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Gameweek 14 provided some massive scorelines, and some massive upsets. 3 divisions were represented across 4 games, home-field advantage was earned, and 2 of Ireland’s 3 undefeated seasons were put to rest. Just who earned themselves momentum swings heading into the playoffs, and whose stock may have dropped a tad? Let’s find out.
Record: ¹ = Secured Playoff Appearance
² = Secured Home-Field Advantage
³ = Eliminated from Playoffs
#1 Dublin Rebels (7-0)² 58 – 2 #6 Craigavon Cowboys (2-5)³
An uncomfortable watch in Portadown saw the Rebels truly take over People’s Park en route to a statement 58-2 victory. QB Ty Henry was the expected standout for Dublin, carving out 3 passing (Greg Johnson x2, Dave King) and 3 rushing TDs all while not turning the ball over once. King made sure to come down with an INT on defense, but it was Cathal Keane who shone there, taking in 4 INTs from Cowboys QB Peter Loughran. A defensive performance that saw the Cowboys run game smothered, the Rebels rarely took their foot off the gas in this one. With home-field advantage AND the #1 seed now secured for the Rebels, their last game on July 10th could be approached in one of two ways — get some youth and depth pieces on the field to further their development and rest starters for the playoffs, or put a huge dent in local rivals #4 South Dublin Panthers’ playoff hopes and go for the 8-0 season.
Craigavon’s season, itself left with one game remaining, has gone completely wayward since the Easter break. Starting off 2-0 before losing 5 straight, the Cowboys were — at one point — considered a dark horse for the playoffs and perhaps the Shamrock Bowl. Now with playoff scenarios for them drawing dead, the Cowboys will need to sit down and figure out what went wrong for them on the field before coming into the 2023 season. An away trip to the Panthers this upcoming weekend (July 3rd) provides a chance to finish the season on a high note, though Craigavon should be wary of a team still fighting to play postseason football this summer.
#2 UL Vikings (5-2-1)² 26 – 6 #1 Westmeath Minotaurs (7-1)²
The first of two undefeated seasons to be lost this weekend, the Minotaurs had the opportunity to cement themselves as the team to beat in Division 1 with a win at home against a Vikings team they had already shutout in Limerick. Instead, the Vikings dominated the majority of the game, securing a home-field semi-final game on July 17th. The triple-option offense broke a typically unbreakable Westmeath defense, scoring more points Sunday than the Minotaurs had conceded all season. Responsible for each of the Vikings’ 4 TDs was RB Aidan Maher, taking one score to the house that saw him break 3 tackles before reaching the endzone. The defense certainly did their job too, swarming to Minotaurs QB Joe Kinahan and creating pressure whenever he dropped back to pass, resulting in seven sacks (including 5 from Jake Kelly) and an interception each from Adam Wixted and Evan Quigley. The Vikings, after this performance, will surely be favoured against whoever they face in the semi-finals, and perhaps the Bowl game too.
The Minotaurs, on the other hand, will have this game in the back of their minds for the rest of the season. Perhaps coming into this game overconfident, this weekend provided an eerily similar backstory to last (2019) season’s playoffs for the Westmeath outfit — a strong start to the season, bookended with a sizeable streak-breaking loss at the end of the regular season to a team that came in with more competitive fire. While the offense had some spurts that showed this is a team to back still (Kinahan and WR Jack Lynch connected for another touchdown), and the pass defense was still all over the ball with 2 inteceptions (CB Peter Dempsey, S Jason Owens), the Minotaurs must work over the next month to make sure the postseason does not end for them the same way that 2019 playoff run ended — an empty silverware cabinet.
#1 Louth Mavericks (6-1)¹ 7 – 25 #4 Causeway Giants (3-4*)
Another undefeated season gone, the Giants fired back from their recent heavy losses with a huge win over the #1 Mavericks. The Boorman brother connection was the highlight of the game Sunday, with Ruairi throwing 2 to Tiernan before swapping roles on a 3rd. The athletic duo went through the Mavericks defense, as did RB Matthew Clyde, who made sure not to be left of the stat sheet with a rushing TD of his own. The Giants pass rush was on its game too, collecting 4 sacks while shutting the Mavericks offense out. With a game against the #3 Razorbacks (3-3) remaining, the Giants go in with a great boost and potential to finish 4-4.
The Mavericks could not find what had worked for them all season in this one. The defense did come up with some highlights, and DB Brendan Simms came up with another impressive performance (1 sack, 1 forced fumble and recovery, 1 kick return TD), but it was not enough to inspire much on offense. With July 9th providing a preview to the Division 2 Bowl (Mavs host #2 Jets), the Mavericks have lost a bit of momentum at the wrong time. That game could make for an interesting watch in Dundalk.
#2 Antrim Jets (5-2)¹ 40 – 2 #5 North Dublin Pirates (0-7*)
Stock for the Jets keeps growing, with the Antrim side securing their place in the Division 2 bowl Sunday with another win. RB Declan Curran was the clear MVP with 5 rushing TDs, with QB Scot McLean connecting with Eoin Delargy to wrap up the scoring. An overwhelming performance from their offense carried over to their defense, with Antrim making sure they were all over the Pirates. 2 interceptions and 4 sacks from the pass rush unit were topped off with a fumble forced by Dean McNeill, recovered by Marc MacFadyen — both of whom were on the sack sheet. With the offense firing on all cylinders, and the defense not conceding in 4 games, the Jets have really built up a team to truly challenge the previously-thought untouchable Mavericks.
Credit must be given to the Pirates, in some respect. A year in which they entered with a smaller roster (even after them taking some Meath Bulldogs on loan), with an unfortunate recruitment campaign during the pandemic break, the Pirates have done their best and fought through the toughest year in the club’s history. 2022 has seen some clubs forfeit their entire seasons, and others have folded midway through the year. The Pirates, though their efforts on the field have resulted in positive points on the division standings, should be commended for trying to finish their season amid the chaos that surrounded the club in the last 2 years. Whispers of them forfeiting their final game linger, but credit to the North Dublin crowd who have done their best to play as much football as possible.