst of momentum for them heading into final stretches of tough games to finish the season (Knights — @ Cowboys, @ UCD. Minotaurs — vs Admirals, @ Rebels)… both teams will be looking at this one as an opportunities to finish the season feeling good about their 2023 campaigns.

Writer’s Predictions
UCD 24-30 Rebels
Razorbacks 16-18 Crusaders
Cowboys 6-28 Trojans
Knights 27-24 Minotaurs

Preview: AFI Gameweek 11

Six Gameweeks remain in the 2023 AFI Kitted season, and with so much still to play for, the stakes up for grabs in each game are always mounting higher and higher. Teams this weekend play for a whole host of reasons, be they chances at division survival, playoff appearances or home field advantage in July. How does this Sunday look to shape up? Let’s take a look!

Division 2
North Dublin Pirates (0-3) @ Trinity College Dublin (1-1) — Trinity Sports Grounds, Santry, 2pm
After taking a huge blow away from home last weekend the Pirates are again on the road this weekend as they take a short trip to Santry. The hosts have a chance to get some momentum back after their exam season, with the team’s last gameday being a big loss to the Eagles (3-0). This is a game that they shouldn’t overlook here, even if they go back-to-back with a game next week too, as the Pirates haven’t exactly laid down for opponents. The visitors will be eager to replicate their performance in their trip to Limepark and play a tighter, hard-fought game and put the students to the test. It’s hard to favour the North Dublin outfit here but this writer isn’t exactly going to rule them out either.

Division 1
Louth Mavericks (5-0) @ Dublin Rhinos (2-3) — Castleknock RFC, 2pm
The Rhinos faithful may be starting to get a little antsy after last weekend’s game with the Crusaders (3-2). While they put in a great team performance, the Rhinos lost their starting QB Ethan Foster to an injury that will sideline him for the rest of the season. They’ll need to dominate on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and lean on the run game to get results in these last few games and through the playoffs if they make it in, and they’re certainly a team that can win games this way. The undefeated Mavericks with QB Nathan Hearty at the helm pose a threat that, on a short rebound, the Rhinos may not be full strength for, but if their defense can play up to their #3 defensive ranking then they may make more of a game out of this than some from Louth may anticipate. The Mavs are undefeated for a reason but the Premier Division experience the Rhinos have give them an edge that the rest of Louth’s opponents thus far didn’t have. This has the chance to be a tight clash.

Premier Division
Belfast Trojans (2-2) @ Westmeath Minotaurs (1-3) — Mullingar RFC, 2pm
An intriguing matchup here as the Trojans take the trip to Mullingar for their game against the Minotaurs. The Trojans come into this one the hotter hand, going 2-1 since April and having an exciting game with the Admirals (5-0) last weekend. QB Josh Davis has settled into the role after a slow start, with regular starter Dominic Lynn still absent through injury. It will be interesting to see how the offense lines up once Lynn is back, which could be as soon as this Sunday. With weapons on both sides of the ball the Trojans are making a bid to make a playoff appearance after narrowly missing out last season, but will need a win over a Minotaurs team that has shown in spurts that they can hang in the division. How the Westmeath offense starts this game could prove key to this one, with their second-half output largely outscoring their first-half scores this year. 

Craigavon Cowboys (0-5) @ South Dublin Panthers (2-2) — Sport Ireland Campus, Blanchardstown, 2pm
Another team making their own bid for Premier Division playoffs in 2023 is the South Dublin Panthers, who are finding their footing with Finn Kearns at QB and growing more confident as a unit. They face a winless Cowboys team that knows it needs to find ways to compete sooner rather than later as they face an uphill battle to avoid relegation this year. The Panthers have been steady this year, save for a big loss to the Rebels (5-0), and will be eager to capitalise on a struggling side and help their push to the postseason. The Cowboys, though, are a team that will be throwing everything into every tackle and every play — an experienced team like Craigavon with their backs against the wall can’t be ruled out for an upset.

Writer’s Predictions
Pirates 10-18 Trinity
Rhinos 12-24 Mavericks
Trojans 23-17 Minotaurs
Cowboys 10-23 Panthers

 

Preview: AFI Gameweek 10

We break into double digits this weekend as the 2023 AFI Senior Kitted season breaks into its 10th Gameweek. This weekend, AFI celebrates with 6 games across all 3 divisions with some marquee rivalry matchups, chances at revenge for games earlier in the year and — most importantly — implications for playoff football and relegation battles! With half a dozen games to break down, let’s get straight to it!

SATURDAY
Division 1
Cill Dara Crusaders (2-2) @ Dublin Rhinos (2-2) — Castleknock RFC, 2pm
Both teams come into this one perhaps a bit shaken up from their Gameweek 8 results. The hosts, losing a tough 14-3 game to the Vikings (5-0), will probably feel a bit more confident than their visitors, who are on the road again after being beaten 34-0 by Louth (4-0) 2 weeks ago. Crusaders QB Jordan Farrell, who had been on fire up until the last matchup, will be excited to get back on form but will be up against the 2nd best defense in the division. The Rhinos, with their exciting offense that has Ethan Foster performing brilliantly thus far, will try and push the ball on an aggressive defense that tends to put pressure in the backfield. With both teams still having a chance to host a playoff game with a win here, this should be an exciting game. With both teams coming off a loss after having built some momentum, this may be a test of character for both teams as well.

Louth Mavericks (4-0) @ Donegal/Derry Vipers (1-4) — Templemore Sports Complex, Derry, 2pm
This game was a landslide earlier in the year (53-7 Mavericks) but with the Vipers wanting to put a bit of distance between themselves and the Jets (0-5) towards the final push at the end of the season there may be more fight in this one. Nathan Hearty and co. have been killing it for the Mavericks this season, with the team averaging nearly 45 points per game. Dominating just as much as been the defense, who has conceded just once on the year. Both teams have stakes in this one — the Vipers will want to gain some breathing room from the bottom while the Mavericks will want to push for a home playoff spot and the #1 seed. Linear logic is simply not a thing in football so Louth won’t win just because they won the last time, but with how dominant they’ve been in every game this year it’s hard not to call a repeat here.

Premier Division
Cork Admirals (4-0) @ Belfast Trojans (2-2) — Derramore Park, 2pm
The Trojans return home this weekend to host an undefeated Admirals team. This game is probably the most anticipated of the week, given the atmosphere at Trojans gamedays and the teams involved. The visitors are off to a fantastic start in 2023 and a home playoff berth is theirs to lose at this point. Consistent, powerful performances have put Cork in a position of control in the division, with very few outcomes for them remaining to not make the playoffs this year. Meanwhile, the Trojans will surely have the final game of the 2022 season on their minds this weekend, where they played Cork for a chance to make the playoffs and just fell short in an entertaining 26-20 game. That, coupled with the fact Big T hasn’t lost a home regular season game since May of 2019 — against Cork — results in a game that could be a thrill to watch unfold. Tough to call this one.

SUNDAY
Division 2
North Dublin Pirates (0-2) @ Wexford Eagles (2-0) — Craanford Sports Complex, 2pm
The Pirates visit the Eagles in this Division 2 matchup. The Eagles are rolling right now after dominating displays against Trinity and the Giants. The Pirates, while not winning their last matchup (8-7 loss to Giants) will be encouraged with the battle they showed. The key here may be down to who scores first — a Pirates first score could be a great morale boost for a team that, realistically, enters as the underdog. 

Division 1
NI Razorbacks (2-3) @ Antrim Jets (0-5) — Antrim Forum, 2pm
The Jets have 3 games to correct course on the season and not return to a division they won just last year, and the first chance at correction comes this Sunday when they host the Razorbacks. The visitors come in off the back of a home win against the Vipers after having their own questions on how the season was going. The home side come in winless and potentially entering desperation zone when it comes to what scenarios keep them up. Both teams need wins here — the Jets, for the reasons above, and the Razorbacks to further solidify themselves as a clear D1 team and potentially creep into the playoff race again. Being at home gives the Jets an edge, and this game was tight on opening weekend (22-6 Razorbacks)… this one could get interesting.

Premier Division
Belfast Knights (1-3) @ South Dublin Panthers (1-2) — Trinity Sports Grounds, 2pm
Two 1-win teams with vastly different levels of momentum. The Knights are on the second half of a back-to-back after beating the Minotaurs at home last Sunday, while the Panthers’ last game was a 61-6 loss to the Rebels (4-0). 2 different styles on offense too, with the Knights running a version of the ground n’ pound offense with big guys up front, while the Panthers this season have been led on the field by WR-turned-QB Finn Kearns, who (along with his receiving corps) is lightning quick on his feet. Both teams have struggled in spots this season so this game is an intriguing game around the race for the #4 seed in the Premier Division, as both look to build something now that will keep them running into and during that playoff run. There’ll be plenty of eyes on this one Sunday, particularly with the other Premier Division game being held Saturday. This one is a dark horse candidate for a shootout too.

Writer’s Predictions
Crusaders 16-20 Rhinos
Mavericks 28-10 Vipers
Admirals 25-21 Trojans

Pirates 12-23 Eagles
Razorbacks 21-12 Jets
Knights 27-30 Panthers

Review: AFI Gameweek 9

Just 2 games in last weekend’s slate to review today, taking at opposite ends of the island, but with plenty of knock-on effects for the Premier Division picture moving forward. Who took steps forward, who stumbled at the midseason hurdle? Let’s take a look and see!

Craigavon Cowboys  (0-5) 6-28 Cork Admirals (4-0)
Making his debut for the Admirals senior squad after rising through the National Youth Football Champion program, Jake Kennedy had a productive day under center, throwing for 3 touchdowns in a performance that will have a lot of heads turning. Keeping things moving through the air through the likes of Ryan Price and Jack Cronin, the Admirals got the run game going consistently too. Spreading the load between multiple runners, Cork had more than 140 yards from 20 carries Sunday, in a game that shows the Admirals are a well-built unit from top to bottom on offense. That cohesion follows across to the defense too who, through a number of players, recorded 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and a recovery — a performance they will look to replicate this Saturday in Belfast versus the Trojans (2-2).  For Craigavon, Sunday marked another tough day at the office, although there is an upward trend beginning to form here that may see the Cowboys recover just enough to avoid the drop at the end of the season. Starting off strong with an early score against a team like the Admirals will be the type of push the Craigavon coaching staff will be pushing for from their players until the end of June and it might see them come out with an upset victory before too long.

