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