Review: AFI Kitted Gameweek 6

A big weekend of football resulted in some big results in every way, with games having huge scorelines, massive effects on the standings and team projections, and some breakout performances. After having most of the week so far to collect our thoughts on the weekend, let’s have a quick look through each game, who stood out, and how this writer sees it impacting the next few weeks of action!

Division 2
Wexford Eagles (1-0) 20-6 Trinity (1-1)
Number 13 proves to be unlucky for many, but last Sunday it was one of the key numbers to Wexford’s successful return to action this season as they came away with 13 sacks at the Sport Ireland Campus. Henry Foxton led the way in the pass rush, totaling 6 sacks in a day that sees him jump to the top of the sacks leaderboard of not just Division 2, but all of Ireland. Putting Gibbons under pressure all day, the Wexford offense made sure to capitalise, with Kyle McLaughlin throwing two passing TDs to Luke Fitzpatrick on his debut for the Eagles, with Trevor Smith adding a rushing TD to the Eagles’ scoring output from Sunday. The dominance of the Wexford defense is the story here, with the thoughts of Trinity being odds-on favourite for the division now being called into question. There’s plenty of season to go, of course, but the Eagles certainly burst on to the scene last weekend after having the start to their season pushed back twice. Talk about a momentum-builder.

Division 1
NI Razorbacks (1-3) 13-53 UL Vikings (4-0)
The Vikings finished the first half of their regular season schedule with a dominant performance at home against a Razorbacks team that has, after this result, lost all momentum it entered the season with. The Vikings outmatched the Razorbacks with a fast, relentless pace to their game, with a razor-sharp option offense that resulted in 6 rushing TDs  —  4 of which came from RB Aidan Maher. UL were as aggressive on defense, with the coaching staff likely not taking Mark Thompson’s 2 passing TDs too much to heart as they came away with 5 takeaways, scoring off the back of most of them (highlighted by an Adam O’Mahony strip six). The Vikings look well on their way to returning to the Division 1 Bowl Game this July, with UL needing just 1 win from their last 4 to guarantee playoff football. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, face an uphill battle to compete for a spot of their own, having played more games so far than the reachable teams above them. While they’ll be aiming for higher, the 4th seed seems to be the most accessible way in for the Belfast club. To get there though, they will need to find ways to adapt after a rocky start.

Antrim Jets (0-4) 0-58 Dublin Rhinos (2-1)
Speaking of rocky starts, the Jets are feeling the effects of losing players in some key areas this past offseason. Starting with a excusable 22-6 loss to the Razorbacks in the early days of the season, the Jets have since failed to log a single point on the scoresheet while bleeding points on defense. It’s not like the effort wasn’t there either: 2 takeaways (including one off a Chrissie McKee forced fumble) and 4 sacks showed some grit and fight from the Jets, but the Rhinos showed their quality with the day they had across all 3 parts of the game. QB Ethan Foster accounted for 6 total touchdowns (3 apiece through the air and on the ground), RB Craig Usher surpassed 100 yards himself rushing, Dublin had total control over special teams, and 10 sacks (and most importantly, a shutout) on defense. The Rhinos needed a big showing here to continue pressing the Vikings for that #1 seed, and they keep themselves in contention for a home playoff game moving forward. The Jets need to find some answers quick to breathe some life into an offense that needs desperately reprieve the pressures being put on their defense. A home date this Sunday against a Crusaders team that hasn’t played in a month will be Antrim’s last game until mid-May, so they will be hoping to make some sort of an impact there.

Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-3) 7-53 Louth Mavericks (3-0)
Another Sunday, another big Mavericks win. Averaging 47 points per game so far (no, that’s not a typo), the Mavericks have continued the run of form they had going in the Division 2 regular season last year with some incredible performances thus far. Nathan Hearty added 3 more passing touchdowns to his 2023 campaign. On the receiving end of 2 of those was Eamon Ward, who also came away with 2 INTs on defense (1 pick six) in a fantastic “ironman” type of day. Ward’s pick six was 1 of 3 defensive touchdowns for the Mavs defense who also added points through a Dan Finley pick 6 and a Michael O’Shea forced-and-recovered scoop ‘n score. Pushing for a home playoff game this year — potentially in a battle with UL for #1 — it’s clear their previous experience in this division has made the Mavs’ transition from Div 2 to Div 1 the easiest of the 3 teams that came up. Both teams have a bit of time off before each play again in Gameweek 8.

Premier Division
Belfast Trojans (2-1) 37-6 Belfast Knights (0-2)
A much better day on offense than what they had shown in their opening 2 games from the Trojans. QB Josh Davis got his first full start against his old side, scoring 3 touchdowns and being turnover-free through the air, with fellow Knights transfer WR Jordan Clinton and 2022 Vipers standout Chad Higgins among the 5 Trojans reaching the endzone last Sunday. Defensively, the Trojans held the Knights to small chunks of yardage, not playing overly aggressive for turnovers and keeping everything in front of them. The Knights, down usual starting QB Spencer McDowell, found it hard to get too much rolling, with the result never really being in question after the first quarter. The Trojans have rejuvenated themselves after a tough start at UCD, with the team seemingly having sorted out the offensive woes that plagued them early on. The Knights, assuming McDowell is back sooner than later, needn’t panic about their season prospects after this game, though a win soon would further ease concerns.

Westmeath Minotaurs (1-1) 9-20 South Dublin Panthers (1-1)
A back-and-forth game in Blanchardstown saw the Panthers come out victorious after being down 9-7 at the start of Q4. Finn Kearns’ ability to improvise and scramble proved key in this one, wearing out a Minotaur defense that struggled to keep the former GFL receiver in the pocket. Kearns was aggressive through the air, throwing 3 interceptions but matching that with passing touchdowns to Josh Clarke and Ray Burke (x2). The opposition QB, Joe Kinahan, had a tamer day, throwing a touchdown to Shaun Dalton (his third of the year) and an interception. Westmeath struggled to run the ball, with the Panthers being able to commit to defending the pass in the latter moments of the game. Kinahan was strip-sacked in the redzone inside the 2 minute warning which put the final stamp on a big team performance — and a big win — for South Dublin. Both sides have tough tasks facing them in Gameweek 7, and while it would be unwise to predict which of these 2 teams (if either of them) are more likely to make the #4 seed to the playoffs in July, there’s a fair chance both teams could be in or around the mix in the closing stages of the season. 

Craigavon Cowboys (0-3) 6-58 Dublin Rebels (3-0)
To wrap Gameweek 6 up, the Rebels took care of business again, putting up nearly 60 points at home against a Cowboys side that has struggled hard this 2023 season without long-time QB Peter Loughran on the field. Travelling to the Rebels was never going to be easy, and the result shows just how far ahead of the most of the field the Rebels have been so far in 2023. The one positive that the Cowboys can take from this game is finally getting on the scoreboard through a Neil Maxwell touchdown. Other than that, the story for this season in Premier Division continues to be the Rebels dominance, where they have already outscored opponents 134-52 in just 3 games. Much like last season, it’s difficult to see a team right now that is built to stop them more times than not, which makes it no surprise that they seem to be favourites for lifting the Shamrock Bowl this summer.