Westmeath Minotaurs (1-3) 8-28 Belfast Knights (1-3)
A great win in front of the Knights who sent their final home crowd for the season home happy as they came away 28-8 victors over the Minotaurs. The Knights opened the scoring gates early with touchdowns on their first 2 drives, and had brought the scoring up to 28-0 before halftime. Daithi McShane, quickly becoming a popular target for Spencer McDowell scored 2 receiving touchdowns on red zone targets, while on defense Johnny Hedley caught his first interception on the season. The Knights are well-known for their force in the trenches in that was at the forefront of this game. The Minotaurs, unable to consistently get push on the Knights on either side of the ball, never truly put the result of the game in doubt in the second half — despite some drives coming close to (and eventually crossing via a Joe Kinahan to Cathal Dunne connection) the goalline. Moving forward, the Knights will be keen on starting a win streak this coming Sunday when they take on the Panthers (1-3). Over their break week before they face the Trojans in Mullingar, the Minotaurs will need to figure out their first-half woes — and get back to more productive offensive performances — if they are to make a last-ditch push for playoff contention, as H2H tiebreaker losses with the Panthers, and (currently) the Knights after last Sunday has them behind the 8-ball on that front.

Preview: AFI Gameweek 9

After having multiple weeks with games taking place across every division in Ireland, Gameweek 9 focuses solely on the Premier Division. With just 2 games on the slate for Sunday, with plenty of consequences for the division’s playoff and relegation scenarios, there will be eyes from all over the island on these games. Let’s take a sneak peak at what to expect from this weekend’s action.

Premier Division

Craigavon Cowboys (0-4) @ Cork Admirals (3-0) — Old Christians RFC, Glanmire, Cork, 2pm
Two teams on two very different paths this season, as an undefeated Admirals team that looks set to make another playoff run takes on a Cowboys side that has lost 10 straight games in the Premier Division stretching back to last season. The Cowboys have really struggled this year and have lost some scores by some big scores, but the fight from them is still there. Scoring just once this season with half the season behind them, Craigavon need to find ways to get on the scoreboard soon. Their playoff scenarios officially draw dead for this season with a loss in Cork, and with how much of a roll the Admirals are on right now it’s hard to predict anything but this happening. QB Stephen Hayes has started this year exponentially stronger than 2022, with the Wolfhounds capped QB throwing for 10 touchdowns in these first 3 games. The defense has been as impressive, limiting opposing offenses to just 13.3 ppg so far. All this coupled with the long trip from Craigavon makes it very hard to call an upset here, and this game for the Cowboys may just be a case of trying to show signs of promise for their remaining games moving forward. 

Playoff Scenarios: Cowboys eliminated from contention with Loss @ Admirals

Westmeath Minotaurs (1-2) @ Belfast Knights (0-3) — Malone RFC, Belfast, 2pm
A lot closer of a game on paper sees the Minotaurs travel up to Belfast to battle the Knights. Both teams sit in the bottom half of the table right now, but there are plenty of scenarios which see one of these teams make the playoffs come July. The road to then starts this Sunday in what will be the first ever meeting between these 2 sides. In many ways these teams are antitheses of each other. The Knights have scored the majority of their points on the ground this season and have been highlighted on offense by the QB-RB pairing of Spencer McDowell and Robbie Alexander, while Westmeath have entered the season with one of the more prolific QB-WR duos in the division, with Joe Kinahan connecting with Shaun Dalton 4 times in the endzone so far this year. On defense the Knights have always been known for a tough, hard-hitting defensive front and have put pressure on opposing offensive lines in both the run and pass games consistently for years. The Minotaurs defense has been less productive as far as sacks go but has come away with 5 interceptions in just 3 games so far in 2023, which has them placed 3rd in the league in that statistic. A game of contrasting styles and a game of major importance: the first of 2 games between these teams this year, both teams have chances of getting themselves into playoff races come the end of the season, while the loser this Sunday may start to get themselves in a battle to survive a relegation battle. Can the Knights get their first win of the season or do the Minotaurs continue to establish themselves in Premier Division with a result away from home?

Writer’s Predictions
Cowboys 6-24 Admirals
Minotaurs 23-17 Knights

Review: AFI Gameweek 8

Another weekend, another high-scoring slate! 5 games took place across the island Sunday, with 3 of them going north of 40 points scored — and one of the 2 that didn’t was blitzed with torrential rain and lightning delays. Unfortunately for neutrals, Gameweek 8 wasn’t the most drama-filled, with most of the slate being blowout victories. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to take from those games though, and as teams put more and more focus on playoff or relegation battles these results begin to matter a lot more! Let’s take a look at what unfolded, and how it might play into the end of the 2023 kitted season in July.

Division 2
Causeway Giants (2-2) 6-35 Wexford Eagles (2-0)
The return to football in Wexford went exactly as the Eagles would have hoped as they flew past the Giants in a 4-score victory. The Eagles put up 35 points in a performance that echoed the highs of their pre-Covid success in Division 1, but also pointed to the possibilities of soaring past that in years to come. Luke Fitzpatrick had another great day — taking home a pass from QB Kyle McLaughlin and rushing in 2 more scores — and is quickly becoming a rising star for this team. So too is rookie DL Rob Farrell who held the interior wall of the defensive line together well, limiting the Giants inside run game and forcing multiple negative yardage plays. A massive day for the Wexford squad sees them jump up to 2-0 and in the driving seat for a place in the Division 2 final this summer provided they can keep the engine running on this campaign. The Giants, slipping to 2-2, still have an outside shot at a final appearance but need to win at least one of their last 2 games @ Trinity or vs Wexford — but would likely be relying on other results if they could only take one of those games.

Division 1
Donegal/Derry Vipers (1-4) 0-23 NI Razorbacks (2-3)
Perhaps the start of an unexpected rivalry in this one as the Razorbacks put away and shutout a fiesty Vipers outfit. Both teams came into this one looking to recoup some lost form and start paving a way back to the potential of playoff football this season, and with those sort of stakes on the game, tempers did flare up. There were as many ejections in this game as touchdowns (3), which didn’t exactly make the referees jobs easy. Alex Kusmerik and Stuart Wylie added scores on the ground (with Dean McNeil kicking a field goal earlier in the game) and — with time expiring — Wylie added a passing TD to James Cameron. While some may see that as padding the score in a game that already had some butting of heads, the fact of the matter is those points may help the Razorbacks slide into the #4 seed if they’re lucky come the end of July. With the Mavs (4-0), Rhinos (2-2) and Jets (0-5) on the cards in their last 3, the Vipers may have run out of opportunities to punch their ticket to the postseason, but may luck out if results go their way. The Razorbacks don’t exactly have an easy path either with the Jets, Crusaders (2-2) and Mavs remaining, and they’ll be hoping they can build some good run of form before it’s too late.

Cill Dara Crusaders (2-2) 0-34 Louth Mavericks (4-0)
The Mavericks continue to wreck havoc in their return to Division 1 as they fought off the Crusaders in a statement win. After starting the year with 2 wins against the 2 teams that came up with them from Division 2 (Jets, Razorbacks), Louth have dominated Division 1 mainstays like the Vipers and, on Sunday, Cill Dara. QB Nathan Hearty had another great all-round performance, throwing for 2 touchdowns and adding a third on the ground. Brendan Simms was all over the stats sheet for this game, receiving and running in a touchdown each, as well as snagging an INT from Crusaders QB Jordan Farrell, who threw 4 total. Coming up with 2 of those was Eamon Ward, who housed one for 6 points. The Mavericks controlled all aspects of this game and they have kept their unbeaten streak rolling as they look set for playoff football. With 2 unbeaten teams left in Division 1, June 4th is looking more and more intriguing of a matchup…

UL Vikings (5-0) 14-3 Dublin Rhinos (2-2)
Speaking of that other unbeaten team, the Vikings completed their sweep of the Rhinos this regular season in what may as well be called the 2023 Mud Bowl. A game plagued with appalling weather, the conditions very quickly became leading factors in how this game played out in person. A low-scoring affair in which both offenses — usually quite fast-paced and productive — struggled to move the ball and the opposing defense downfield.  When all was said and done, however, UL proved once again that they are the team to beat in the division. Having all but locked up a playoff spot at this stage, the Vikings can get their eyes on playoff football and be all hands on deck to stake their claim as the team for promotion next season.

UCD (3-2) 46-0 Craigavon Cowboys (0-4)
The Cowboys finish a horrid April 2023 at 0-4 after a shutout loss at the hands of a UCD team that wanted to leave themselves with some breathing space for playoff contention before their May break for exams. Craigavon fought hard, as they always do, and came up with some plays on defense like a sack from Richard Lilburn and a pick from DB Austin Ramsey. Apart from that though, 2023 is proving to be a tough year for Craigavon, who are quickly spiraling into a relegation battle. Perhaps the QB change to Neil Maxwell may help in the long-run for this season, but with the Admirals (3-0), Panthers (1-2) and Trojans (2-1) all coming up, Craigavon may have to hope on the Knights (0-3) to drop games and force what would be a relegation play-off at the end of the season. Time will tell on that front for Craigavon, but one team who won’t be watching all that unfold will be UCD, who have fought back to 3-2 after an up-and-down start to the season. Arun Mooney had a great day through the air, throwing for 6 touchdowns to 5 different receivers, with RB Sean McVeigh being on the end of 2 of them and rushing in another. An ideal end to this stretch of the season for the Students sees them return to the exam halls after a big win before they come back to the field May 27th, in a rematch against the undefeated 4-0 Rebels.

Review: 2023 AFI Kitted Gameweek 7

Sunday’s Gameweek 7 had a few blowouts — a recurring feature this season — but there were some tight games that provided some tense moments and big highlights. With 6 games taking place across all 3 divisions, there’s plenty to talk about and how it will impact the next couple weeks of action. Let’s take a look at what went down.

