Preview: AFI Gameweek 13

The views and opinions expressed in this article in no way reflect those held by American Football Ireland. The below article is intended to be entertaining and promote around American Football Ireland games.

Happy Father’s Day Weekend, folks! With a scorcher of a weekend on the cards weather-wise, this gameweek has actually worked out to be a great card for American football across the island. 4 games take place this weekend, 2 apiece for Premier Division and Division 1, with everything from confirmation of a relegation battle to a #1 seed up for play. Will AFI Gameweek 13 be an unlucky 13 for any teams this week? Let’s try call the action ahead.

Record: ¹ = Secured Playoff Appearance
                   ² = Secured Home-Field Advantage
                   ³ = Eliminated from Playoffs

AFI Premier Division

#4 South Dublin Panthers (3-2) @ #5 Belfast Trojans (2-3) — Deramore Park, 2pm
What a turn of events for this one. The first of this 2-game series was played back in Gameweek 3, and the Panthers winning that one (let alone by a 42-13 scoreline) surprised a lot of people. The Panthers won their season opener and their next 2 games, while the Big T fell to 0-3 by May 1st. Since then the tables have truly turned: the Trojans, since returning to Deramore Park, have outscored their opponents 84-19, while the Panthers haven’t scored on offense in their last 2 games. Injuries and tougher opposition have contributed to that latter stat, and it’s a cloud the South Dublin side will look to rid themselves of this Sunday. With S Thomas Boyde lurking around the defensive backfield looking to add his 5th INT of the year, QB Ian Cahill — having thrown 7 INTs in the last 2 games — will need to take a lot better care of the ball against a team on fire right now.

A vital game when discussing potential tiebreakers for the #3 and #4 seeds in the playoffs. For a straight H2H advantage over the Panthers, the Trojans would need a 30-point victory, and while that may seem like a tall task on face value, they have won each of their home games this season by 30 or more (#6 Cowboys, #7 Rhinos). The Panthers aren’t that level of competition — they are currently in playoff positioning for a reason — and while this writer takes the Trojans to win, the Panthers should maintain their H2H points difference advantage over Belfast.

#3 Cork Admirals (3-2) @ #7 Dublin Rhinos (1-5)³ — Castleknock College, 2pm
To Dublin now where we see a team trying to avoid a relegation scrap at the end of the season hosting a rising Shamrock Bowl dark horse. The Rhinos defend their home-field for the final time this season, knowing a win will put them in great position to playing Premier Division football again next year. Dublin will be looking to the likes of Nico Marrimpoey, Gar O’Rourke and joint sack leader Samson Olusegun to keep the pressure on Cork QB Stephen Hayes, with the trio already having collected 13 sacks in 6 games this year. An aggressive pass rush has, unfortunately for the Castleknock-based outfit, not generated many turnovers and opportunities to get the offense on the field, only totaling 2 INTs so far this year. QB Ethan Foster and co. will be looking for a performance on offense akin to their 28-16 upset of the Cowboys, momentum from which they have since lost. Having scored just 12 points in the 5 games outside of that victory, the Rhinos will need to dig deep for another special game.

This one seems a lot more straightforward for the visiting Admirals. A win Sunday puts them in pretty good positioning for playoff football in July, giving Cork a 66.7% chance of qualifying this season without relying on results elsewhere. QB Stephen Hayes has been quickly shooting up the passing leaderboards, with Hayes and WR Jack Cronin building great chemistry as the year has progressed. Between the offense clicking more and more over the past few weeks and the defense and the defense not giving up more than 21 points in a single game this season, it’s hard to go with a result here that doesn’t go in Cork’s favour.

AFI Division 1

#4 Trinity (4-1*) @ #3 UL Vikings (3-2-1) — Maguire’s Field, 2pm
A difficult game to get a read on in this one, as we see a team who forfeited their last fixture travelling to a team who was shutout at home 2 weeks ago. This is the second in the UL/Trinity series this year, with Trinity grinding out a 6-0 win in Santry back in March. The Dublin Students will be eager to kick up the standard of that offensive performance, with QB Ben Dowling looking to improve on his 4 TD season. O’Dwyer brothers Conor and Rory will be key in the playmaking department for Trinity, consistently showing up as highlight performers on offense for years now. Consistent pressure on defense has been and likely will be the gameplan Sunday for Trinity, having so far schemed 6 players into at least 1 sack (including joint second in the sack list, James Cushing).

