Preview: AFI Kitted Gameweek 5

No early April Fools here: AFI Gameweek 5 has six games on offer. After a week made up of mainly blowouts, the last week of action before the league-wide Easter break consists of games across all 3 divisions that — on paper at least — mostly look like close matchups. With some teams surpassing more than a quarter of their schedule by 5pm this Sunday, there are players and fans alike that already are projecting the rest of their season and how they shape up for relegation or playoff battles. With it being such an intriguing weekend, let’s look at how the action might unfold.

Division 2
Trinity College Dublin (1-0) @ Wexford Eagles — Craanford Community Field, Gorey, 2pm
The hosts will be looking for a big day here with an historically passionate home crowd behind them, as they play their first home game of their rebuild after an unfortunate 2022 season. The last game this side played was, funnily enough, against Trinity in Wexford, so there’s an air of romantic poetry around this matchup as the Eagles will be looking to reverse the 22-0 loss they suffered here last year. The Eagles coaching staff is highlighted by the likes of HC/OC Kevin Klatt and Special Teams coach Brendan McAleese will likely produce a detailed gameplan for their side, but all hands will need to be on deck to overcome the challenge Trinity brings to the table. QB John Gibbons had 3 touchdowns from under center in Trinity’s game vs the Giants earlier in the year and the Students offense will be sure to try and replicate that, and the likes of Ian Richardson on defense will be favoured to cause some havoc in the pocket after notching 2 sacks in Game 1. Will they be able to go 2-0, or will Wexford get their 2023 season off to a bang?

Division 1
UL Vikings (2-0) @ Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-1) — Templemore Sports Complex, Derry, 2pm
The return fixture to a 10-10 tie from when UL hosted in 2022, the Vipers host the Vikings in an intriguing matchup. The Vipers, who started poorly @ the Crusaders before reclaiming some heat with a win @ the Jets, need a statement performance on offense alongside a defensive effort more akin to the Jets game than their season opener. The Vikings have the feeling of a team that could go undefeated on the season and will not want to give up an ounce of momentum before the break. A game that features 2 teams that have no problems playing defense and forcing mistakes in the passing game, this one might just come down to a game between QBs Gary Melly and Fin O’Donovan. While Melly has demonstrated strong leadership in tight games like their win at the Jets and at times during last season, O’Donovan’s dual-threat nature provides an extra layer for the Vikings offense that might just push this game in UL’s favour. 

Dublin Rhinos (0-1) @ NI Razorbacks (1-1) — Newforge Sports Complex, 2pm
It’s hard not to dive into the loss to the Mavericks with all the implications it has for this weekend’s matchup with the Rhinos. HC/RB Gareth Millar will be unavailable for the first-half while he serves a suspension for his ejection last week, which is massive for the cohesion of the team on the field — as well as calming the storm on the sideline pre and mid-game. A team that is already dealing with some big injuries, Razorbacks stock has fallen since the start of the season but that’s not to say they can’t turn it around. The key for the Razorbacks will be to contain Rhinos QB Ethan Foster inside the pocket as the man can get the ball in and out of his hands quick and be a threat in the run game. The Rhinos gameplan will probably be to take shots early and often on the ball while translating that aggression on the defensive side of the ball by calling plays to get the likes of Matt Mays (3 sacks vs Vikings) putting pressure on Razorbacks QB Mark Thompson to try and stretch a lead going into the halftime break. If the Razorbacks can limit the Rhinos offense in the first half they give themselves a chance to get out in front. 

Louth Mavericks (1-0) @ Antrim Jets (0-2) — Antrim Forum, 2pm
The Mavs made a massive first step forward for their reintroduction to Division 1 last Sunday with a big 33-0 W away from home. On the road again this Sunday against another familiar foe in the Jets, the lads from Louth will be eager to get a win over the team that beat them in the Division 2 Bowl last July on top of extending their 2023 record to 2-0. Keeping Brendan Simms and Dec Mulvihill fed on offense will be the main message for QB Nathan Hearty as they come up against a defense that has not exactly bleeding points this season. QB Scot McLean and the Jets know they need to find better ways to push the ball downfield this Sunday against a team that started the season with a shutout, after they themselves have only scored once in two games. Head-to-head, there’s certainly one pick on paper that seems more appealing than the other, but many thought the same of the Division 2 Bowl last season — and look how that turned out.

Premier Division
Belfast Trojans (0-1) @ Craigavon Cowboys (0-1) — Portadown People’s Park, 2pm
Both teams will be looking to bounce back after horrid starts to their seasons in March, with the Trojans getting driven out of Belfield by UCD 34-3 in Gameweek 2, while the Cowboys are recovering from a much more recent 38-0 home loss to Westmeath. Neither team looked all that confident in their first outings and left more questions than answers. QB Dom Lynn’s absence makes things difficult on a Trojans offense that had planned to have him take over the reigns from James McKelvey, and Christian Cowan did not fare well against the newly-promoted Minotaurs defense last Sunday as the Cowboys move ahead without Peter Loughran on the field. Both teams are in a bit of a rebuild phase, but there were playoff expectations on the Trojans coming into the year for a reason. With the depth they have and key weapons that they can feed in the run and short passing games, it’s tough to pick against the Trojans here. 

UCD (1-1) @ Cork Admirals (1-0) — Old Christians RFC, Glanmire, Cork, 2pm
The most intriguing game on this slate emanates from Cork, bai. The Students come into this one off the back of a 34-3 home win over the Trojans while the Admirals took home a 30-14 victory from their trip to the Panthers. Both sides impressed by scoring 30+ in their last games and have played some fantastic shootouts in recent memory. This fixture near the end of last season ended in a 26-26 tie, and neutrals will likely be looking for as close a game to that as possible. UCD knows how it wins games, creating the right blend of letting Arun Mooney do his thing at QB by spreading the ball around and of giving the likes of Sean McVeigh and Brandon Atwell at RB the chances to make big plays. On the flip side, the Admirals will likely be watching tape from the Students’ season opener with the Rebels and liking what they saw. The Rebels were able to get to Mooney more often than UCD are known to allow (pressure that created multiple turnovers), and with the Admirals forcing 5 sacks and 2 turnovers themselves against the Panthers, they will be eager to run that performance back in front of their home fans. The detail to watch in this one is UCD’s defense vs Stephen Hayes and his crew of weapons. While they kept Belfast to just 3 points, they knew what they were getting vs a team operating with a backup QB. Hayes, different in style but similar in nature to Ty Henry, is a different animal, so containing Hayes to a quiet day — not even one with turnovers — could very well get the job done for the reigning National Champions… the question is: can they do that? We’ll find out Sunday afternoon.

Writer’s Predictions
Trinity 20-14 Eagles
Vikings 24-13 Vipers
Rhinos 17-13 Razorbacks
Mavericks 23-10 Jets
Trojans 27-11 Cowboys
UCD 26-24 Admirals