Division 2
North Dublin Pirates (0-2) 7-8 Causeway Giants (2-0)
The scoring opened up at Limepark in the first quarter early, with the visitors getting on the scoreboard after an Adam Keating touchdown run and an extra point conversion by Casey Nannery. The Giants responded quick, getting downfield and scoring on a 70 yard rush from Nathan Chapman. Perhaps sensing they could end up in a tight game, the Giants went for a 2-point conversion, successful due to the efforts of Peter McCaughin on the ground. A defensive battle ensued, with both sides limiting the other to very few opportunities to get into scoring range. Both sides blocked a field goal, and the Giants finished the game with possession of the ball killed the clock until the final whistle went. There may have been an expectation of the Giants to do more damage in this one, but it’s hard to not credit the Pirates for putting up a game as close as this, with it being a long time since they’ve put in a performance as competitive as this. Might things be quietly on the rise in North Dublin?

Division 1
Cill Dara Crusaders (2-1) 48-6 Antrim Jets (0-5)
The Jets suffered another big defeat Sunday, this time to the Crusaders who go up to 2-1 on their 2023 campaign. Jordan Farrell and the Cill Dara offense took off on Sunday, putting up 6 touchdowns. The Jets have struggled this season and have had few positives to speak of performance-wise, but getting on the scoreboard and bringing the points conceded down a bit. 

Premier Division
Cork Admirals (3-0) 22-12 Belfast Knights (0-3)
The Admirals continue their game of “Keep Up” at the top of the table with the Rebels after travelling near the length of the island to take on the Knights. Stephen Hayes yet again threw 3 touchdowns — one each to Aaron Hogan, Ryan Price and Jahn Dasini — for a statline that seems to be as consistent as the sun rising. It’s been a staple of the Admirals’ game for as long as they’ve been in the Premier Division, and yet it so rarely have they been stopped on offense. The defense, not to be forgotten about, more than played their part, sacking McDowell twice, forcing and recovering a fumble through Matthew Sibanyoni and limiting the hosts to just 12 points. The Admirals are on course for another playoff appearance this season, while the Knights need results soon to stay away from the bottom of the division and a potential relegation battle.

UCD (2-2) 28-13 Westmeath Minotaurs (1-2)
UCD got back on track with a win over the Minotaurs in Mullingar. Things started well for the Students who took a 22-0 lead going into halftime, with rushing touchdowns from Sean McVeigh and an Arun Mooney connection to Darragh Mooney. The second half told a different story, with the newly-promoted Minotaurs challenging the National champions through the air. QB Joe Kinahan threw a touchdown each to WRs Alan Campbell and Shaun Dalton (separated by Mooney throwing for his second touchdown, this time to Sean Douglas), as Westmeath threatened to claw the game back. A goalline fumble by the Minotaurs late in the fourth quarter killed any chance of a comeback, with UCD emerging victors from an entertaining game. UCD get a big surge of momentum before their matchup with Craigavon in Gameweek 8, while Westmeath put a good fight up against the National Champions as they build towards their busy May slate.

South Dublin Panthers (1-2) 6-61 Dublin Rebels (4-0)
This one got out hand. The Rebels dominated in a game we had tipped to be a bit more of a back-and-forth, with Rebels QB Ty Henry throwing for 5 TDs and rushing for one himself. Greg (x2) and Dave Johnson, Dave King and Jack Basquille were all on the end of Henry’s passing scores, while RB Wello Omorodion punched in 2 on the ground and Joe Krause twice picked off Finn Kearns, housing one for 6 points. All over the Panthers in all 3 phases, the Rebels stretched their record out to 4-0. HC Ross McCooey has got to be impressed with the product on the field this season, not just winning games but dominating in them. Averaging fifty points per game, the Rebels don’t seem to be in any mood to slow down any time soon.

Preview: 2023 AFI Kitted Gameweek 7

This Sunday sees a 5-game slate that promises to set the tone for the middle portion of the 2023 season. Many teams will be able to suss out how close or far away they are from reaching their milestones set before we kicked off at the beginning of March, while fans and players across the country can maybe start putting an eye on filling out the rest of their division’s bracket. Big playoff implications come with the results from this Sunday, so let’s take a look to see what could happen.

Division 2
North Dublin Pirates (0-1) @ Causeway Giants (1-1) — Limepark Playing Field, 2pm
A harder game to project the impact on playoffs, as Division 2 doesn’t have an awful lot of games played just yet. The Giants kept a pretty close matchup with Trinity at the beginning of the season and then put away this week’s opponents in a 26-0 win. Keeping up the offensive improvement that seems to have come from the Giants camp will be huge for their confidence moving forward, with QB Jig McCoy looking like a pretty effective dual-threat for this offense. The Pirates will need to tighten up on defense and contain the running threat that McCoy brings while getting things working on offense. North Dublin struggled to consistently get on the scoreboard in 2022, and they’ll be making sure that doesn’t become a trend for this season too. In a game that the Pirates can’t afford to get out of hand — with back-to-backs against Trinity and the Eagles on the horizon — expect a bit more of a back-and-forth than this fixture from the end of March.

Division 1
Cill Dara Crusaders (1-1) @ Antrim Jets (0-4) — Antrim Forum, 2pm
Things went from bad to worse last week for the Jets, conceding 50+ points without scoring themselves for the second straight week. HC Donal McCloskey may very well be scratching his head at what needs to be done to fix this season, as right now they look like the team to be relegated from the division in 2023. That’s not to say there isn’t hope — there’s still 4 games left after all — and this home fixture against a travelling Crusaders side represents a chance to, at the very least, show some positive signs going into a three-week break in action for the Antrim side. Cill Dara, in the playoff conversation for this division, can’t take their eye of their opponents in a game they need to make sure they win. Letting a game like this slip through the fingers could cost them in the long run, and QB Jordan Farrell is the type to make sure his team keeps the foot on the gas.

Premier Division
Cork Admirals (2-0) @ Belfast Knights (0-2) — Malone RFC, 2pm
An absolute trek for the Admirals who come all the way up to Belfast from Cork. Stephen Hayes and co are coming off the back of a landmark win vs the national champion UCD side a couple weeks ago, and are the type of team that knows to keep pressing while the iron is hot. Always stout defensively, the Admirals provide a tough test for the Knights offense to get by, with the Knights offense struggling recently against the neighbouring Trojans team. Having Spencer McDowell on the team in black and yellow really makes a difference for the Knights, and with the team yet to claim a win on the season they’ll be fighting for every yard here. This could be a close one.

UCD (1-2) @ Westmeath Minotaurs (1-1) — Mullingar RFC, 2pm
After a tight loss in Cork, UCD will be eager to get out and back up to .500 this Sunday when they go back on the road to Mullingar. UCD will be looking to get ahead early to take advantage of a Minotaurs squad that is noticeably smaller in numbers and wear them out. With Arun Mooney under center the Students will keep the pressure on and give his talented receiver room the chances to make big plays as per usual. On the home sideline, the Minotaurs offense needs to find some consistency and threaten in all aspects if they are to come away with a result here. Playing with a defense that has gained some notoriety for their performances in Division 1 in recent years and thus far in Premier Division, the Minotaurs face the toughest challenge they have faced in their 10+ year history. These two teams played just twice in that time, with UCD taking both games. Do they leave the Midlands with a W or does Westmeath pull of a shocker?

South Dublin Panthers (1-1) @ Dublin Rebels (3-0) — De La Salle RFC, 2pm
An interesting matchup here with probably the 2 best rushing threat QBs facing off in Dublin, as Finn Kearns and the Panthers take on Ty Henry and the Rebels. The undefeated Rebels have been on fire this year, running through opponents at a blistering pace. The Panthers, off the back of a home win over the Minotaurs last week, will want to make sure they can slow the Rebels down on offense. Time of possession will be critical, and if the Panthers can win that battle they give themselves the best shot of an upset at De La Salle. Until we see it, though, it’s going to be hard to predict anyone to beat the Rebels. With two electric QBs though, this should be an exciting game!

Writer’s Predictions
Pirates 6-24 Giants
Jets 7-23 Crusaders
Admirals 24-13 Knights
UCD 23-14 Minotaurs
Panthers 21-30 Rebels

Review: AFI Kitted Gameweek 6

A big weekend of football resulted in some big results in every way, with games having huge scorelines, massive effects on the standings and team projections, and some breakout performances. After having most of the week so far to collect our thoughts on the weekend, let’s have a quick look through each game, who stood out, and how this writer sees it impacting the next few weeks of action!

Division 2
Wexford Eagles (1-0) 20-6 Trinity (1-1)
Number 13 proves to be unlucky for many, but last Sunday it was one of the key numbers to Wexford’s successful return to action this season as they came away with 13 sacks at the Sport Ireland Campus. Henry Foxton led the way in the pass rush, totaling 6 sacks in a day that sees him jump to the top of the sacks leaderboard of not just Division 2, but all of Ireland. Putting Gibbons under pressure all day, the Wexford offense made sure to capitalise, with Kyle McLaughlin throwing two passing TDs to Luke Fitzpatrick on his debut for the Eagles, with Trevor Smith adding a rushing TD to the Eagles’ scoring output from Sunday. The dominance of the Wexford defense is the story here, with the thoughts of Trinity being odds-on favourite for the division now being called into question. There’s plenty of season to go, of course, but the Eagles certainly burst on to the scene last weekend after having the start to their season pushed back twice. Talk about a momentum-builder.

Division 1
NI Razorbacks (1-3) 13-53 UL Vikings (4-0)
The Vikings finished the first half of their regular season schedule with a dominant performance at home against a Razorbacks team that has, after this result, lost all momentum it entered the season with. The Vikings outmatched the Razorbacks with a fast, relentless pace to their game, with a razor-sharp option offense that resulted in 6 rushing TDs  —  4 of which came from RB Aidan Maher. UL were as aggressive on defense, with the coaching staff likely not taking Mark Thompson’s 2 passing TDs too much to heart as they came away with 5 takeaways, scoring off the back of most of them (highlighted by an Adam O’Mahony strip six). The Vikings look well on their way to returning to the Division 1 Bowl Game this July, with UL needing just 1 win from their last 4 to guarantee playoff football. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, face an uphill battle to compete for a spot of their own, having played more games so far than the reachable teams above them. While they’ll be aiming for higher, the 4th seed seems to be the most accessible way in for the Belfast club. To get there though, they will need to find ways to adapt after a rocky start.

