Review: AFI Kitted Gameweek 3

Gameweek 3 provided the return to action we all desperately needed after the speed bump that was Gameweek 2 (or, more accurately, the lack of Gameweek 2). First, some admin to address on that gameweek:

Eagles @ Knights is still awaiting a confirmed reschedule date. Information on this will be available as soon as we have it.
Knights @ Minotaurs has been rescheduled to Sunday May 28th during Gameweek 12
Mavericks @ Razorbacks has been rescheduled to this coming weekend for Gameweek 4, and will kickoff Sunday March 26th at 2pm.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s dive into what happened last Sunday!

Division 1
Donegal / Derry Vipers (1-1) 12-0 Antrim Jets (0-2)

A rough day at the office for the Jets, who not only lost in their home opener, but failed to put up a point in doing so. With so many questions about the Jets coming into the season (chief among them, what they’d look like on offense after a few transfers to the Razorbacks), the Jets have failed to get off the ground in the early part of the season. They’ll be sure to get to the bottom of those problems quick, as a fairly quick turnaround before their 2022 Division 1 final rematch with the Mavericks in Gameweek 5 awaits them. The defensive output improved from Gameweek 1, with great performances from Curtis McLeish (2 sacks, fumble recovery) and Marc MacFayden (1 sack, forced fumble), so Donal McCloskey and Co at least have something to hang their hat on from this game. The Vipers, meanwhile, pick themselves up from a heavy loss in Gameweek 1 with a shutout win on the road, with RB David Ferris punching one in on the ground and QB Gary Melly connecting with Harry McLaughlin for 6 as well. It’s the Vipers defensive performance that stands out from this game, totaling ten team sacks (including 4 from Josh Reed), 2 forced fumbles and recoveries, and an interception from Oisin Fleming. Maintaining this kind of performance will truly push the Vipers towards top contendership — that will be a test in this division, particularly when hosting the Vikings (2-0) in Gameweek 5.

Cill Dara Crusaders (1-1) 6-23 UL Vikings (2-0)
The Vikings got their second win of the season and at home this year by putting away the Crusaders in a game that stayed tight until midway through the fourth quarter. QB Finn O’Donovan ran in 2 scores for UL (including a 73 yarder) while managing the game through the air, keeping Cill Dara honest on defense to open up lanes for both himself and RB Aidan Maher, who scored a touchdown of his own. The main takeaway from a UL perspective, however, is the performance on defense. The Vikings coaching staff has met this Crusaders offense 3 times in the last year, and it has crafted gameplans to hold Cill Dara to fewer and fewer points each time (39, 18, 6). It’s the type of true self-assessment and preparation longtime AFI followers have come to expect from the Vikings — they were in the Premier Division as recently as 2019 — and it must give fans and coaches alike a massive amount of confidence seeing the players take to it. Speaking of those players, they have to take a lot of the credit too, pressuring the Crusaders backfield all day into 4.5 team sacks and interceptions from Adam O’Mahony and Conor Kelly. How the Crusaders bounce back will be key, as they’d have come into last Sunday expecting more points considering their 42-point performance on opening weekend. Getting Jordan Farrell back to take the helm at QB would be a big positive, allowing Rob Brown (who, it should be noted, did get Cill Dara on the scoreboard with a pass to Ben Costello) to slide into WR, a role that he has played that past few seasons. 

Premier Division
Cork Admirals (1-0) 30-14 South Dublin Panthers (0-1)
Finn Kearns stepped up at QB for South Dublin last weekend, keeping the Panthers in a game that, like the previous one, was a one-score game until late on. The Panthers kept it close all afternoon, with Cork’s clock management being a big key to their success. The Admirals scored to go up 14-7 with one minute to go in the first half, and — after holding strong at 22-14 towards the end of the game, turned the ball over and scored off the following drive to put the game away. Cork QB Stephen Hayes had a great day, throwing 4 touchdowns (2 to Jack Cronin) while the defense surrounded Kearns all day, finishing the day with 5 team sacks, and 2 interceptions from Dan Sheedy. Both teams came out of this game with positive future projections for the end of the season, with the Admirals getting a win and momentum on board before hosting UCD in Gameweek 5, while the Panthers fought a lot closer of a game than some had thought here, and have plenty of time to prepare for Gameweek 6 (vs Minotaurs). 

Belfast Trojans (0-1) 3-34 UCD (1-1)
A horrid start for a reloading Trojans side who were not helped by the football gods at all — facing a UCD side out for blood after losing opening weekend, already down QB1 with Dominic Lynn injured, the Trojans found out on the day their QB2 was unavailable. As teams found out last season, it’s a difficult feat beating UCD on your best day, and with everything going against them it was never going to end well for a Trojans side who, to give them credit, never relented and kept fighting. UCD though, themselves playing Eddie Goggins Sr at QB, also never stepped off the gas. Goggins Sr played a great game, throwing for 5 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and around 250 yards. Sean McVeigh had undoubtedly the performance of the season so far, reaching the endzone 3 times and topping 200 total scrimmage yards. UCD jump-started their National title defense after a bit of a stutter against the Rebels on opening weekend and will surely be looking forward to replicating this performance on April 2nd in Cork. The Trojans, meanwhile, will need to find ways to protect their run game with their third QB while they wait on Dom Lynn to return to action. If not healthy in time for their next matchup in Gameweek 5 at Craigavon, that matchup could be a lot closer than their 2022 encounter.