It’s almost here! The 2023 AFI Kitted Season is upon us, with every Irish American football enthusiast staring a hole though Kickoff Sunday March 5th on their calendar. Days remain until it all begins, so let’s break down each division as they enter the 2023 season!
North Dublin Pirates (0-8 in 2022 AFI Division 2)
The Pirates come into 2023 looking to bounce back after a disappointing season last year. Struggling and going 0-8 in 2022, the Pirates have done a good job in the offseason rallying the troops and preparing for the season ahead. Head Coach Ross Neville will have an interesting decision at QB, as he not only has Rian Molloy from years past at his disposal, but also the likes of Connor Coleman and Darragh Horgan who joined from the now-defunct Meath Bulldogs almost a year ago, and have been competing for starting reps this season. Will this battle for QB1, alongside some promising rookies like Richie Grimes and Niall McMahon, help the North Dublin outfit strike gold on offense? Similarly, does the new blood mix with the wealth of experience the Pirates have at hand on defense to help propel the squad back to the performances they saw pre-pandemic?
One thing that will certainly help is the history they have with the squads they will be competing with this season. While the Pirates and Eagles have only taken the field against each other once ever (2018 IAFL-1 in a landslide Wexford win), the Pirates are familiar with the Giants — playing 2 tight games last year as well as a one-score game in 2019 in IAFL-2 — and have not only shared playing fields with Trinity College Dublin, but have trained and scrimmaged this preseason with the talented student team. With 2 home games in quick succession to start the year, can the Pirates finally scratch the itch that they’ve been waiting for since 2019 and get a W on the board and, perhaps, push the rest of Division 2 for a bowl game spot?
Causeway Giants (3-5 in 2022 AFI Division 2)
The Causeway Giants enter AFI Division 2 as one of two teams to remain in the division after the 2022 season. The Giants finished 3-5 last year, including some competitive games with the newly promoted Razorbacks, Division 2 champions Antrim Jets and a highlight 25-7 win over promoted Louth Mavericks. The Giants were very stop-start on offense last year, having as many scoreless games as they had games above 20 points. Losing Boorman brothers Rauiri and Tiarnan will not help matters on that side of the ball, though new Head Coach Conan Jal is confident in the system he has brought from across the Irish Sea. With a developing, competitive rivalry brewing with the North Dublin Pirates on the cards, as well as former Division 1 sides in Trinity College Dublin and Wexford Eagles (to whom they are unknown quantities), the Giants will be looking forward to making an impact in Division 2 and continuing their upward rise as one of Ireland’s youngest clubs.
The Giants defense, on the other hand, was a shining light for the vast majority of last season, stonewalling offenses to 16 points or less in 5 of their 8 games. No doubt the standout performer, division sack leader and team defensive MVP Ross McKenzie — as well as the return of players like Adam Wilson and Francis D’Souza — was crucial last year and provides the experience and leadership that rookies and veterans alike will look towards in tough battles this season that may crop up should the restructured offense not light up the division as much as they hope, 2022 was a big year for the Causeway Giants, improving on their 1-7 record from their debut season in 2019. This year, the Giants look ready to improve further and get their year-end record above .500 for the first time in club history — and perhaps make the Division 2 Bowl while they’re at it.
Trinity College Dublin (4-4 in 2022 AFI Division 1)
Trinity compete this season in Division 2 after forfeiting the second half of what seemed to be leading to a promising season in last year’s Division 1. An overhaul in personnel will take the field this season after the Students lost star player Brandon Atwell to UCD in the run-in to last year’s playoffs. The club, Head Coached by Garland Drake, will be aiming to capitalise on the experience new players got during November’s Intervarsity Blitz, where they shared the field with Division 1’s UL Vikings and National Champions UCD.
The keys for Trinity this season will be to pick up where they left off in 2022 and put up strong performances on both sides of the ball, as well as keep up on-campus recruitment through the season to be able to finish their 6-game schedule, something that has evaded the team for multiple seasons. Doing so without O’Dwyer brothers Conor and Rory — the former having stepped back from the kitted scene this year and the latter having moved across the capital to UCD — will make things more difficult on offense for Trinity, as both were long-time star players on an explosive offense. Despite this setback, a strong start to the season, coupled with more stability off the field, will likely see the Students push for the Division 2 Bowl Game this July.
Wexford Eagles (0-8 in 2022 AFI Division 1)
Like Trinity, Wexford’s 2022 forfeits bring them down to Division 2 for this season. Playing just 2 games last year before ending their season, the rebuild since then has opened quite a lot of eyes. Announcing Kevin Klatt as their Head Coach — before quickly announcing their DC as Brendan McAleese — was a massive shock considering their parting of ways before the 2022 season, on top of the fact that both had been considered next in line for the South Dublin Panthers openings. Given how popular Klatt has been in the Wexford area, the Eagles’ offseason recruitment has been a success, with the team finding talent in most areas of the field that will only serve to improve the current batch of talent they already had. Bringing back dual-threat QB Trevor Smith and Klatt’s innovative offense will likely lead to some exciting plays in Wexford games.
The Eagles games against Trinity will likely bring the most intrigue in Division 2 matchups on a national scale considering both just came down from Division 1, and considering both teams aren’t too far removed from playoff berths in that division, the home-and-away series between these 2 sides will likely have plenty of eyes on them, and may come down to clutch defensive plays by the likes of Terry Carey and Henry Foxton. However, the Eagles would be unwise to overlook the likes of the Giants and Pirates, as both have the chances to cause some upsets.