Antrim Jets (0-4) 0-58 Dublin Rhinos (2-1)
Speaking of rocky starts, the Jets are feeling the effects of losing players in some key areas this past offseason. Starting with a excusable 22-6 loss to the Razorbacks in the early days of the season, the Jets have since failed to log a single point on the scoresheet while bleeding points on defense. It’s not like the effort wasn’t there either: 2 takeaways (including one off a Chrissie McKee forced fumble) and 4 sacks showed some grit and fight from the Jets, but the Rhinos showed their quality with the day they had across all 3 parts of the game. QB Ethan Foster accounted for 6 total touchdowns (3 apiece through the air and on the ground), RB Craig Usher surpassed 100 yards himself rushing, Dublin had total control over special teams, and 10 sacks (and most importantly, a shutout) on defense. The Rhinos needed a big showing here to continue pressing the Vikings for that #1 seed, and they keep themselves in contention for a home playoff game moving forward. The Jets need to find some answers quick to breathe some life into an offense that needs desperately reprieve the pressures being put on their defense. A home date this Sunday against a Crusaders team that hasn’t played in a month will be Antrim’s last game until mid-May, so they will be hoping to make some sort of an impact there.

Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-3) 7-53 Louth Mavericks (3-0)
Another Sunday, another big Mavericks win. Averaging 47 points per game so far (no, that’s not a typo), the Mavericks have continued the run of form they had going in the Division 2 regular season last year with some incredible performances thus far. Nathan Hearty added 3 more passing touchdowns to his 2023 campaign. On the receiving end of 2 of those was Eamon Ward, who also came away with 2 INTs on defense (1 pick six) in a fantastic “ironman” type of day. Ward’s pick six was 1 of 3 defensive touchdowns for the Mavs defense who also added points through a Dan Finley pick 6 and a Michael O’Shea forced-and-recovered scoop ‘n score. Pushing for a home playoff game this year — potentially in a battle with UL for #1 — it’s clear their previous experience in this division has made the Mavs’ transition from Div 2 to Div 1 the easiest of the 3 teams that came up. Both teams have a bit of time off before each play again in Gameweek 8.

Premier Division
Belfast Trojans (2-1) 37-6 Belfast Knights (0-2)
A much better day on offense than what they had shown in their opening 2 games from the Trojans. QB Josh Davis got his first full start against his old side, scoring 3 touchdowns and being turnover-free through the air, with fellow Knights transfer WR Jordan Clinton and 2022 Vipers standout Chad Higgins among the 5 Trojans reaching the endzone last Sunday. Defensively, the Trojans held the Knights to small chunks of yardage, not playing overly aggressive for turnovers and keeping everything in front of them. The Knights, down usual starting QB Spencer McDowell, found it hard to get too much rolling, with the result never really being in question after the first quarter. The Trojans have rejuvenated themselves after a tough start at UCD, with the team seemingly having sorted out the offensive woes that plagued them early on. The Knights, assuming McDowell is back sooner than later, needn’t panic about their season prospects after this game, though a win soon would further ease concerns.

Westmeath Minotaurs (1-1) 9-20 South Dublin Panthers (1-1)
A back-and-forth game in Blanchardstown saw the Panthers come out victorious after being down 9-7 at the start of Q4. Finn Kearns’ ability to improvise and scramble proved key in this one, wearing out a Minotaur defense that struggled to keep the former GFL receiver in the pocket. Kearns was aggressive through the air, throwing 3 interceptions but matching that with passing touchdowns to Josh Clarke and Ray Burke (x2). The opposition QB, Joe Kinahan, had a tamer day, throwing a touchdown to Shaun Dalton (his third of the year) and an interception. Westmeath struggled to run the ball, with the Panthers being able to commit to defending the pass in the latter moments of the game. Kinahan was strip-sacked in the redzone inside the 2 minute warning which put the final stamp on a big team performance — and a big win — for South Dublin. Both sides have tough tasks facing them in Gameweek 7, and while it would be unwise to predict which of these 2 teams (if either of them) are more likely to make the #4 seed to the playoffs in July, there’s a fair chance both teams could be in or around the mix in the closing stages of the season. 

Craigavon Cowboys (0-3) 6-58 Dublin Rebels (3-0)
To wrap Gameweek 6 up, the Rebels took care of business again, putting up nearly 60 points at home against a Cowboys side that has struggled hard this 2023 season without long-time QB Peter Loughran on the field. Travelling to the Rebels was never going to be easy, and the result shows just how far ahead of the most of the field the Rebels have been so far in 2023. The one positive that the Cowboys can take from this game is finally getting on the scoreboard through a Neil Maxwell touchdown. Other than that, the story for this season in Premier Division continues to be the Rebels dominance, where they have already outscored opponents 134-52 in just 3 games. Much like last season, it’s difficult to see a team right now that is built to stop them more times than not, which makes it no surprise that they seem to be favourites for lifting the Shamrock Bowl this summer.

Preview: AFI Kitted Gameweek 6

Coming out of the Easter break, we have a vague idea of what some teams are bringing to the table — with the likes of the Rebels from Premier Division, Vikings from Division 1 and Trinity from Division 2 all fitting that bill. There are many teams, though, whose futures are a lot less clear. We’ll certainly get answers to some questions this weekend, with seven games taking place across Saturday and Sunday. Who’s playing, and could happen in each game? Let’s take a look.

SATURDAY
Division 2
Wexford Eagles @ Trinity College Dublin (1-0) — Trinity Sports Grounds, 2pm
This game would have been a bit easier to tell a story for had weather not been a factor 2 weeks ago, with the Eagles’ host fixture being postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. Trinity do have a game’s worth of playing time in 2023 over Wexford, which will certainly be an advantage to a team that has taken in many new members even if a lot of the momentum from that game has faded in the month that has since past. The Eagles will likely look to overpower a traditionally lighter Trinity front seven with their power run game that will likely see the use of QB Trevor Smith at multiple stages. Wexford do look like they’re rebuilding a good outfit and should be looked at later in the season to come on hot, but starting the season late against a side like Trinity who was favoured coming into 2023 and already has a win on the board will always have you as an underdog heading into gameday.

Division 1
NI Razorbacks (1-2) @ UL Vikings (3-0) — Maguire’s Field, UL Sports Campus, 2pm
As said at the opening of this article, UL have been rolling this season. Starting their campaign 3-0, the Vikings have put away every challenge put in front of them. This Saturday, the Razorbacks visit, surely seething from how their time before the break went. Key injuries and suspensions have hurt the Razorbacks bad and come at an even worse time, with the team hoping to have built some momentum coming into this game. Instead, the Razorbacks make the long trek down to Limerick in a game against the division favourites. It’s a tough task for a team that has dealt with a fair bit of adversity already, and while they may not get the result to get them to 2-2, a competitive game could be all that’s needed in the Razorbacks camp.

SUNDAY
Division 1
Antrim Jets (0-3) @ Dublin Rhinos (1-1) — Castleknock College, 2pm
2022’s Division 2 champs have not gotten off to a good start this season, and with a date this Sunday with a Rhinos team who was in the Premier Division last year, things aren’t exactly looking promising. Scoring just 6 points in their opening 3 games is likely to be causing some panic in the Jets camp, and they’re coming up against a defense that pitched a shutout in their last game. Scot McLean and co will be throwing everything at the wall and hoping it breaks down the Rhinos defense, as a loss here would be a critical hit to their season. While they’ll be coming out swinging, it’s tough to predict a winless team getting a W over a team who only just came down from the highest tier of football on the island. 

Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-2) @ Louth Mavericks (2-0) — Dundalk RFC, 2pm
A story with similar beats to the game beforehand as an Ulster team travels to take on an undefeated side who has all the momentum. The Mavs have joined the race up the top with the Vikings and the Rhinos as the 3 most likely teams (as things stand) to end up lifting the Division 1 trophy in July after dismantling the Razorbacks and the Jets by a combined score of 89-0. The Vipers, with plenty of Division 1 experience behind them, may prove a different test for the hosts, who will look to lean on QB Nathan Hearty after the stellar start he has had to the season. Just how much the visitors can push Louth’s defense — especially when they’ve struggled to score so far themselves — will be the key here. Look out for more of a battle here.

Premier Division
Craigavon Cowboys (0-2) @ Dublin Rebels (2-0) — De La Salle RFC, Palmerston, 2pm
Not a great start for the Cowboys this year, and this weekend doesn’t exactly have a bright forecast for them either. On the road against a team that went undefeated last season and appeared in the Shamrock Bowl — and a team that beat the National Champions in Gameweek 1 — the Cowboys travel to Dublin with no points scored on the season so far. QB Christian Cowan has struggled thus far to find a stable rhythm in the pass game which has let defenses swarm the run. Defensively they showed a lot tighter of a unit against the Trojans after losing to Westmeath, but QB Ty Henry and the Rebels will provide a whole different test. Unless they can strike early against Dublin like the Knights did and do keep them enough away for the rest of the game, it’s hard to see Craigavon getting back on the bus with a win in hand.

Westmeath Minotaurs (1-0) @ South Dublin Panthers (0-1) — National Sports Campus, Blanchardstown, 2pm
The Panthers host the Minotaurs Sunday at the NSC, with both teams looking to build upon their starts to the season. The visitors are hoping to get a win streak going in their first season in Premier Division after a big road win against the Cowboys at the end of March, and will likely try and make good use this Sunday of a passing game that saw them score 4 touchdowns through the air in Craigavon. On the Panthers side, we had already talked up the South Dublin outfit that held Cork to a tight game earlier in March, but those evaluations need to be upgraded a bit more after Cork’s win over UCD before the Easter break. With QB Finn Kearns not afraid to air it out or run the ball himself, and some potential veteran returns, the Panthers will be up for the challenge and will fancy themselves in what is sure to be a tight game. Any takeaways by either defense could be crucial.