UL will likely use their option offense and designed QB runs to slow down the Trinity pass rush which should open up lanes to pass the ball, similar to how they attacked the Crusaders (#5, 2-3) defense in their 39-47 victory in Newbridge. A concern for the offense must be noted after failing to score at home when the #1 Minotaurs visited in Gameweek 11 though, and a gutsy performance from the Vikings offensive line will be needed to keep that Trinity pressure out of the way of QB Kieran Gilhool and create gaps for star RBs Eoin Rudkins and Sean Grace (3 TDs each). After a 3 sack game 2 weeks ago, sack leader DE Robert Browne will be itching for more this weekend against Dowling, though he will be competing in that department with fellow DL William Campbell. With 7 INTs on the season so far the defensive backfield has been all over tipped and rushed passes, so Vikings coaches will be looking for ways to create opportunities against a QB who has generally been very safe with the ball in his hands.

This writer will err on the side of caution and go with the home team looking to avenge their recent display on offense, as well as their loss earlier in the year. With better conditions this weekend, expect more points on the board.

#5 Cill Dara Crusaders (2-3) @ #1 Westmeath Minotaurs (5-0)¹ — Mullingar RFC, 2pm
Cill Dara come into this one knowing that an upset win Sunday is key to their playoff hopes, needing a win from either this game or @ Trinity (July 2nd) AND a victory over #2 Vipers in Derry at the end of the season to earn postseason football. QB Jordan Farrell has always been a gunslinger-type, especially this season (6 TDs: 9 INTs), but that ride-or-die style could actually be of benefit Sunday, with the Crusaders unable to play it too safe against an aggressive defense like Westmeath. RB Luke Carey (3 TDs) will also be sure to pop up in some key moments, having scored his first senior touchdown against the Minotaurs in their friendly series back in September. Craig Dooley has been the main bread-winner in the Cill Dara pass rush, tallying 4 sacks while also contributing in pressure that has led to the Crusaders’ 4 team INTs this season. Always ready for a tough game, Cill Dara will need all hands on deck for any chance of knocking off the #1 seed.

Which, on the flip side, could be locked up for Westmeath by Sunday’s end. The Minotaurs has taken a massive turn for the better near the end of the 2010s, going from leaky to water-tight over the space of 2 years, and have continued that trend this season. Much like the Dublin Rebels in the Premier Division, an understated pass rush has created more pressure than sacks, resulting in 5 INTs on defense (including 3 for division-leader CB Peter Dempsey) and no pass TDs allowed thus far. Add to that an offense picking up consistent yardage on the ground and through the air, and it makes for a difficult team to travel to. With the offense returning home for the first time since April 10th, expect a more performance by a more comfortable unit looking to put out a showing that asserts themselves as the team to beat moving into July’s postseason.

A win for Westmeath confirms home-field advantage in the playoffs, while their win and Trinity failing to beat UL would secure the #1 for the Minotaurs. Knowing what they could lock up this week, it’s hard not to back them here.

Quickfire Predictions
Panthers 17 – 27 Trojans
Admirals 24 – 8 Rhinos
Trinity 14 – 17 Vikings
Crusaders 6 – 24 Minotaurs

Clinching/Elimination Scenarios
AFI Premier Division
Rebels — secure home-field with Panthers Loss/Tie @ Trojans
UCD — secure home-field advantage with Admirals Loss/Tie @ Rhinos

AFI Division 1
Minotaurs — secure home-field advantage with Win vs Crusaders
secure #1 seed with Win vs Crusaders AND Trinity Loss/Tie @ Vikings

Make sure to keep an eye on our socials over the weekend so you can give your own predictions!