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…