Belfast Trojans (1-1) @ Belfast Knights (0-1) — Malone RFC, 2pm
Say it with me now… the Battle for Belfast! This year’s edition emanates from Malone RFC, with the Knights hosting a Trojans team that rarely seems this vulnerable. Still without QB Dom Lynn, the Trojans put both Abi Venkatraman and Josh Davis under center against the Cowboys at different points in the game, and it’s hard to say they found an answer moving forward. There’s some talented players on both sides of the ball for the Trojans and it seems like getting Lynn back at QB will push this team back to full potential, but until then they seem to be within reach for most teams, including this weekend’s opponents. The Knights had the Rebels on the ropes in the first half of their game and it took a big second half comeback from the Rebels to come out of Belfast with a win, but that sort of performance against last year’s finalists will have given both the team and the coaching staff fuel going into this one. This series is 4-1 in the last 3 seasons in favour of the visitors, but it’s not quite that easy to go on historical record based on how both teams are playing right now.

Writer’s Predictions
Eagles 16-20 Trinity
Razorbacks 10-21 Vikings
Jets 6-23 Rhinos
Vipers 14-26 Mavericks
Cowboys 7-26 Rebels
Minotaurs 21-20 Panthers
Trojans 17-16 Knights

New DoFF, Assistant DoFF Announced

AFI are pleased to announce our new Director of Flag Football, Ben Arulogun, and Assistant Director of Flag Football, Ruben Ruiz.

Ben started out with the now-defunct Dublin Vipers and is currently Chairperson of the South Dublin Panthers. Ben believes in the progress of the sport in Ireland and is excited to step into the role of Director. 

“Flag football is in a great position; we’re hosting the European Championships, and participation has grown exponentially. As the DOFF, I aim to put all my effort into developing the sport nationally and increasing our international presence. I am especially interested in having this be a more gender-inclusion sport and getting more females to play flag football. Flag football is a fantastic, accessible sport with simple rules and a great introduction to American Football.”

Meanwhile, Ruben’s roots in American and flag football stretch back to nearly two decades of experience, when he picked the sport up in Mexico. Winning the Western Mexico Flag Football Championship in 2017, Ruben soon moved to Ireland, where he has since played with the Panthers and — more recently — helped establish the Dublin City Wolves. Excited to help further promote and grow the game, Ruben was an excellent choice for Assistant DoFF.

You can contact Ben and Ruben by emailing flagfootball@americanfootball.ie

Review: AFI Kitted Gameweek 5

The Easter bunny arrived a little early for some teams this past Sunday, bringing some sweet results (no, I’m not sorry) to teams climbing up the rankings. Other teams will be feeling a little rotten, either caught looking ahead to the Bye Week, carrying injuries or just simply not being up to the task. It was eventful weekend which saw the blowout bug carry over from Gameweek 4, some high-scoring matchups and a huge result sure to have Premier Division playoff implications…  It wouldn’t be a very Good Friday without talking some football — let’s break last Gameweek 5 down.

*Note: rescheduling of Trinity @ Wexford Eagles — as well as Wexford Eagles @ North Dublin Pirates — is still in conversation. AFI will provide updates when they become available.

Division 1
UL Vikings (3-0) 37-8 Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-2)
Business as usual this season for the UL Vikings who took the long trek up to Derry and came up 4-score victors. QB Finn O’Donovan had another great day — like we’ve come to expect from the Vikings QB — having a clean day through the air (2 TDs to Reece Moloney and Danny Quilter while throwing 0 INTs) while also putting himself on the scoresheet with a QB run. He did this too through some Vipers pressure, who did come away with a 4-sack team performance in what was otherwise not a day to be remembered for the red and yellow. UL’s defense, on the other hand, showed up after a long trip up to the game, allowing just one Gary Melly touchdown pass while forcing an interception through Connor Kelly and recovering 2 forced fumbles. The Vipers, now sitting at 1-2, need to find ways to get on the board: not scoring more than twice in any game this season, Donegal/Derry need to self-scout over the break in action to improve on their production on offense. A team that had been penned as a potential playoff pusher, failing to score points will keep them away from the dance come July. The Vikings, meanwhile, seem ready to punch their ticket in, as 1 win from any of their remaining 5 games will all but guarantee the current #1 seed a playoff appearance. Of course, UL aren’t just pushing for “appearing” this season…

Dublin Rhinos (1-1) 24-0 NI Razorbacks (1-2)
The Razorbacks season is very quickly falling away from them. What started out as a promising introduction to Division 1 has since seen the Razorbacks shutout in 2 games and conceding 59 points. Being without HC/RB Gareth Millar for the first half certainly didn’t help things, and while the second half was more competitive, the Rhinos were still too much to handle. Rhinos QB Ethan Foster connected with his Tight End Luke Ivers early before the run game got going, with scores being added on the ground by Dylan Gladney and Adam Jenkins. The Razorbacks almost got a big break through a Diarmid Russell interception of Foster, returning it to the 10 yard line, but the Rhinos forced a turnover on downs in a crucial defensive stand. Speaking of that defense, 2 interceptions on Mark Thompson (1 by Matt Mays and 1 by Toby Luken) along with 4 team sacks kept the Razorbacks pushed back for most of Sunday. Another team that will benefit from the Bye Week, the Razorbacks will surely come out the other side of it better prepared for their matchup with the Vikings in Gameweek 6. The Rhinos, meanwhile, will be celebrating an important win before the break that leaves them 1-1 in the division, still well within the playoff chase. 

Louth Mavericks (2-0) 56-0 Antrim Jets (0-3)
That Nathan Hearty lad is quite good huh?? A stupidly good day from the Louth QB saw him responsible for seven touchdowns — 4 passing and 3 rushing — as the Mavericks put forward the biggest shutout in Irish American football seen this side of the pandemic. A true breakout performance, the Louth QB had himself a career day, but as much of a season-highlight performance Hearty had, we need to talk about some performers on defense too. Whether it was Donal Drew showing up with 2 sacks, or Dan Marshall and Jack Compton coming away with an interception each, the Mavericks swarmed the Jets offense all day and put up their second straight shutout on the season. The Jets are in serious trouble already, putting up only 6 points all season and conceding 30ppg. Perhaps the Easter break will allow for epiphanies to occur among the Jets base, and they can find a way to rescue the season. As it stands, though, things are looking like they might get out of hand.

Premier Division
Belfast Trojans (1-1) 7-0 Craigavon Cowboys (0-2)
Not exactly a barnburner this one. After an early Mo Ramadan touchdown catch put the Trojans up, it was a tough, hard-hitting affair which saw both teams flirt with momentum before ultimately stalemating for the rest of the game. Standout performances on both sides’ defenses from Jamie Baird and Paddy Somers (the latter racking up 3 sacks) gave way to a gritty Trojans win that sees them claw back a bit of the momentum lost from their big loss at UCD 2 weeks ago. Going forward both teams’ offenses need to reach the endzone a lot more often — the Trojans getting Dom Lynn back from injury at QB may cure their woes, while the Cowboys need to take this break in play to come up with some answers. The Trojans play just once more in April @ the Knights on April 16th, while the Cowboys have an incredibly tough upcoming run with games @ Rebels, vs UCD and @ Admirals all in the next 4 weeks. 

UCD (1-2) 14-18 Cork Admirals (2-0)
The biggest story from last weekend was Cork’s tight win over the reigning National Champions who fall to 1-2 in their 2023 campaign. The first thing that should be said before we go any further here: there should be no alarm bells going off in Belfield. 2 losses against last year’s #3 seed and the Shamrock Bowl finalists do not mean things are turning upside down in the UCD camp, despite how much they may have hoped or even expected to win those games. A close affair in Cork saw both teams come out the gates early before the game became more of a slugfest, a clash of heavyweights that managed to block most of their opponent’s haymakers. Both QBs played well enough to win — Mooney throwing 1 TD to Conor Hanaran while staying off the INT sheet and Hayes tossing 3 TDs (1 to Jahn Dasini and 2 to Ryan Price) but also throwing a pick each to Rory O’Dwyer and Eoghan McMahon — and both defenses came into it in the second half to lock the other offense out. The takeaway here is the Admirals grinding out a hard-fought, emotional win that saw them limit the Students to the lowest point total in a game since the 2019 playoffs. Cork sit in a good spot after beating a team they were seen as underdogs against, comfortable right now in the #2 seed with plenty of season and (presumably after this performance) good football ahead of them.

Press Release: American Football Ireland Announce the AFI Hall of Fame

Photographer David Turner sat in the same spot at Kingspan Stadium nearly 80 years apart, capturing Ireland's first ever American football game, and Ireland's 2022 National Championship game -- Shamrock Bowl XXXIV

American Football Ireland is delighted to announce the establishment of an official AFI Hall of Fame.

History of American Football in Ireland probably spans longer than you think. The first kitted game on the island was in 1946 at Ravenhill Rugby grounds between two US army teams that called themselves Yavard and Hale; they swapped the first letters of the famous university teams. Nearly 80 years later, American Football returned to Ravenhill Rugby grounds. Presently, the venue is called Kingspan Stadium and the game was none other than Shamrock Bowl XXXIV which saw UCD American Football claim their first National Title in a 52-24 win over the Dublin Rebels.

American Football Ireland itself spans almost 40 years. Then established as the Irish American Football Association (IAFA), the history of AFI includes a number of different league formats (including a brief hiatus in the early 2000s) and dates as far back as 1984. The Belfast Blitzers were the leagues’ first champions, having clinched the title in a 7-0 win over the Dublin Celts before the Shamrock Bowl was established. The first Shamrock Bowl was won by the Craigavon Cowboys in 1986. Then an invitation game, the Shamrock Bowl was adopted as the National Final in 87. The Cowboys would go on to win it again two more times in 1990 and 1992.

Following a brief hiatus in 2000, the league was reformed in 2001, with Carrickfergus Knights, Dublin Dragons, Dublin Rebels and University of Limerick Vikings. The Dublin Rebels defeated the Carrickfergus Knights in Shamrock Bowl XV, which was played in Carrickfergus. This marked the beginning of many years of success for the Dublin Rebels who currently hold a record-high 9 Shamrock Bowl titles. Their record is followed by the Belfast Trojans who won 5 titles in the 2010s. The most recent winners being the aforementioned students from UCD.

