Review: AFI Gameweek 8

Another weekend, another high-scoring slate! 5 games took place across the island Sunday, with 3 of them going north of 40 points scored — and one of the 2 that didn’t was blitzed with torrential rain and lightning delays. Unfortunately for neutrals, Gameweek 8 wasn’t the most drama-filled, with most of the slate being blowout victories. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to take from those games though, and as teams put more and more focus on playoff or relegation battles these results begin to matter a lot more! Let’s take a look at what unfolded, and how it might play into the end of the 2023 kitted season in July.

Division 2
Causeway Giants (2-2) 6-35 Wexford Eagles (2-0)
The return to football in Wexford went exactly as the Eagles would have hoped as they flew past the Giants in a 4-score victory. The Eagles put up 35 points in a performance that echoed the highs of their pre-Covid success in Division 1, but also pointed to the possibilities of soaring past that in years to come. Luke Fitzpatrick had another great day — taking home a pass from QB Kyle McLaughlin and rushing in 2 more scores — and is quickly becoming a rising star for this team. So too is rookie DL Rob Farrell who held the interior wall of the defensive line together well, limiting the Giants inside run game and forcing multiple negative yardage plays. A massive day for the Wexford squad sees them jump up to 2-0 and in the driving seat for a place in the Division 2 final this summer provided they can keep the engine running on this campaign. The Giants, slipping to 2-2, still have an outside shot at a final appearance but need to win at least one of their last 2 games @ Trinity or vs Wexford — but would likely be relying on other results if they could only take one of those games.

Division 1
Donegal/Derry Vipers (1-4) 0-23 NI Razorbacks (2-3)
Perhaps the start of an unexpected rivalry in this one as the Razorbacks put away and shutout a fiesty Vipers outfit. Both teams came into this one looking to recoup some lost form and start paving a way back to the potential of playoff football this season, and with those sort of stakes on the game, tempers did flare up. There were as many ejections in this game as touchdowns (3), which didn’t exactly make the referees jobs easy. Alex Kusmerik and Stuart Wylie added scores on the ground (with Dean McNeil kicking a field goal earlier in the game) and — with time expiring — Wylie added a passing TD to James Cameron. While some may see that as padding the score in a game that already had some butting of heads, the fact of the matter is those points may help the Razorbacks slide into the #4 seed if they’re lucky come the end of July. With the Mavs (4-0), Rhinos (2-2) and Jets (0-5) on the cards in their last 3, the Vipers may have run out of opportunities to punch their ticket to the postseason, but may luck out if results go their way. The Razorbacks don’t exactly have an easy path either with the Jets, Crusaders (2-2) and Mavs remaining, and they’ll be hoping they can build some good run of form before it’s too late.

Cill Dara Crusaders (2-2) 0-34 Louth Mavericks (4-0)
The Mavericks continue to wreck havoc in their return to Division 1 as they fought off the Crusaders in a statement win. After starting the year with 2 wins against the 2 teams that came up with them from Division 2 (Jets, Razorbacks), Louth have dominated Division 1 mainstays like the Vipers and, on Sunday, Cill Dara. QB Nathan Hearty had another great all-round performance, throwing for 2 touchdowns and adding a third on the ground. Brendan Simms was all over the stats sheet for this game, receiving and running in a touchdown each, as well as snagging an INT from Crusaders QB Jordan Farrell, who threw 4 total. Coming up with 2 of those was Eamon Ward, who housed one for 6 points. The Mavericks controlled all aspects of this game and they have kept their unbeaten streak rolling as they look set for playoff football. With 2 unbeaten teams left in Division 1, June 4th is looking more and more intriguing of a matchup…

UL Vikings (5-0) 14-3 Dublin Rhinos (2-2)
Speaking of that other unbeaten team, the Vikings completed their sweep of the Rhinos this regular season in what may as well be called the 2023 Mud Bowl. A game plagued with appalling weather, the conditions very quickly became leading factors in how this game played out in person. A low-scoring affair in which both offenses — usually quite fast-paced and productive — struggled to move the ball and the opposing defense downfield.  When all was said and done, however, UL proved once again that they are the team to beat in the division. Having all but locked up a playoff spot at this stage, the Vikings can get their eyes on playoff football and be all hands on deck to stake their claim as the team for promotion next season.

UCD (3-2) 46-0 Craigavon Cowboys (0-4)
The Cowboys finish a horrid April 2023 at 0-4 after a shutout loss at the hands of a UCD team that wanted to leave themselves with some breathing space for playoff contention before their May break for exams. Craigavon fought hard, as they always do, and came up with some plays on defense like a sack from Richard Lilburn and a pick from DB Austin Ramsey. Apart from that though, 2023 is proving to be a tough year for Craigavon, who are quickly spiraling into a relegation battle. Perhaps the QB change to Neil Maxwell may help in the long-run for this season, but with the Admirals (3-0), Panthers (1-2) and Trojans (2-1) all coming up, Craigavon may have to hope on the Knights (0-3) to drop games and force what would be a relegation play-off at the end of the season. Time will tell on that front for Craigavon, but one team who won’t be watching all that unfold will be UCD, who have fought back to 3-2 after an up-and-down start to the season. Arun Mooney had a great day through the air, throwing for 6 touchdowns to 5 different receivers, with RB Sean McVeigh being on the end of 2 of them and rushing in another. An ideal end to this stretch of the season for the Students sees them return to the exam halls after a big win before they come back to the field May 27th, in a rematch against the undefeated 4-0 Rebels.