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What a weekend that was! Last Sunday 6 games took place across the island, all with great effects on each team’s seasons moving forward. With games split evenly between Premier Division and Division 1, matchups had impacts on the playoff pictures and relegation battles of both divisions as we head into the Easter break. Who came out on top going into the week off? Who can start dreaming about Bowl game appearances, and who may start having nightmares about dropping a division? Let’s see based on how Sunday’s action went.
AFI Premier Division
Craigavon Cowboys (2-1) 8 – 44 UCD (3-0)
This was more one-sided than many may have expected. In our preview we talked up the passing game of UCD, but the RB duo of Sean McVeigh and Jack Finnegan and the students’ defense really shone here: there were 135 rushing yards and 4 combined TDs between McVeigh and Finnegan; star defender Dan Verzuh picked of Cowboys QB Peter Loughran twice; Larry Doyle had a hell of a day with a sack, forced fumble and 4 TFLs to his name.
The Cowboys defense tried their best in a tough game, taking away 2 INTs and forcing another 2 fumbles, but the offense was unable to match that intensity. QB Christian Cowan got into the game and threw the Cowboys only score ti WR Luis Alberto, but that was all the hosts could muster against a game UCD defense. The big loss leaves Craigavon 2-1 and with most (if not all momentum) lost going into the break. Their next game is on May 1st for their away trip to the Rhinos, and will still likely go into that game as favourites after their 35-6 win over the Castleknock side in their season opener. Still, the loss will certainly sting and will remain in the back of the Cowboys’ minds until that Rhinos fixture.
Belfast Knights (0-3) 13 – 19 South Dublin Panthers (2-0)
We go from a game that got out of hand to a game that finished within touching distance from the Knights. McDowell and McCrystal ran Belfast’s scores in on the ground, and the Knights defense certainly created a lot of pressure on Panthers QB Ian Cahill, earning 3 sacks and 3 INTs on the day. The comeback wasn’t to be though, with the South Dublin side surviving a late comeback from the hosts.
Speaking of the Panthers, Cahill evened out his 3 INTs with 3 passing TDs, throwing 2 to WR Sean Goldrick and a third to WR Raymond Burke. Burke and RB Ben Arulogun, along with other key Panthers players, picked up injuries that kept them from returning to the game, so the Panthers injury report going into the bye week may be a bit longer of a list than they will have hoped after 2 games. Strong defensive performances, including individual efforts like DE Evan Allen’s 2 sacks and fumble recovery, will be crucial to South Dublin’s season moving forward if offensive weapons will be limited coming out of the Easter break.
Dublin Rhinos (0-2) 0 – 52 Dublin Rebels (2-0)
The Rebels took control of this one early and did not let that grasp slip. RB Wello Omo took 2TDs in on the ground, while QB Ty Henry threw for 5 TDs (including 3 to WR Greg Johnson) in this one, the season-high across the league for one game. The defense was sure not to be left without any highlight performances, with DB Dylan Paisley’s 3 INTs being the standout. Ricky Paisley added a 4th interception, while Rebels veteran Conrad Cook scooped up a fumble and took it to the house. Rebels sit at #2 in the division now, having scored 72 unanswered points in their 2 games thus far.
The Rhinos are in a lot more alarming territory after sinking to 0-2 with a -81 points difference. This game fell out of the Rhinos hands quickly, with costly turnovers giving the ball and the game away early on. Some individuals can take some pride away from Sunday (defender Sam Olusegun finished with 2 sacks and a forced fumble), but the Rhinos need to find ways to regroup both in games and in the season, or they could find themselves stuck in an uphill battle for the entire season. With 2 games against UCD broken up by the Cowboys return fixture all in the space of the first 30 days coming out of the bye week, they will need to find inspiration from somewhere to climb out of their current #8 position.
AFI Division 1
Westmeath Minotaurs (2-0) 13 – 0 Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-2)
The Division 1 game with arguably the most intrigue going into it (#2 vs #3 before Sunday’s result) ended up being the lowest scoring game of the weekend. Westmeath’s passing attack through QB Joe Kinahan and WRs Jack Lynch and Shaun Dalton got going early, with Lynch grabbing his first receiving TD of the day towards the end of the first quarter. Both offenses stalled from there, with sputters every now and then, including a jump-ball catch from Vipers WR Chad Higgins, and hammering runs by Minotaurs FB Jay Bruton. Westmeath’s defense helped seal the win for the Minotaurs, taking the ball from the Vipers on 4 INTs (2 apiece by CB Peter Dempsey and S Niall Folan).
Both teams now go without a game until May 15th, with the Vipers making the long travel down to Limerick, and the Minotaurs being hosted by the Wexford Eagles. The key for both teams’ regular seasons ending in playoff berths will be improving on on offensive, with both sides turning in lackluster days with the ball in their possession.
Cill Dara Crusaders (0-2) 39 – 47 UL Vikings (2-1)
What a very pleasant surprise for the spectators in Newbridge on Sunday! The highest scoring game of the season so far, UL came out one-score victors in a shootout. For the hosts, Cill Dara can at least be a bit more confident in their offensive output moving forward and can look back at a lot of performances to try and replicate coming out of the break. QB Jordan Farrell had a much better day in Newbridge, throwing for 4TDs to 3 WRs in Sidney Pindi, Robert Brown and younger brother Kealan. The Crusaders defense was aggressive all day, and while that aggressive nature may not have paid off Sunday, the creating of 3 sacks and 3 turnovers will delight Crusaders coaches and they will surely look into how they got to that point to bring those performances in again throughout the season.
Speaking of creating turnovers, the Vikings came away with 3 turnovers themselves: interceptions from Jace Rea, Adam Keane and Luiz Quadros (the latter returning his for a pick 6) helped the Vikings get back on offense and get points on the board. RB Sean Grace had a fantastic day on the ground, rushing into the endzone for 3 TDs. That powerful run game also slowed the pass rush down at times, enough for QB Kieran Gilholl to throw for 3 TDs, with Danny Quilter grabbing 2 of them.
The Crusaders currently sit at #5 in Division 1 and outside of playoff positioning, though with their next game being another hosting duty (Wexford Eagles on May 1st), they will have time to sharpen up for a game they will be favouring as their first win of the year. UL jump to #3 with a 2-1 record, next hosting the Vipers on May 15th. The Vikings young offense will likely be looking to put in another good performance to keep themselves in good shape for a playoff berth.
Wexford Eagles (0-3) 0 – 22 Trinity (3-0)
We end on another one-sided affair, with Trinity continuing their remarkable run of form on defense, having not conceded a single point in their first 3 games of the year. With Conor O’Dwyer in at QB Sunday Trinity had 2 passing TDs through the air (one to Brandon Atwell, one to Conor Keeley), while adding a third TD on the ground through Rory O’Dwyer. O’Dwyer also had an INT on defense, as did Adam Byrne. Trinity can look forward to the break now sitting atop the division, and have plenty of time to scout future opponents between now and their next game on May 22nd (Crusaders).
The Eagles, now 0-3, will need to figure things out on both sides of the ball. While their defense hasn’t been leaking too much (2 games played, 34 points conceded, one 30-0 forfiet loss) their offense has not gotten off to a good start, with the lone TD from their season opener against UL being their only points so far on the year. Their matchup with Cill Dara on May 1, against an aggressive defense, may provide a few opportunities to get some points on the board if they prepare for a tough day on the line.
And that’s it for kitted football until April 24th! While there won’t be games over the Easter break, we won’t be short of content on our Facebook and Instagram over the next few weeks, including announcements we can’t wait to make!