The AFI Hall of Fame looks to honour those individuals who have contributed significantly to AFI over its near-40 year history, incurring benefit to the game of Irish American Football. At the discretion of the panelists, considerations may include; performance; impact; longevity; achievements; additional involvement outside of the primary-nomination category, incurred growth or benefit to the sport.

The public may submit nominees along with any supporting documents to communications@americanfootball.ie.

Preview: AFI Kitted Gameweek 5

No early April Fools here: AFI Gameweek 5 has six games on offer. After a week made up of mainly blowouts, the last week of action before the league-wide Easter break consists of games across all 3 divisions that — on paper at least — mostly look like close matchups. With some teams surpassing more than a quarter of their schedule by 5pm this Sunday, there are players and fans alike that already are projecting the rest of their season and how they shape up for relegation or playoff battles. With it being such an intriguing weekend, let’s look at how the action might unfold.

Division 2
Trinity College Dublin (1-0) @ Wexford Eagles — Craanford Community Field, Gorey, 2pm
The hosts will be looking for a big day here with an historically passionate home crowd behind them, as they play their first home game of their rebuild after an unfortunate 2022 season. The last game this side played was, funnily enough, against Trinity in Wexford, so there’s an air of romantic poetry around this matchup as the Eagles will be looking to reverse the 22-0 loss they suffered here last year. The Eagles coaching staff is highlighted by the likes of HC/OC Kevin Klatt and Special Teams coach Brendan McAleese will likely produce a detailed gameplan for their side, but all hands will need to be on deck to overcome the challenge Trinity brings to the table. QB John Gibbons had 3 touchdowns from under center in Trinity’s game vs the Giants earlier in the year and the Students offense will be sure to try and replicate that, and the likes of Ian Richardson on defense will be favoured to cause some havoc in the pocket after notching 2 sacks in Game 1. Will they be able to go 2-0, or will Wexford get their 2023 season off to a bang?

Division 1
UL Vikings (2-0) @ Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-1) — Templemore Sports Complex, Derry, 2pm
The return fixture to a 10-10 tie from when UL hosted in 2022, the Vipers host the Vikings in an intriguing matchup. The Vipers, who started poorly @ the Crusaders before reclaiming some heat with a win @ the Jets, need a statement performance on offense alongside a defensive effort more akin to the Jets game than their season opener. The Vikings have the feeling of a team that could go undefeated on the season and will not want to give up an ounce of momentum before the break. A game that features 2 teams that have no problems playing defense and forcing mistakes in the passing game, this one might just come down to a game between QBs Gary Melly and Fin O’Donovan. While Melly has demonstrated strong leadership in tight games like their win at the Jets and at times during last season, O’Donovan’s dual-threat nature provides an extra layer for the Vikings offense that might just push this game in UL’s favour. 

Dublin Rhinos (0-1) @ NI Razorbacks (1-1) — Newforge Sports Complex, 2pm
It’s hard not to dive into the loss to the Mavericks with all the implications it has for this weekend’s matchup with the Rhinos. HC/RB Gareth Millar will be unavailable for the first-half while he serves a suspension for his ejection last week, which is massive for the cohesion of the team on the field — as well as calming the storm on the sideline pre and mid-game. A team that is already dealing with some big injuries, Razorbacks stock has fallen since the start of the season but that’s not to say they can’t turn it around. The key for the Razorbacks will be to contain Rhinos QB Ethan Foster inside the pocket as the man can get the ball in and out of his hands quick and be a threat in the run game. The Rhinos gameplan will probably be to take shots early and often on the ball while translating that aggression on the defensive side of the ball by calling plays to get the likes of Matt Mays (3 sacks vs Vikings) putting pressure on Razorbacks QB Mark Thompson to try and stretch a lead going into the halftime break. If the Razorbacks can limit the Rhinos offense in the first half they give themselves a chance to get out in front. 

Louth Mavericks (1-0) @ Antrim Jets (0-2) — Antrim Forum, 2pm
The Mavs made a massive first step forward for their reintroduction to Division 1 last Sunday with a big 33-0 W away from home. On the road again this Sunday against another familiar foe in the Jets, the lads from Louth will be eager to get a win over the team that beat them in the Division 2 Bowl last July on top of extending their 2023 record to 2-0. Keeping Brendan Simms and Dec Mulvihill fed on offense will be the main message for QB Nathan Hearty as they come up against a defense that has not exactly bleeding points this season. QB Scot McLean and the Jets know they need to find better ways to push the ball downfield this Sunday against a team that started the season with a shutout, after they themselves have only scored once in two games. Head-to-head, there’s certainly one pick on paper that seems more appealing than the other, but many thought the same of the Division 2 Bowl last season — and look how that turned out.

Premier Division
Belfast Trojans (0-1) @ Craigavon Cowboys (0-1) — Portadown People’s Park, 2pm
Both teams will be looking to bounce back after horrid starts to their seasons in March, with the Trojans getting driven out of Belfield by UCD 34-3 in Gameweek 2, while the Cowboys are recovering from a much more recent 38-0 home loss to Westmeath. Neither team looked all that confident in their first outings and left more questions than answers. QB Dom Lynn’s absence makes things difficult on a Trojans offense that had planned to have him take over the reigns from James McKelvey, and Christian Cowan did not fare well against the newly-promoted Minotaurs defense last Sunday as the Cowboys move ahead without Peter Loughran on the field. Both teams are in a bit of a rebuild phase, but there were playoff expectations on the Trojans coming into the year for a reason. With the depth they have and key weapons that they can feed in the run and short passing games, it’s tough to pick against the Trojans here. 

UCD (1-1) @ Cork Admirals (1-0) — Old Christians RFC, Glanmire, Cork, 2pm
The most intriguing game on this slate emanates from Cork, bai. The Students come into this one off the back of a 34-3 home win over the Trojans while the Admirals took home a 30-14 victory from their trip to the Panthers. Both sides impressed by scoring 30+ in their last games and have played some fantastic shootouts in recent memory. This fixture near the end of last season ended in a 26-26 tie, and neutrals will likely be looking for as close a game to that as possible. UCD knows how it wins games, creating the right blend of letting Arun Mooney do his thing at QB by spreading the ball around and of giving the likes of Sean McVeigh and Brandon Atwell at RB the chances to make big plays. On the flip side, the Admirals will likely be watching tape from the Students’ season opener with the Rebels and liking what they saw. The Rebels were able to get to Mooney more often than UCD are known to allow (pressure that created multiple turnovers), and with the Admirals forcing 5 sacks and 2 turnovers themselves against the Panthers, they will be eager to run that performance back in front of their home fans. The detail to watch in this one is UCD’s defense vs Stephen Hayes and his crew of weapons. While they kept Belfast to just 3 points, they knew what they were getting vs a team operating with a backup QB. Hayes, different in style but similar in nature to Ty Henry, is a different animal, so containing Hayes to a quiet day — not even one with turnovers — could very well get the job done for the reigning National Champions… the question is: can they do that? We’ll find out Sunday afternoon.

Writer’s Predictions
Trinity 20-14 Eagles
Vikings 24-13 Vipers
Rhinos 17-13 Razorbacks
Mavericks 23-10 Jets
Trojans 27-11 Cowboys
UCD 26-24 Admirals

Review: AFI Kitted Gameweek 4

“Touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns” was obviously the main message from away team coaches leading into the Gameweek 4 weekend, as every away team scored at least 4 touchdowns — and 3 of them pitched shutouts against their hosts. The last gameweek of the first month of the 2023 season created plenty of talking points as we move into April… let’s see what can be learned from each game.

Division 2
Causeway Giants (1-1) 26-0 North Dublin Pirates (0-1)
The Giants offense bounced back from the underwhelming output against Trinity earlier in the month by putting up 26 points against the Pirates this past Sunday. QB Jig McCoy took center stage, taking 2 rushing TDs in himself (including a 50+ yarder) and getting the ball to receiver Peter Phillips through the air for six. Phillips contributed on the other side of the ball, intercepting the Pirates QB as part of a set of 2 by the Giants defense, completed by a Dessie Mackey pick 6. Of course, there wasn’t much choice for the Pirates QB for the majority of the game as he was constantly pressured by the Causeway pass rush — the team totaled 7 sacks on Sunday, with 4 being attributed to Tony McCloskey (alongside a forced and recovered fumble). This Giants uniform looks set to compete in Division 2 this season, while the Pirates, whose offensive struggles in 2022 have seemed to carry over into 2023, need to strike gold on talent quick to have a chance of competing for a spot in the Bowl game.

Division 1
Louth Mavericks (1-0) 33-0 NI Razorbacks (1-1)
Despite the record difference between these two teams in 2022, this was a big upset at Newforge. The Razorbacks, fresh off a roster facelift and a big win over the Antrim Jets, were favoured by many to win here, especially at home, but the Mavs not only shut the home side out, but put 33 points on the board in doing so. Playing a close 7-0 game to halftime, the Mavericks were able to field QB1 Nathan Hearty in the second half after serving his suspension from the 2022 Division 2 final. From there, the Mavericks never looked back, scoring a further 26 points that went unanswered by the home team. Though Dec Mulvihill put the Mavs on the board in the first half with a throw to WR Alex Hanratty, getting everyone in their natural positions seemed to really kick the offense into another gear. Hearty connected with WR Brendan Simms for 6, RB Dan Finley punched one in, and — with the Razorbacks under increasing pressure due to Gareth Millar being ejected and the growing score difference necessitating more risks — the Louth defense and special teams continued to thrive. Finley had a strip sack from linebacker, Alex Simms house-called an interception, and Eamon Ward took home a fumbled Razorbacks kick return. The Mavs will be thrilled with how their re-entry into Division 1 went, while the Razorbacks will be waiting for this coming Sunday to wash the taste of this one from their mouths. A bad day all round from a team that has shown so much promise. With the Rhinos up next for them though, there’s no guarantee the Razorbacks bounce back, and while the offense will need to put points on the board regardless, the defense will need to find inspiration and organisation from within to hold strong as they will be without their HC.

