Preview: 2022 AFI Flag Football Playoffs

2022 has proven to be a wild year for all 3 forms of American football in Ireland, but none have been quite as unpredictable as the 2022 AFI Flag Football season. Beginning back on August 20th shortly after Shamrock Bowl XXXIV, 24 flag football teams have competed for the chance to be a part of this Saturday November 5th‘s playoffs at Dromore RFC, Co. Down. Alas, 8 remain, 4 each from Premier Division and Division 1.

12:15 — Division 1 Semi-finals
#1 Belfast Knights vs #4 Antrim Jets
#2 Westmeath Minotaurs vs Cill Dara Crusaders

13:30 — Premier Division Semi-finals
#1 South Dublin Panthers vs #4 Donegal / Derry Vipers
#2 Craigavon Cowboys vs #3 Dublin Bay Raptors

14:45Division 1 final: Glas Bowl III

16:00Premier Division final: Emerald Bowl VIII

With just a few more games to go before this year’s Emerald Bowl and Glas Bowl Champions are crowned, let’s take a look at each team’s path to the playoffs.

Premier Division

#1 South Dublin Panthers (10-0) — South

The Panthers came up from 2021’s Division 1 and utterly dominated the South group this year, going undefeated and putting up some truly elite performances on both sides of the ball. Scoring a country-high 411 points in their 10 games and also boasting the #1 defense (157 points), the Panthers came out with a screaming start by handily beating group-favourite Edenderry Eagles and Dublin Rebels.  It should have come as no surprise that the Panthers have had as good a season as they’ve had — with the likes of Jo Buchanan, Sean Douglas and Ryan Eccles all making splash plays on offense and defense, as well as QB Joe Grey leading the charge for the South Dublin side.

#2 Craigavon Cowboys (10-0) — North

2021’s National Champions had themselves a perfect season of their own, going 10-0 in an otherwise very tight division. Also posting over 400 points, the Craigavon offense (and a certain QB Peter Loughran) is a juggernaut everyone around the league is very aware of. With potential national team members such as Neil Maxwell, Austin Ramsey and Scott Buchanan available though, Craigavon are more than just their well-renowned QB. With a defense that kept opposing offenses to 21 or less points in 6 out of 10 games, Craigavon have everything it takes to repeat their Emerald Bowl win from last season

#3 Dublin Bay Raptors (7-3) — South

Perhaps another surprise considering the preseason strength of the South group, the Raptors truly burst on to the scene by starting 4-0. Veteran QB Todd Zboyan led a young group of players after amalgamating with the Thomastown Tigers and crafted a team that put up more than 30 points in all but 1 game. While the likes of Jack Basquille and Jason Kolokithas will help fill the gap, the Raptors will be without standout piece on offense and defense Peadar O’Muiri. Still, the Raptors have shown to be the type of team to face big challenges head-on, and after coming 2 points short of upsetting the #1 seed, they may very well fancy themselves against the #2 seed.

#4 Donegal / Derry Vipers (6-4) — North

The Vipers might be the true upset of this playoff schedule this season. Being promoted from 2021’s Division 1, Donegal / Derry had a tough task ahead of them to stay up in a group that includes the high-scoring Hurricanes, a Trojans team that specialises in tight games, an athletic Mavericks outfit and fellow promoted side Belfast City Lions. Not only did the Vipers achieve Premier Division status for next year, but they blew past every expectation put in front of them, and put on some fantastic games while they were at it. After a sputtering start that saw some wide scorelines, 4 of the Vipers last 6 games were decided by 10 or less points, including a thriller with Maynooth that saw QB Peter Hamilton connect with star receiver Chad Higgins with just 7 seconds left on the clock to both win the game and secure their spot in this weekend’s playoffs. The Vipers knack for coming through with big plays in clutch moments will be key in their push for the finals.

Division 1

#1 Belfast Knights (9-1) — North

Relegation can demoralise some teams and lead to some hitting the reset button and taking a few years before making true attempts to climb back up — the Knights aren’t some teams. With players like Jordan Clinton and John McCrystal to get the ball to, the Knights scored fairly consistently in the 30-35 point range, landing there in 6 of their 10 games. The series with the Jets is currently in the black and gold’s favour at 2-1, so the Knights will have even more of an incentive to progress to the Glas Bowl game.

#2 Westmeath Minotaurs (8-2) — South

The Minotaurs have, for the last few years, been the team that has been *right* at playoff contention, only to have forfeits from earlier in the season to come back and haunt them. After putting a full season together, the Westmeath side put themselves on top of the South group, dropping points only to the Crusaders at the start of the season and the Rebels 2nds in their final gameweek. Scoring over 400 points this season — 1 of 3 teams in the country to do so — it seems the infusion of youth in their depths has pushed the Minotaurs to true players in the division, with the likes of Jack and Darragh Lynch, Peter Dempsey and Shaun Dalton all playing key roles.

#3 Cill Dara Crusaders (7-3) — South

The Crusaders are a different side altogether with Jordan Farrell under center compared to last season. Improving drastically from their 1-5 finish in 2021, Cill Dara are just 2 games away from adding a flag football trophy to the club’s cabinet. Luke Carey and Ethan Bolger have added some versatility on offense that perhaps was previously missing, while defensively the Crusaders have been rock solid, boasting a unit that has conceded less than 17 points a game. Much like the Vipers in the Premier Division, the Crusaders waited right until the end of the season to lock this playoff position up, just getting in ahead of the Rebels 2nds after beating UCD 30-27. Morale and momentum in the Crusaders camp is high and, with a 50-20 victory over the Minotaurs under their belts from earlier in the season, could well be on their way to lifting the Glas Bowl on Saturday.

#4 Antrim Jets (7-3) — North

The Jets are a curious team to preview. Relatively new to flag football (2021 debut season: 2-6 record), the Jets have performed past their expected goals for the season. With the highest scoring offense and 2nd best defense in the North group, their place in the playoffs was more than validated, especially considering they shutout the #1 seed in an amazing 32-0 performance and one loss was by a mere 2 points. With standouts like Jonny McCullough, Ryan Beckett and Scot McLean, the Jets can absolutely go on a run to the Glas Bowl.

Entry to the playoff event this Saturday is FREE so come down and support your team! Make sure to follow along the games on our dedicated flag football website here to find live scores and full season standings. A live stream will also be available — link to follow on our social pages.