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School may be out for summer, but the 2022 AFI Kitted Season is still in full swing, with teams across the country throttling forward towards playoff qualification or punching the gas as hard as possible in attempts to avoid relegation battles. Gameweek 11 provides 4 games across Ireland’s 3 divisions, all with increasingly pressing playoff and demotion implications that teams will either look back on as clutch performances or missed opportunities. What teams are happening this weekend? And who is impacted from this Sunday’s action?? Let’s take a look
* Note: Trinity @ Donegal / Derry Vipers was due to take place this weekend, though we have been informed Trinity have forfeited this fixture. Vipers therefore earn the tiebreaker over the Students should it be needed at the end of the regular season.
Record: ¹ = Secured Playoff Appearance
² = Secured Home-Field Advantage
³ = Eliminated from Playoffs
#7 Dublin Rhinos (1-4) @ #6 Belfast Trojans (1-3) — Derramore Park, Belfast, 2pm
Fresh off a massively impressive (and important) home-debut win vs #5 Cowboys (2-4) last Sunday, the Trojans come into this one with new life. The goal coming into the season was to defend their National Championship and, while that chances of hitting that target were/are still under threat, the Trojans seem to have found the right formula to getting back on that path. The only knock from the game that could carry forward is a still-somewhat-leaky defense (allowed 3 TDs), though when an offense can carry the game like it did vs Craigavon (49 points scored) that can be forgiven, especially when this week’s opponents provide a lot less prolific of an offense (8ppg).
The Rhinos desperately need a win in Belfast, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Still sitting in a relegation triple threat, the Rhinos could nearly clinch survival with an upset here. While they were outmatched in their most recent fixture with #1 UCD (6-0)¹, they showed in their 28-16 win over the Cowboys that they can pull some — pardon the irony — Trojan performances out of the bag. QB Ethan Foster has offered a dual-threat in previous games this season too, which can always provide an unpredictable element to a game. While the Trojans carry so much more momentum and will (arguably, should) be favoured here, this writer is not entirely ruling out being caught out twice in one season by the same team.
#8 Belfast Knights (0-5) @ #4 Cork Admirals (2-2) — Old Christians RFC, Cork, 2pm
The Knights are in a tough spot here. Perhaps the one team in the whole of Ireland most in need of a win this weekend, the black and gold make the cross-country travel down to an on-fire Admirals squad. The Knights welcomed back the likes of WR/K Marty Caskey and other returning faces that will make a massive impact on their offensive output, hoping to churn out more performances like their 3TD game vs the #1-ranked Rebels defense 2 weeks ago. What they will need to have rectified by Sunday is their defense, who gave up 48 points in that game, as Cork have scored 20+ points in each of their last 2 games. Similar to their Dublin-based relegation battle counterparts, the Knights are the underdog in most people’s eyes but, also like the Rhinos, could pull of the upset. A loss here turns their matchup with the Rhinos on July 10th into the Premier Division survival bowl.
The Admirals host just their second home game of the year and will be looking for a better result than that game’s 20-0 loss (Rebels). QB Stephen Hayes and his men seem to have found a rhythm on offense which should make them a more viable threat as we head towards the playoffs. Already a strong contender due to their defensive displays, an efficient offense could make this team a Shamrock Bowl contender, especially by the time mid-July rolls around. Cork will need to be sure to not let the Knights into this game and strengthen their own grip on a playoff position. Like that playoff position, though, a win Sunday is far from guaranteed.
#1 Westmeath Minotaurs (4-0) @ #2 UL Vikings (3-1-1) — Maguire’s Field, Limerick, 2pm
A battle at the top of a division thrown into disarray after Trinity’s surprising forfeit of this Sunday’s fixture with the Vipers at City of Derry RFC. The forfeit sees the Vikings jump to the #2 seed with a points difference tiebreaker over the #3 Vipers. RB duo Eoin Rudkins and Sean Grace will be out for scores this Sunday, each scoring 3TDs on the ground this year, while on defense, the Vikings will be drawing up pressure in the pocket with the likes of Rob Browne, who has a 3-sack season thus far. That defense has only given up 1 touchdown per game at Maguire’s field this season, so the Vikings know what it takes to defend home turf.
The Minotaurs come into this one after taking a 24-7 win home from their trip north to Donegal / Derry last Sunday. The Kinahan-Lynch connection has scored 3 times in their first 2 played games (Minotaurs have 2 forfeit wins from the now-folded Wexford Eagles), and the offense has a whole seemed largely improved from their season opener. Maintaining an impressive streak was their defense, who have only given up one touchdown this season. The Minotaurs likely trek to Limerick as favourites, and will secure playoff positioning with a win Sunday, as well as being a win and a half ahead of the competition for home-field advantage in the playoffs. A loss in Limerick for the Westmeath side would truly kick the division wide-open.
#4 Causeway Giants (2-2) @ #1 Louth Mavericks (5-0) — Dundalk RFC, 2pm
Another win-and-you’re-in situation, this time for the undefeated Division 2-leading Louth Mavericks. Starting the year 5-0, the Mavericks have shown they are the team to beat in Division 2, averaging 29.2ppg on offense while conceding just 6.8ppg. They are having a lot of fun on offense clearly, having so far logged 5 individual touchdown scorers, while the defense has been hunting for the ball all season, coming away with 9 takeaways. It seems inevitable that Louth will qualify for the Division 2 bowl game (July 31st), it’s just a case of when they qualify. Could it be this Sunday? Perhaps, but the Giants have a case of their own.
Sat in the #4 seed at the moment due to a point deduction from their season-opening forfeit, the Giants are aching for a win here to keep them alive in the race for the #2 seed into the bowl game. The Boorman brothers on offense seemed to have gotten things moving on offense until the shutout by #2 Jets, so will likely be coming out swinging against an even bigger opponent. DL Ross McKenzie has been bossing his way through offensive lines all season for the Giants and has inspired his team around him, having so far accounted for 4 sacks, a forced fumble, a recovery and a safety — most chances of stopping the explosive Louth offense run through him. A win away from home against a team like the Mavericks seems unlikely, but more surprising results have occurred this season…
Rhinos 14 – 27 Trojans
Knights 13 – 19 Admirals
Minotaurs 23 – 10 Vikings
Giants 8 – 16 Mavericks
AFI Premier Division
UCD — Secure home-field advantage with Admirals Loss OR Tie vs Knights
Belfast Knights — Eliminated from playoff contention with Loss @ Admirals.
AFI Division 1
Westmeath Minotaurs — Secure playoff berth with Win @ Vikings
AFI Division 2
Louth Mavericks — Secure bowl game berth with Win vs Giants