Premier Division
Westmeath Minotaurs (1-0) 38-0 Craigavon Cowboys (0-1)
The Minotaurs debuted in the Premier Division with a surprise of their own, starting their 2023 campaign with a 38-0 away win. In what was expected to be a close game, all the cards fell perfectly for the Westmeath club, coming away with 5 touchdowns on offense and holding the Cowboys from their own endzone. WR Shaun Dalton caught 2 of Joe Kinahan’s 4 passing touchdowns Sunday, with receivers Alan Campbell and rookie Cathal Dunne (who also had a 50 yard rushing touchdown) added the other 2 through the air. Defensively the Minotaurs continued their run of form from 2022, crashing the pocket on Cowboys QB Christian Cowan and making life difficult for him in the backfield. There were some signs of life on the day, including some good connections with WR David Radford, but the hosts just couldn’t get the ball over the line. Time will tell whether this game reflects more on Craigavon or Westmeath, but both teams’ stories will be intriguing to follow as the season progresses. For now though, the Minotaurs have exorcised a demon of their past. 

Dublin Rebels 36-20 Belfast Knights
A tale of two halves this one. The Knights came out the gates ready to prove themselves, and with Knights veteran QB Spencer McDowell under center scoring 3 touchdowns (1 through the air via Daithi McShane and 2 on the ground himself), Belfast went into the halftime break 20-8 ahead, with the potential of a huge shock on the way. The second half was a different story, as the Rebels took over with 29 unanswered points. QB Ty Henry finished with a passing TD to WR Greg Johnson as well as 2 of his own rushing TDs, with RBs Wello Omo and Sean Leamy adding scores on the ground to round out the offensive output for the day. Defensively, an interception on McDowell and a goalline stand in the fourth quarter up 28-20 put the exclamation point on an emphatic second half performance, as last year’s Shamrock Bowl finalists capped off a magnificent March which sees them go 2-0 after beating the reigning National Champions UCD in the season opener.

The flip of the calendar to April is just around the corner, as Gameweek 5 and its dynamite slate gets closer and closer every day. Keep an eye out later in the week for our preview of this coming Sunday’s games!

Preview: AFI Kitted Gameweek 4

Gameweek 4 is upon is, with 4 games taking place this Sunday after the addition of Gameweek 2’s Mavericks @ Razorbacks game. With action across all 3 divisions this weekend, there’s plenty to look forward to around the country — let’s take a look at how this writer sees it all breaking down.

Division 2
Causeway Giants (0-1) @ North Dublin Pirates — Trinity Sports Grounds, 2pm
The Giants season opener against Trinity ended in an 18-8 loss, though there was a lot to take away from that fixture for the Causeway crew. Holding an athletic Trinity team to just 18 points shows just how much their defense can be a factor in this division, while players like Adam Smith shined in spurts on offense. The Pirates come into this game only opening their season after a yet-to-be rescheduled game vs Wexford Eagles was called off, so they will be eager themselves to get a win on the board and get back some of the momentum lost from that speedbump 2 weeks ago. Expect a close score here with both defenses swarming the opposing quarterbacks. In a game where neither team can really afford mistakes, it will likely be a game decided by the fewest mistakes and time of possession.

Division 1
Louth Mavericks @ NI Razorbacks (1-0) — Newforge Playing Grounds, 2pm
Really difficult to project how this game goes. On one hand, you have a Mavericks team that swept this series last season, that finished 7-1 in the regular season and made the bowl game. On the other, there’s a Razorbacks team that kept things within reach in both losses to the Mavericks in 2022 and have since had some major transfers in and, perhaps most importantly, already have a big win under their belt against a 2022 Division 2 opponent. The Mavericks will be itching to start their 2023 campaign off with a highlight victory here, but the Razorbacks aren’t exactly going to just let that happen either — after dominating in the trenches in their 22-6 win over the Jets 3 weeks ago, the Razorbacks will be going to that plan of attack here. The ability to get the ball into the hands of skill players like 2022 standout Brendan Simms may make or break this game for the Louth outfit.

Premier Division
Westmeath Minotaurs @ Craigavon Cowboys — People’s Park Portadown, 2pm
We go from 2 games with 1 team kicking off their season to a game where both teams are opening their 2023 campaigns. The hosts will want to quickly erase last year’s season from memory, when they started 2-0 before losing their remaining 6 games straight. With QB Peter Loughran now operating as Head Coach, there will be a spotlight on the Cowboys all season long as to how this effects performances and results on the field. The Minotaurs, meanwhile, come into this one after their weather-delayed Gameweek 2 game pushed their season opener to this weekend. The 2022 Division 1 champs take the trip to Portadown with a bit more momentum on their side than the hosts, but an historical head-to-head advantage, having never lost to their visitors this weekend. Another close game is likely here, so another tough game to call — historical h2h vs recent form, can Craigavon start off strong against a familiar opponent, or do the Minotaurs finally get one up on the Cowboys? 

Dublin Rebels (1-0) @ Belfast Knights — Malone RFC, 2pm
The final game on the slate this Sunday, the Rebels march up to Belfast after a statement win in Gameweek 1 @ UCD. After scoring 40 points against 2022’s National Champions, it’s hard not to see a similar offensive performance in this one, given how this fixture played out last season (30-7 Rebels). QB Ty Henry will likely be telling his offense to keep the foot on the gas to not lose focus after their great start on March 5th, and with the wealth of talent they have on that depth chart they’ll be sure to earn their reps in this one. The Knights, meanwhile, face a tough task after having any wave of momentum they were carrying into this season subdued by the aforementioned @ Minotaurs game delay. The Knights need to put up a good showing here to put the rest of the league on notice that they will put up a fight in every game this season, and perhaps show themselves that they are not just “survivors” from the 2022 campaign. While a Rebels win may be a popular pick (and perhaps the likely outcome), the Knights keeping things close here would be a massive statement from a team in need of gritty performances.

Writer’s Predictions
Giants 14-12 Pirates
Mavericks 13-24 Razorbacks
Minotaurs 23-20 Cowboys
Rebels 30-14 Knights

Review: AFI Kitted Gameweek 3

Gameweek 3 provided the return to action we all desperately needed after the speed bump that was Gameweek 2 (or, more accurately, the lack of Gameweek 2). First, some admin to address on that gameweek:

Eagles @ Knights is still awaiting a confirmed reschedule date. Information on this will be available as soon as we have it.
Knights @ Minotaurs has been rescheduled to Sunday May 28th during Gameweek 12
Mavericks @ Razorbacks has been rescheduled to this coming weekend for Gameweek 4, and will kickoff Sunday March 26th at 2pm.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into what happened last Sunday!

Division 1
Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-1) 12-0 Antrim Jets (0-2)

A rough day at the office for the Jets, who not only lost in their home opener, but failed to put up a point in doing so. With so many questions about the Jets coming into the season (chief among them, what they’d look like on offense after a few transfers to the Razorbacks), the Jets have failed to get off the ground in the early part of the season. They’ll be sure to get to the bottom of those problems quick, as a fairly quick turnaround before their 2022 Division 1 final rematch with the Mavericks in Gameweek 5 awaits them. The defensive output improved from Gameweek 1, with great performances from Curtis McLeish (2 sacks, fumble recovery) and Marc MacFayden (1 sack, forced fumble), so Donal McCloskey and Co at least have something to hang their hat on from this game. The Vipers, meanwhile, pick themselves up from a heavy loss in Gameweek 1 with a shutout win on the road, with RB David Ferris punching one in on the ground and QB Gary Melly connecting with Harry McLaughlin for 6 as well. It’s the Vipers defensive performance that stands out from this game, totaling ten team sacks (including 4 from Josh Reed), 2 forced fumbles and recoveries, and an interception from Oisin Fleming. Maintaining this kind of performance will truly push the Vipers towards top contendership — that will be a test in this division, particularly when hosting the Vikings (2-0) in Gameweek 5.

Cill Dara Crusaders (1-1) 6-23 UL Vikings (2-0)
The Vikings got their second win of the season and at home this year by putting away the Crusaders in a game that stayed tight until midway through the fourth quarter. QB Finn O’Donovan ran in 2 scores for UL (including a 73 yarder) while managing the game through the air, keeping Cill Dara honest on defense to open up lanes for both himself and RB Aidan Maher, who scored a touchdown of his own. The main takeaway from a UL perspective, however, is the performance on defense. The Vikings coaching staff has met this Crusaders offense 3 times in the last year, and it has crafted gameplans to hold Cill Dara to fewer and fewer points each time (39, 18, 6). It’s the type of true self-assessment and preparation longtime AFI followers have come to expect from the Vikings — they were in the Premier Division as recently as 2019 — and it must give fans and coaches alike a massive amount of confidence seeing the players take to it. Speaking of those players, they have to take a lot of the credit too, pressuring the Crusaders backfield all day into 4.5 team sacks and interceptions from Adam O’Mahony and Conor Kelly. How the Crusaders bounce back will be key, as they’d have come into last Sunday expecting more points considering their 42-point performance on opening weekend. Getting Jordan Farrell back to take the helm at QB would be a big positive, allowing Rob Brown (who, it should be noted, did get Cill Dara on the scoreboard with a pass to Ben Costello) to slide into WR, a role that he has played that past few seasons. 

Premier Division
Cork Admirals (1-0) 30-14 South Dublin Panthers (0-1)
Finn Kearns stepped up at QB for South Dublin last weekend, keeping the Panthers in a game that, like the previous one, was a one-score game until late on. The Panthers kept it close all afternoon, with Cork’s clock management being a big key to their success. The Admirals scored to go up 14-7 with one minute to go in the first half, and — after holding strong at 22-14 towards the end of the game, turned the ball over and scored off the following drive to put the game away. Cork QB Stephen Hayes had a great day, throwing 4 touchdowns (2 to Jack Cronin) while the defense surrounded Kearns all day, finishing the day with 5 team sacks, and 2 interceptions from Dan Sheedy. Both teams came out of this game with positive future projections for the end of the season, with the Admirals getting a win and momentum on board before hosting UCD in Gameweek 5, while the Panthers fought a lot closer of a game than some had thought here, and have plenty of time to prepare for Gameweek 6 (vs Minotaurs). 

