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As we roll into Gameweek 4 there are already a number of storylines beginning to take shape: UCD’s dominance over the Premier Division has been a shock to many; Trinity’s defense has taken charge in Division 1 (as opposed to their high-scoring offense from their 2019 season); and Division 2 is a lot tighter early on than some may have assumed it would be. With the the schedule’s first bye week coming up on the horizon, we look to this week’s action, featuring teams looking to rescue momentum from early hiccups, teams looking to ride waves of momentum they have created early on, and multiple teams only beginning the season this weekend. Let’s have a look at what’s happening this Sunday…
AFI Premier Division
Belfast Trojans (0-1) @ South Dublin Panthers (0-0) — King’s Hospital School, Palmerstown, 2pm
The only match taking place in the Premier Division this weekend is a rematch of the most recent Shamrock Bowl way back in August 2019 (with the hiatus caused by you know what). While Belfast came out of that game as National Champions, the Big T find themselves in an interesting situation so early in the season — so early that the hosts haven’t even kicked off their year yet. They struggled very early on against UCD, and while they mounted a late comeback, QB James McKelvey was picked off by UCD DB Eoghan McMahon. What was promising about the Trojans performance, though, was just how well they — specifically RB Jona Siri — ran the ball, with the man himself totaling over 200 yards and 2 TDs. The Belfast back following up on that performance will be key to the Trojans steadying the course on their path to reclaiming National Championship.
Meanwhile, the Panthers will be looking at the UCD win against the Trojans and asking “why not us?”. The South Dublin side have always been a very well-drilled team, with talent at many positions on the field. With an influx of talent coming from their growing youth football setup, from flag teams like the MU Hurricanes and others around the Dublin area, as well as a small haul from the Meath Bulldogs after their withdrawal from this season, the Panthers certainly have bodies willing to make plays this year. The pressing question surrounding the Panthers is what type of team will they be without long-time HC Steve Mack, who only very recently stepped down from the role.
An interesting year and an interesting weekend lay ahead for two teams who need wins soon to put any worries — internally and externally — to rest.
AFI Division 1
Wexford Eagles (0-1) @ Westmeath Minotaurs (0-0) — Mullingar RFC, 2pm
Much has been said and celebrated online about the Minotaurs’s 15-8 win over the Philadelphia Blue Flame 2 weeks ago, and the story coming out of the game was the Westmeath outfit’s defense: HC Bill Dougherty schemed up 4 sacks and 4 takeaways (including a pick 6) against the American side, and will be looking to keep up that production heading into the year. The Joe Kinahan-Jack Lynch connection — despite scoring in that game themselves — will be eager to help improve upon what was an underwhelming day overall for the offense.
Wexford travel to Mullingar after their 12-6 loss to UL in Gameweek 1. The Eagles kept a close game in Limerick and were close to taking a win home at various moments in the game, and will look to do much the same this Sunday. QB Trevor Smith may end up using his legs more than his arm because of the Minotaurs pass rush, but based on his runs against a strong UL defense 3 weeks ago he may very well be comfortable with that. An away win here would surely be considered an upset, but Wexford aren’t strangers to those either…
Historically this game has favoured the hosts, and with how the Minotaurs have come out of the pandemic compared to Wexford it is difficult to see a break in that trend this Sunday.
AFI Division 2
North Dublin Pirates (0-1) @ Louth Mavericks (1-0) — Dundalk RFC, 2pm
After earning their first win of the year last week in Antrim, the Mavericks play hosts this Sunday to the 0-1 Pirates. The Mavericks will be pleased with the 27-12 scoreline from last week but must feel that they easy left points on the board between penalties and turnover-worthy plays. They will definitely be happy with their run game, with 4 TDs scored on the ground in Antrim and will probably look to extend on that tally this weekend. RB Nathan Hearty leads the division in rushing TDs himself with 2 and will be out to bump that number up as he runs behind his offensive line.
North Dublin will be out to limit the mistakes made in their first outing at Limepark in Gameweek 2. The Pirates offense turned the ball over into 15 points 2 weeks ago between a fumble, a pick 6 and a safety, so will look to tighten everything up for a tough test in Dundalk this Sunday. With more time to gel with their Bulldogs counterparts, this team will likely become more of a unit to compete. Right now, though, unless QB Rian Molloy can inspire his players to the point where they will themselves to a win, it’s hard to read much into this game other than “Louth Mavericks go 2-0”.
NI Razorbacks (1-0) @ Antrim Jets (0-1) — Antrim Forum Playing Fields, 2pm
With the Jets loss last week they currently sit bottom of Division 2, though that status does not do the Antrim outfit any justice. Boasting one of the stronger passing offenses in the division, the Jets are a team that can absolutely rebound both within a game and within the next few games of the season. Donaghy Group Invitational Cup finalists, the Jets will certainly be leaning on QB Scot McClean to bring them back to .500 on the year and defend their home turf for the first time this season.
The Razorbacks, the Jets opponents Sunday, are a peculiar outfit. Officially top of the division right now due to a forfeit win from their scheduled match with the Giants in Gameweek 1, the Razorbacks have welcomed a plethora of Belfast City Lions flag team players to their ranks, which immediately gives a major boost to skill position groups and their defensive back room. With that potential to burn teams with speed and agility now on top of the power they can show up front, the Razorbacks could become a real threat in Division 2.
This writer will contradict himself with his prediction, however, as it’s hard to see the Jets dropping 2 in a row. Still, both teams should be very exciting to follow in this division, particularly down the stretch towards the playoffs.
Trojans 24 – 18 Panthers
Eagles 06 – 27 Minotaurs
Pirates 12 – 24 Mavericks
Razorbacks 14 – 20 Jets