Preview — AFI Kitted Gameweek 1

We made it! The 2023 Kitted Season is here, and we have some fantastic games on the slate for Opening Weekend. With all the twists, turns, ups and downs of an American football season ahead, let’s have a look at how things might shape up when the dust settles this Sunday evening!

Premier Division
Rebels @ UCD — UCD Sports Campus, Belfield, 1pm
In what we’re sure will be the most attended game of this weekend, University College Dublin’s Sports Campus hosts the rematch to last season’s Shamrock Bowl, with the hosts looking to start their National Championship defense with a statement win against the team whose undefeated streak they snapped in the championship game. On the Rebels side, they will be looking to not only enact some kind of revenge from that Bowl game loss in August, but to also start their own march to this year’s Shamrock Bowl with a win. A battle of the 2 best performing QBs from the 2022 season (UCD’s Arun Mooney and Rebels’ Ty Henry) and 2 stout defenses, this game is all but guaranteed to be a barn-burner. Good luck calling this game either way — just enjoy the carnage that ensues at 1pm

Division 1
Donegal / Derry Vipers @ Cill Dara Crusaders — Newbridge College, 1pm
6 of Division 1’s 7 teams compete in Gameweek 1, and we start with the game that features two teams who competed in this division last year. These sides played a tight game at the end of the regular season last year which decided playoff seeding for both teams, and with the offseasons that both sides had this past winter, we’re expecting another close affair this weekend. The X-factor to consider for this game, as with most games involving the Vipers, is the travel aspect, with the red and yellow travelling the guts of 4 hours for their season opener. If the Vipers win this one, it will be through a ground game that may need time to warm up. On the flip side, a strong performance from the Crusaders passing attack may get them over the line and give the home crowd an opening weekend win to cheer for.

Antrim Jets @ NI Razorbacks — 1pm
A fascinating fixture this, with the 2022 Division 2 champions traveling to face a squad they played 2 tight games with last season — with the added wrinkle this season being the exodus of some talent from the Jets to clubs like the Razorbacks. There has been some jabs back and forth in the lead up to this game, and both teams know that getting a Week 1 win up on a team with an increasingly hot rivalry will be a massive morale boost going forward. QB Scot McLean leads the charge for the Jets who will look for him to work similar magic to what he managed last season. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, will be relying on the experience of players and coaches (old and new) from an array of levels of football across Ireland and Europe (including Irish Wolfhound Alex Kusmerik) to keep the Jets from taking off at the start of this season. Expect a great game here.

Dublin Rhinos @ UL Vikings — Maguires Field, UL Sports Campus, 1pm
A battle at the top of the preseason seedings for Division 1 sees the 2022 Bowl game finalists host a Rhinos side who couldn’t avoid relegation from Premier Division last season. QB Ethan Foster and co. will be looking for much more offensive output this season than last, which will make things easier for their defensive stars and allow them to be more aggressive and make some plays. Kickstarting their season with a good performance on offense against a game UL defense will go a long way to instilling some confidence in the Rhinos offense going forward. The Vikings, on the other hand, will be in no mood to letting teams into games after their tight loss in last year’s final, and will be out for blood and points on the board of their own this season. While it’s always tough to predict how a relegated team will fare in their new division, it’s hard not to see the Vikings defend their home turf here.

Division 2
Trinity @ Causeways Giants — Limepark Playing Fields, 1pm

Coming down to Division 2 in 2023 after failing to finish their 2022 season, Trinity come into this season with a lot of fresh faces. QB Ben Dowling remains, though will be without his 2 most prolific options from previous years (as noted in our Divisional previews). With a lot of new personnel for this season, perhaps Division 2 will be a good litmus test for this new-look Trinity outfit, a lot of whom got their first run-out in their annual Intervarsity blitz with UL and UCD, which they surely picked up some great experience from. On the Giants side, they too are a bit of an unknown force on offense, with the Boorman brothers that did provide sparks to their offense last season now off to ventures new. Defensive MVP and captain Ross McKenzie will need to rally his troops on his side of the ball after the 44-0 beating they took from travelling Masters side Sealand Seahawks, and prep them for what will sure to be a quick-hitting, slippery Trinity offense. The scoreboard may not light up in this one but it is sure to be an intriguing game for this division nonetheless.

Contributor’s Predictions
Rebels 27-28 UCD
Vipers 14-18 Crusaders
Jets 16-20 Razorbacks
Rhinos 13-21 Vikings
Trinity 14-7 Giants

How do you think this weekend will go? Do defenses dominate or do offenses overcome with opportunities galore? Let us know through our socials on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!