Belfast Trojans (0-1) 3-34 UCD (1-1)
A horrid start for a reloading Trojans side who were not helped by the football gods at all — facing a UCD side out for blood after losing opening weekend, already down QB1 with Dominic Lynn injured, the Trojans found out on the day their QB2 was unavailable. As teams found out last season, it’s a difficult feat beating UCD on your best day, and with everything going against them it was never going to end well for a Trojans side who, to give them credit, never relented and kept fighting. UCD though, themselves playing Eddie Goggins Sr at QB, also never stepped off the gas. Goggins Sr played a great game, throwing for 5 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and around 250 yards. Sean McVeigh had undoubtedly the performance of the season so far, reaching the endzone 3 times and topping 200 total scrimmage yards. UCD jump-started their National title defense after a bit of a stutter against the Rebels on opening weekend and will surely be looking forward to replicating this performance on April 2nd in Cork. The Trojans, meanwhile, will need to find ways to protect their run game with their third QB while they wait on Dom Lynn to return to action. If not healthy in time for their next matchup in Gameweek 5 at Craigavon, that matchup could be a lot closer than their 2022 encounter.

Review: 2023 AFI Kitted Gameweek 3

With weather completely putting a dampner on Gameweek 2 — so much so that it never even got to kickoff — Gameweek 3 has a lot of work to do to get the 2023 AFI Kitted season back on track. Thankfully, with 4 games full of intrigue across Ireland’s Premier Division and Division 1, there is a lot of excitement surrounding the fixtures taking place this St. Patrick’s weekend. Who’s on the field this Sunday, and how does this writer see things shaping up? Let’s have a look as we breakdown each fixture for the weekend ahead.

Division 1
Donegal Derry Vipers (0-1) @ Antrim Jets (0-1) — Antrim Forum, 1pm

Don’t let both teams being 0-1 fool you, both teams are still on track to have a competitive season pushing for playoff spots. The Vipers find themselves on the road again after the long trip to Newbridge in a 42-14 losing effort —  thankfully for the Vipers the trip to the Antrim Forum isn’t nearly as long for them. The pass defense will want to have found ways in the last 2 weeks to create more pressure from the front 4 after only creating a single sack in the Crusaders game, though they’ll want to keep their ball hawking instincts on the back end after nabbing 2 interceptions. Jets QB Scot McClean, pressured a fair bit himself on opening weekend, will be looking to make more plays like he did last year, when he ended up as the top scorer in Division 2. Of course, the Jets run defense will also want to have tightened up a bit after their 22-6 loss to the Razorbacks in Gameweek 1 (especially for their home opener) after allowing 3 TDs on the ground — which would be the Vipers preferred way of moving the ball. It’s a case of who can react to their defensive lows from March 5th in this one, and with it being as tight of a call as it is, the home team gets the nod, for the advantage of not having to travel if nothing else.

Cill Dara Crusaders (1-0) @ UL Vikings (1-0) — Maguire’s Field, 1pm
Both teams made big statements in Gameweek 1 with big wins. Cill Dara stomped the Vipers out of Newbridge in the aforementioned 42-14 game, while the Vikings won a close game with last season’s Premier Division-relegated Dublin Rhinos. The Crusaders and QB Jordan Farrell throwing for 5 passing TDs gives the Crusaders a massive boost ahead of a test they couldn’t pass twice last season — losing in the oft-mentioned 47-39 shootout early in the 2022 season before also falling short in the 21-18 playoff game. This time, though, they travel to Limerick with a lot of momentum, and while UL were able to hold one of the stronger teams in the division to 14 points 2 weeks ago, we’re sure scoring 17 has the offense questioning and reworking a few things heading into Sunday. Do the Vikings win their third straight game against the Crusaders or is it third time’s the charm for Cill Dara? More importantly, for neutrals following this game, are we treated to another well-fought, down-to-the-wire game this Sunday??

Premier Division
Cork Admirals @ South Dublin Panthers — Trinity Sports Ground, 1pm

A weird game to approach really, with the Admirals being isolated down south it’s hard to know what to expect of them in the opening weeks of each season (see last year where an 0-2 start turned into a 5-2-1 #3 seed season). The Panthers, meanwhile, have had a few star players transfer out and (in the past 12 months) had 3 high-ranking coaches depart. While the Panthers have always created promising, young talent, the apparent lack of established players or announced Head Coach for this season has many wondering what to expect of a club who earned a playoff appearance in the 2022 Kitted season and won a National Championship in flag football just 4 months ago. The Panthers will have the majority of their passing offense weapons, it’s still unclear who will be throwing to them. On top of that, with an offensive line that’s lost a few pieces since July 2022, and and the fact they got beat 24-2 at home to this Admirals team last season, it’s hard to see the Panthers drastically improving on that result this weekend, at least not enough to see them come out on top. The Admirals, meanwhile, will be looking to start stronger than they did in 2022 and try to dominate on offense through QB Stephen Hayes and his long list of weapons. The intrigue in this one comes from how secretive (for better or worse) the Panthers have been coming into this 2023 season and if they can come out and cause an upset at home.

Belfast Trojans @ UCD (0-1) — UCD Sports Campus, 1pm
The Trojans open their year on the road to a UCD team that will be out to defend their home turf with a better result than their 26-40 loss to the Rebels (in what was, admittedly, a great game). The Trojans have a fresh face at QB in Dom Lynn this season after multi-time Shamrock Bowl winner James McKelvey hung up the cleats this past season, and have some fresh transfers coming into their offensive fire power too. With a wealth of coaching experience and their pedigree the Trojans are rightly considered as playoff and potential Shamrock Bowl contenders every year and, providing their away record from 2022 improves (0-4 on the road, 4-0 at home), they should be considered the same way for 2023. UCD, after stumbling off the blocks in their National Championship defense, will be eager to stabilise their path to reclaiming the title this July with a win here. They will do so without star LT Harry Kerr, who suffered a serious knee injury in the Rebels. UCD, a team who has shown their ability to adapt in the past, will need to do so again if they are to get back on pace in 2023. A Trojans team with nothing to lose, though, would love to upset a team they will be competing with for a playoff spot this season.

The 4 games scheduled for this weekend are bound to have a rollercoaster of emotions and non-stop action. Let’s just hope the weather is a bit calmer than last week’s…


AFI Kitted Gameweek 2 — Preview

After a scintillating Gameweek 1 schedule, Gameweek 2 provides a bit more of a focused slate, with 3 games for Irish football fans to keep their eyes on this Sunday. With first-time matchups, division debuts and rivalries renewed in this week’s games, there’s a lot to be excited about — let’s dive into it.

Premier Division
Belfast Knights @ Westmeath Minotaurs — Mullingar RFC, 1pm
Westmeath take their first ever steps into the Premier Division, taking on a Knights team that has struggled in recent years to find results in close games t 2 full seasons looks bad on paper, 5 of those losses were by 1 score or less. It will be that ability to get over the line in close games, such as one like this Sunday’s, that will keep the Knights above water and on the road to improvement this year. QB Spencer McDowell has never been shy to use his legs as part of this Knights offense, and chances are (without the likes of WR Jordan Clinton or TE Marty Caskey to work with) we may see a heavy workload for him Sunday. The Minotaurs come into Sunday with their own question marks, with QB Joe Kinahan both being without last year’s top weapon Jack Lynch and sustaining an injury that may keep him out of this matchup altogether. RB Rafa Monteiro was the team’s rush yardage leader in their 2022 Division 1 Championship campaign and he will likely see a lot of the ball Sunday too. With both teams boasting defenses that have the ability to keep offenses to a minimum on the scoresheet, with offenses that have shown that they’re able to fire points on the board too, and with some health questions on both teams, it’s a hard game to predict. With both teams meeting again later in the year — and with both teams tipped to not be in the playoff race this year — it’s a game that will have massive implications to avoiding relegation in July, so expect a physical, close game here.

Division 1
Louth Mavericks @ #2 NI Razorbacks — Newforge Country Club, 1pm

Another matchup from last year’s Division 2, the Razorbacks have a quick turnaround from their 22-6 victory over the Antrim Jets to host Division 2 finalists Louth Mavericks. The visitors will be looking for similar production to last year from flex piece Brendan Simms, who appeared all over the place on offense and was a menace in the defensive backfield with multiple pick 6s. TE Dec Mulvihill returns to the field again to be the massive redzone target that he is for QB Nathan Hearty, who will look to manage games as well as he did to get his side to the Bowl game last year at 7-1. The Razorbacks will play their game with a mix of QB rolls and handoffs to the likes of Suntan Millar, while the defense will aim to stay as aggressive and tight-knit as they were last Sunday when they held the Jets offense to just 6 points. These teams split their series in 2022, so this game could be another tight affair this Sunday!

Division 2
Wexford Eagles @ North Dublin Pirates — Trinity Sports Grounds, 1pm

Both teams kickoff their 2023 campaigns looking to rebound after falling on hard times in recent years. With the Pirates going 0-8 in 2022 and the Eagles needing to forfeit most of their Division 1 season, it’s clear COVID hit these teams hard. However, the past 9 months have served as a great test that both teams have pushed through: successful recruitment drives on both sides proved to be a great sign of promise for the strength of both clubs going forward. Of course, wins don’t count in the offseason, and both teams will be battling it out in Santry to get that first win out of the way early. This point counts for two for the Pirates, who have been waiting since 2019 — due to the lack of activity in 2020, 2021 and a winless 2022 campaign — and have been (and will be) itching for a win this year. With both teams relative unknowns, both to each other and to most of the league, it’s a weird game to predict, but this writer gives the edge to the visitors purely due to the experience of incoming coaches Kevin Klatt and Brendan McAleese and QB Trevor Smith. This could quietly be a fantastic matchup though.

Writer’s Predictions
Knights 16 – 17 Minotaurs
Mavericks 13 – 20 Razorbacks
Eagles 22 – 15 Pirates