Review: AFI Kitted Gameweek 4

“Touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns” was obviously the main message from away team coaches leading into the Gameweek 4 weekend, as every away team scored at least 4 touchdowns — and 3 of them pitched shutouts against their hosts. The last gameweek of the first month of the 2023 season created plenty of talking points as we move into April… let’s see what can be learned from each game.

Division 2
Causeway Giants (1-1) 26-0 North Dublin Pirates (0-1)
The Giants offense bounced back from the underwhelming output against Trinity earlier in the month by putting up 26 points against the Pirates this past Sunday. QB Jig McCoy took center stage, taking 2 rushing TDs in himself (including a 50+ yarder) and getting the ball to receiver Peter Phillips through the air for six. Phillips contributed on the other side of the ball, intercepting the Pirates QB as part of a set of 2 by the Giants defense, completed by a Dessie Mackey pick 6. Of course, there wasn’t much choice for the Pirates QB for the majority of the game as he was constantly pressured by the Causeway pass rush — the team totaled 7 sacks on Sunday, with 4 being attributed to Tony McCloskey (alongside a forced and recovered fumble). This Giants uniform looks set to compete in Division 2 this season, while the Pirates, whose offensive struggles in 2022 have seemed to carry over into 2023, need to strike gold on talent quick to have a chance of competing for a spot in the Bowl game.

Division 1
Louth Mavericks (1-0) 33-0 NI Razorbacks (1-1)
Despite the record difference between these two teams in 2022, this was a big upset at Newforge. The Razorbacks, fresh off a roster facelift and a big win over the Antrim Jets, were favoured by many to win here, especially at home, but the Mavs not only shut the home side out, but put 33 points on the board in doing so. Playing a close 7-0 game to halftime, the Mavericks were able to field QB1 Nathan Hearty in the second half after serving his suspension from the 2022 Division 2 final. From there, the Mavericks never looked back, scoring a further 26 points that went unanswered by the home team. Though Dec Mulvihill put the Mavs on the board in the first half with a throw to WR Alex Hanratty, getting everyone in their natural positions seemed to really kick the offense into another gear. Hearty connected with WR Brendan Simms for 6, RB Dan Finley punched one in, and — with the Razorbacks under increasing pressure due to Gareth Millar being ejected and the growing score difference necessitating more risks — the Louth defense and special teams continued to thrive. Finley had a strip sack from linebacker, Alex Simms house-called an interception, and Eamon Ward took home a fumbled Razorbacks kick return. The Mavs will be thrilled with how their re-entry into Division 1 went, while the Razorbacks will be waiting for this coming Sunday to wash the taste of this one from their mouths. A bad day all round from a team that has shown so much promise. With the Rhinos up next for them though, there’s no guarantee the Razorbacks bounce back, and while the offense will need to put points on the board regardless, the defense will need to find inspiration and organisation from within to hold strong as they will be without their HC.

Premier Division
Westmeath Minotaurs (1-0) 38-0 Craigavon Cowboys (0-1)
The Minotaurs debuted in the Premier Division with a surprise of their own, starting their 2023 campaign with a 38-0 away win. In what was expected to be a close game, all the cards fell perfectly for the Westmeath club, coming away with 5 touchdowns on offense and holding the Cowboys from their own endzone. WR Shaun Dalton caught 2 of Joe Kinahan’s 4 passing touchdowns Sunday, with receivers Alan Campbell and rookie Cathal Dunne (who also had a 50 yard rushing touchdown) added the other 2 through the air. Defensively the Minotaurs continued their run of form from 2022, crashing the pocket on Cowboys QB Christian Cowan and making life difficult for him in the backfield. There were some signs of life on the day, including some good connections with WR David Radford, but the hosts just couldn’t get the ball over the line. Time will tell whether this game reflects more on Craigavon or Westmeath, but both teams’ stories will be intriguing to follow as the season progresses. For now though, the Minotaurs have exorcised a demon of their past. 

Dublin Rebels 36-20 Belfast Knights
A tale of two halves this one. The Knights came out the gates ready to prove themselves, and with Knights veteran QB Spencer McDowell under center scoring 3 touchdowns (1 through the air via Daithi McShane and 2 on the ground himself), Belfast went into the halftime break 20-8 ahead, with the potential of a huge shock on the way. The second half was a different story, as the Rebels took over with 29 unanswered points. QB Ty Henry finished with a passing TD to WR Greg Johnson as well as 2 of his own rushing TDs, with RBs Wello Omo and Sean Leamy adding scores on the ground to round out the offensive output for the day. Defensively, an interception on McDowell and a goalline stand in the fourth quarter up 28-20 put the exclamation point on an emphatic second half performance, as last year’s Shamrock Bowl finalists capped off a magnificent March which sees them go 2-0 after beating the reigning National Champions UCD in the season opener.

The flip of the calendar to April is just around the corner, as Gameweek 5 and its dynamite slate gets closer and closer every day. Keep an eye out later in the week for our preview of this coming Sunday’s games!