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Gameweek 9 is behind us, and with the 5 games tipping Sunday’s point total over 200, there was certainly plenty of scoring to talk about. Not only that, but playoff appearances this year for plenty of teams were secured, strengthened, casted with doubt or ruined altogether with results from last weekend’s action impacting plenty of teams around the country. Let’s see what went down, and how that impacts the rest of the season in Premier Division and Division 2 (no games occurred in Division 1).
Record: ¹ = Secured Playoff Appearance
² = Secured Home-Field Advantage
³ = Eliminated from Playoffs
AFI Premier Division
#2 UCD (5-0)¹ 37 – 6 #6 Dublin Rhinos (1-4)
UCD put forth another great performance en route to guaranteeing themselves a playoff berth this postseason. The pass game with QB Arun Mooney took a back seat to an incredibly strong run game as RB duo Jack Finnegan and Sean McVeigh punched in 2 scores each on the ground — although it should also be noted that the passing touchdown leader still added 2 to his season tally (Cian Lawlor and Darragh Mooney being on the end of them). On defense, the dominance continued, with the pass rush taking down Foster for 5 sacks (LB Larry Doyle claiming 2 himself). Perhaps scarier, UCD held Foster to as many incompletions as interceptions on the day (2), with defenders Thomas Fitz and Brian Broderick each picking off the Rhinos QB.
Speaking of the Rhinos, spirits have perhaps crashed back down to earth after their upset win over the Cowboys at the start of May. Some flash plays here and there fail to make up for a loss this size, though it must be stated that their keeping of UCD to 12 points in the first half is something they can work off going into their final 3 games. RB Craig Usher ran in for Rhinos touchdown, only their 6th on the season. The Rhinos will need a big push on offense for their last 3 games, and with games against the Trojans and Admirals coming up, they need to find ways to score quick or they may find themselves in a Premier survival bowl against the Knights come the final day of the season.
#8 Belfast Knights (0-5) 21 – 48 #1 Dublin Rebels (5-0)
Another big day for the Rebels offense saw them sweep a more competitive Knights team than what we saw in this matchup a month ago. Oddly enough, despite them being seeded higher than UCD, the Rebels have not mathematically secured a playoff position just yet due to the result in Craigavon, though they are all but written in. What will help their case is performances like this past Sunday’s, most notably by star RB Wello Omorodion, who ran through the Knights defense for 4 TDs. QB Ty Henry made sure to welcome WR Greg Johnson back from injury with 2 passing TDs going his way, while WR Dave King added one on the ground himself. DBs Rex Harding and Dylan Paisley each came up with INTs (Paisley now has 5 on the year), minimising the amount of time the Knights had on the ball. With a bit of rest before their clash at the top at home vs UCD on June 5th, the Rebels may well be favoured to take run with the #1 seed into the playoffs.
The Knights, meanwhile, should be happy with how most of the game went. Keeping the score close at 21-26 until turnovers and the strength of the Rebels offense got the better of them in the 2nd half, McDowell and his offense had a well enough day themselves, scoring more points on the Rebels defense than had been scored on them all season long to that point. McDowell threw 3 TDs (one each to WR/TE Marty Caskey, WRs Jordan Clinton and Matt Williamson), all while being kept upright for most of the game by an especially strong offensive line performance. Defensively the Knights were not as strong as one needs to be to keep the Rebels at bay for a full four quarters, though individual efforts by the likes of Robbie Alexander (2 forced fumbles) will be appreciated moving forward into their last 3 games of the season. The Knights need at least 1 win to survive relegation, facing an upward battle with #4 Admirals (2-2) away, #7 Trojans (0-3) away and — on the final day of the regular season — #6 Rhinos (1-4) at home.
