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.
This July 4th Weekend celebrates the USA’s independence from 1776. With the close relationship between the US and Ireland, there will be many barbeques and events around the island that show our support to those we have connections with across the Atlantic — they family, friends, or teams coming over for the Aer Lingus College Football Classic on August 27th. Of course, we found the best way to celebrate the July 4th Weekend would be to put 3 games on offer over Saturday and Sunday, all involving the AFI Premier Division! Some teams are playing for home-field advantage, others for playoff spots, some for momentum heading into a relegation battle in Gameweek 16. What all teams have in common this week, though, is how badly each team needs a win this week. With so much to play for, how does this writer see it all go down? Well, let’s have a look.
Record: ¹ = Secured Playoff Appearance
² = Secured Home-Field Advantage
³ = Eliminated from Playoffs
#8 Belfast Knights (0-6)³ @ #5 Belfast Trojans (3-3) — Deramore Park, 2pm
2022’s Battle for Belfast seems a bit lopsided on paper. While both teams started in a subpar fashion at 0-3, and while the Knights have yet to win a game at 0-6, the Trojans have rescued their season while on their home stretch, now at 3-3 with very real chances at playoff football. The Knights will be involved in a lose-and-you’re-out relegation game with the #7 Rhinos next weekend (1-6)³ so can only gain momentum from this game this Saturday. A team that has not yet, to this point, gotten both the offense and defense rolling at the same time, the Knights this season have held opponents to under 20 points this season just twice, and while the offense has gotten going against tough opposition recently, the defense was outmatched (21-48, 21-41 losses). While the Knights have had some standout individual season this year — 3 TDs for WR Jordan Clinton and 3 INTs for DB Josh Harvey — having the #7-ranked Offense, QB and Defense makes the Knights the underdogs in most matchups in the Premier Division.
The Trojans, meanwhile, have soared up the rankings with their return home and the introduction of mascot Hector. The celebrated backfield of Jona Siri and Mo Ramadan have combined for 9 rushing TDs this season, which is more impressive considering both have had time off for injuries. DB Thomas Boyde has had an excellent latter half of the season too, climbing up to t-2nd on the Interception leaderboards. The success of the Trojans can also be tied to the protection of the ball by QB James McKelvey. While not lighting up the TD sheet, McKelvey has had drastically fewer turnovers in their home games (2) than the start of the season (5), and it has led to longer, scoring drives. With the way the offense has been rolling lately it’s hard to see the Knights defense come up with too many stops, and the defensive home record for the Trojans speaks for itself (13ppg conceded).
#2 UCD (6-1)¹ @ #3 Cork Admirals (4-2) — Old Christian’s RFC, 2pm
Certainly the highlight game of the weekend, UCD travel to Cork Saturday looking to make amends for their tight 34-30 loss to #1 Rebels (7-0)². The winner of this game puts themselves in fantastic shape for a home-field semi-final in the playoffs, while Cork are also competing to earn a playoff spot this weekend straight up. UCD come into this with an advantage over Cork, beating them 20-0 at home earlier in the season. UCD have been explosive all season, and despite the loss suffered 3 weeks ago they still are in a great position heading into the playoffs and are all over stat leaderboards. QB Arun Mooney has been scoring multiple TDs a game all season and is atop the passing TD chart (21), while the likes of WR Sean Douglas shares the top spot on the receiving TD leaderboard (7), while RB duo Sean McVeigh and Jack Finnegan have combined for 14 rushing TDs this season. While the #2 Offense gets some much deserved love, the #3 defense also boasts some incredible performers, with the likes of Larry Doyle (5 sacks) and Dan Verzuh (3 INTs and fumble recoveries, 1 TD) highlighting that group.
Of course, Cork are a different beast to when these 2 teams met up in April. Despite starting 0-2, Cork have still maintained the #2 defense in the division, while the offense has averaged 32.75ppg in that span. QB Stephen Hayes has been at the forefront of this revival, scoring 14 TDs through the air. A strong offensive line and consistent running game has kept passing lanes open for the likes of Jack Cronin (5 TDs) and Ryan Price (3) to get into and take the ball into the endzone. Defensively the Admirals have shown major improvements too, pitching 2 shutouts (save for a safety given up by the offense @ #4 Panthers) and conceding just 76 points on the season. Cork come into this game knowing that a win will secure playoff football, and that a win of more than 20 points against a UCD team that could be rattled leaves them in prime position to leapfrog UCD into the #2 seed in the final gameweek.
#6 Craigavon Cowboys (2-5)³ @ #4 South Dublin Panthers (3-3) — King’s Hospital School, 2pm
The Cowboys travel to Palmerston to take on the Panthers in a game that only one team has an active stake for playoff contention. The Cowboys started the year 2-0 but their season completely fell off the tracks, losing their next 5 games in a collapse that led them to elimination from playoff contention last weekend. Suffering a 58-2 loss in their final home game of their first season back in the Premier Division will have likely destroyed any morale left in the Cowboys camp coming into this one, the one bright spot coming from a Scott Buchannon safety. While QB Peter Loughran currently ranks middle of the table in passing TDs among starting QBs, Loughran and the Cowboys as a whole have given up too many turnovers to compete in games against higher level teams. Making sure to limit those turnovers away from home against a Panthers team fighting for playoffs will give Craigavon the best chance of finishing the season on a high.
The Panthers, though, will be fighting hard for that playoff spot. With the undefeated Rebels around the corner, South Dublin will always fancy their chances but should understand their most realistic chance of making the playoffs lays at finishing 4-4 and hoping the Admirals beat the Trojans next weekend. Of course, to finish 4-4 or above, the Panthers need to get through the Cowboys, who, while having no stakes in this game in relation to the standings, will want to make sure their first year back in the top division doesn’t end with a six-game losing streak. QB Ian Cahill started strong for the South Dublin side but has been seldom seen on the passing TD stat sheet in the Easter break. While injuries have hurt them and the offensive output has suffered as a result, scoring 20 points against a Trojans defense at Deramore Park did help get their hopes back on track and they managed to maintain a H2H advantage for the playoffs — should *only* the Panthers and Trojans tie on record. DE Evan Allen has been fantastic for the latter half of the season on defense, getting up to share the higher spots on the sack leaderboard at 5 on the season. Players like Allen and Mike Massari (2 INTs) will help this defense keep the Cowboys out of the endzone enough for the Panthers offense to get on the board.
Knights 17 – 27 Trojans
UCD 24 – 27 Admirals
Cowboys 13 – 17 Panthers
UCD — Secure #2 seed and home-field advantage by avoiding 20 point-or-more loss @ Admirals
Cork Admirals — Secure playoff spot with Win vs UCD AND Trojans or Panthers loss