Preview: AFI Gameweek 5

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.

Gameweek 5 has arrived, and right before we head into the first of multiple league-wide bye weeks, we have the most stupendous weekend of AFI football on offer so far this season with 6 games taking place across the island — 3 in Premier Division, 3 in Division 1. With top spots in both divisions up for grabs, rivalries to settle, and a #1 vs #2 battle in the Premier Division on tap this Sunday, this week will drastically effect the dominos that fall later in the year. Just how does this writer see things happening? Let’s deep dive into this week’s massive schedule to find out.

AFI Premier Division

UCD (2-0) @ Craigavon Cowboys (2-0) — People’s Park, Portadown, 2pm
Let’s face it: most of you are here for this one. Two teams that crept under a lot of preseason predictions have very quickly become the two of the hottest teams in AFI, currently sitting at #1 and #2 in the Premier Division respectively. It’s not an awful stretch to compare the sides either: two QBs playing some fantastic football (UCD’s Arun Mooney and Craigavon’s Peter Loughran); two get-out-the-way strong offensive lines to complement efficient running games; two defenses that cause havoc on opposing offenses and create takeaways like they’re going out of fashion. Both clubs have started their season’s extraordinarily, and it can only be assumed that both sides will keep that momentum riding to the playoffs regardless of the result in this one. 

This one could end up being very close, and for me it’s really up to what narrative you would rather back: go with UCD, who have had a stronger schedule so far (beating the Trojans 28-27, beating the Knights 58-7) compared to the Cowboys (35-6 win over the Rhinos, 14-13 win vs Knights); or, go with the hosts, as the home team has gone 13-3 so far across all divisions this season. While the latter is certainly a bit more superstitious, there is certainly something to be said about home-field advantage. Writer’s score predictions are at the end of this article so you’ll have to wait until you get there to see the pick!

South Dublin Panthers (1-0) @ Belfast Knights (0-2) — Malone RFC, 2pm
The Panthers have a quick shift of focus as they go from preparing for one Belfast team to another after upsetting the Trojans last weekend. A performance highlighted by QB Ian Cahill’s 4 TD day has made a lot of heads turn in South Dublin’s direction, somewhat overcoming the demons that haunted them of their Shamrock Bowl 33 loss in 2019. They travel this Sunday to Malone RFC to take on the Knights, who will be hoping for a defensive performance that more closely resembled the 14-point day vs the Cowboys than the 58 points they gave up to UCD in Gameweek 1. The Knights offense will be keen to improve upon their start to the season as well, having scored just 20 points in their two games so far in 2022. 

It’s hard to predict much else than a Panthers win here. The Panthers do need to make sure that every bit of respect is given to the Knights here to avoid an upset of their own, and we have already discussed the home team record so far this year. Saying that, it’s hard to argue against the Panthers winning here after their monumental start to the season last Sunday in Palmerstown.

Dublin Rebels (1-0) @ Dublin Rhinos (0-1) — Castleknock College, 2pm
This writer loves a good geographical rivalry game. While perhaps not being quite as big as NY Jets/Giants, a match involving two teams from the same county is always going to stir up drama at some point. The Rebels take the short trip to Castleknock after shutting out the Cork Admirals in Gameweek 2, while the hosts came away from Craigavon in the season opener on the wrong end of a 35-6 scoreline. Rhinos QB Ethan Foster will have been working on keeping better control of the ball after giving up 3 INTs in Craigavon, and he certainly has the ability to light a game up through the air and on the ground. Rebels QB Ty Henry greatly impressed in his eventual debut for the Rebels in their opener vs Cork, adding a score on the ground and through the air via WR Alan Dowdall.

Henry replicating his performance should help the Rebels on their way to a win here. After keeping the 2018 National Champions out of the endzone all day in Gameweek 2, it’s unlikely the Rebels give up enough points to be under threat in this one. Rhinos need to bring their A-game on Sunday, and if they do so they definitely give themselves a chance to come away 1-1.

AFI Division 1

Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-1) @ Westmeath Minotaurs (1-0) — Mullingar RFC, 2pm
The first of the three Division 1 games from this weekend that we’ll cover is the matchup in Mullingar. The Vipers have been more successful in this matchup in the past than the Westmeath outfit, though Westmeath did win in a shutout in their last encounter from the 2019 season. Westmeath, coming off the back of their historic win against the Philadelphia Blue Flame, will be looking to keep momentum rolling after their schedule was disrupted by the Wexford Eagles forfeit last Sunday. The Vipers, meanwhile, travel to Westmeath in better form than they were in going into last Sunday, when they beat the Cill Dara Crusaders 30-12 at the City of Derry RFC. 

Expect a physical one here, with both teams eager to capitalize on their wins from last weekend. With two strong defenses able to cancel out teams that aren’t at peak performance, it may come down to who has more weapons on the offensive side of the ball. The Minotaurs come into this game as hosts to a team they have beaten in their most recent outing and who are travelling more than 3 hours, so it’s hard to not give the nod to Westmeath in this one.

UL Vikings (1-1) @ Cill Dara Crusaders (0-1) — Newbridge College, 2pm
A first-time matchup in this one, as the Vikings travel to Kildare to battle the Crusaders in a game both needs need to win to stay in the playoff race in Division 1 early on in the year. The Vikings sit in the #3 seed right now, but are coming off the back of a shutout loss to Trinity in Gameweek 3. Cill Dara are also coming off the back of a Gameweek 3 loss, theirs coming  to the Vipers. The Crusaders home record in 2019 while in Division 2 was admirable, though the step up to Division 1, especially defending home field against a former Premier Division side, will prove a different challenge. 

The Vikings have the advantage on the standings, but having put up points in their recent loss the Crusaders may come into this game feeling more confident than UL. This matchup may rest on which version of Crusaders QB Jordan Farrell comes out on Sunday — the former U-20 Wolfhound, or the QB who threw for 4 INTs in Derry 2 weeks ago. UL will certainly be hoping for the latter, while also hoping QB Eoin Rudkins keeps better control of the ball himself, having thrown a late-game interception which ultimately cost them the game vs Trinity in Gameweek 3.

Trinity (2-0) @ Wexford Eagles (0-2) — Craanford Sports Complex, 2pm
Defending home field against the #1 seed in the division a week after forfeiting a game isn’t exactly an enviable task, but it’s one that the Eagles will have to face as they host a Trinity side that has not yet conceded a point in two games.  While that streak will have to end at some stage, one has to wonder if this weekend is when it happens, with Trinity coming up against a side coming off the aforementioned forfeit. Both Trinity and Wexford were held to 6 points by UL’s defense, and while triangular logic in football is absolutely not a safe game to play when trying to predict games, it’s an interesting observation nonetheless.

Could new HC Craig Morrell and QB Trevor Smith inspire his Eagles to a shocking win at home? Perhaps, but the more likely outcome here is QB Ben Dowling puts on another good performance, picking up a 3rd win on the year for Trinity heading into the bye week.

Quickfire Predictions
UCD 26 – 21 Cowboys
Panthers 34 – 18 Knights
Rebels 27 –  08 Rhinos
Vipers 14 – 28 Minotaurs
Vikings 20 – 08 Crusaders
Trinity 21 – 06 Eagles

Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram stories for a chance to give your thoughts on this weekend’s stupendous offering by voting on winners’ polls and leaving us your predictions for Sunday’s action!