#5 Craigavon Cowboys (2-3) 13 – 22 #4 Cork Admirals (2-2)
After silencing the Panthers in Gameweek 8 for their first win on the season, Cork bumped their win streak to 2-in-a-row after the long trip up to Craigavon. QB Stephen Hayes and co. have certainly turned it up a notch in recent weeks, throwing for 3 touchdowns on Sunday (Kit O’Keefe with the first, WR Jack Cronin with the second and the game-winner). The story on the other side of the ball was how the Cork defense got into the head of Cowboys QB Peter Loughran, with the Admirals finishing Sunday with 2 sacks and 4 interceptions on the Craigavon signal-caller. The Admirals are certainly performing like a playoff team at this stage in the season. With the defense proving they could limit the likes of UCD and the Rebels, and the offense having come on leaps and bounds since those games, the former National Champions could be a dark horse to get to (and even win) this year’s Shamrock Bowl.
Craigavon, meanwhile, could be hitting the panic button. Starting the year 2-0 after Division 1 promotion from 2019, the Cowboys have since gone 0-3, losing to UCD, the Rhinos in a massive upset, and now Cork. WR Odhran O’Kane was the man for scores Sunday for the Cowboys, catching Loughran’s lone touchdown pass, while also returning a kick to the house before halftime to keep the deficit — before Cronin’s second-half touchdown — to 1 point. DB Anton Nulty grabbed another interception on the year, but defensively the Cowboys will need to improve for sure. With their closing stretch being the Rebels at home and the #3 Panthers (3-1) away, next weekend’s battle with the Trojans may be their best chance to earn a playoff berth.
AFI Division 2
#3 NI Razorbacks (2-3) 8 – 13 #1 Louth Mavericks (5-0)
Perhaps a tighter game than many expected, Louth kept their undefeated streak in tact and secured their series tie-breaker over the Razorbacks. The Louth defense, which has been strong in Division 2 all season long, swarmed Razorbacks QB Mark Thompson and consistently created pressure in the pass and run game, resulting in 6 takeaways, including 2 INTs from veteran Dec Mulvihill. A slower day on offense, QB Nathan Hearty and RB Dan Finley still punched in a score each to make sure Louth took another win home.
The Razorbacks fell short of the upset Sunday but played a close game. An aggressive defensive showing paid off, only allowing 2 scores to Division 2’s most prolific offense, while also adding a safety of their own through DL Dee Lorimor and sacks through DL Corey Adair and Elliott Lloyd. Thompson did have the aforementioned 4 INT day, which certainly didn’t help matters, but a strong, growing connection with TE Zakk Appleyard has proven an effective sticks-mover in the Razorbacks offense. Credit must be given to the Razorbacks backroom and HC/RB Gareth Millar, who have revitalised the club and, against many predictions, kept the Razorbacks in bowl game-contention in the later stages of their season: with 2 games against the #5 Pirates (0-5) and #4 Giants (2-2), they could very well make it.
#2 Antrim Jets (3-2) 35-0 #5 North Dublin Pirates (0-5)³
The Jets soared as high as they have all season against the Pirates, winning a 35-0 shutout. Antrim defended their home turf and also put themselves in good position for the #2 seed in the division, which would send them through to the Division 2 bowl. With the Mavericks facing them at the end of the regular season, the Jets will need wins over the Giants (June 12th) and Pirates again (June 26th) to secure a bowl game berth.
For stats-crazed among us, QB Scot McLean’s 100% score rate for the Antrim Jets came to an end Sunday as — while he threw for 2 TDs and ran one in himself — RB Declan Curran got on the board twice on the ground.
The Pirates, on the other hand, had little to celebrate Sunday. They were completely outmatched in Antrim, and need a win from their final 3 games in order to not end the year on the sour note that is 0-8. With a return date at home vs the Jets, and a series with the Razorbacks on the cards, that seems more unlikely than likely, though if there’s anything that we’ve come to expect from AFI football this season, it’s to expect the unexpected!
Keep an eye on our socials tomorrow as we preview 5-game slate for AFI Gameweek 10, which includes