Wildcard Weekend produced everything you’d expect from Playoff Football, overtime games, tough defensive battles and some high scoring, as some teams moved on while others saw their season come to a shuddering end.
In the SBC, the Belfast Derby saw a big win for the Trojans as they set up a real hum-dinger of a semi-final with the reigning champion Dublin Rebels, while the Cork Admirals had to go into double-overtime to overcome an extremely dogged South Dublin Panthers team.
In the battle for both an IAFL title, and promotion to the SBC, the Cowboys defeated the Warriors while the Rhinos came out on top in their determined battle with the Minotaurs. They now move on to challenges against the Eagles and Vipers respectively.
The Trojans were ruthless in their game against the Knights, racking up 3 Touchdowns in the opening quarter. Two Touchdowns from David Richardson along with one from Mohamed Ramadan had the hosts 20-0 up at the end of the first quarter.
Tom Morris added two more Touchdowns in the second quarter before Richardson made it a hat-trick of Touchdowns to give the Trojans a whopping 38-0 lead. The Knights were reeling at that stage, however they did manage a score of their own before the break with Marty Caskey scoring.
Running-back extraordinaire Jona Siri got in on the scoring act in the second half, running in from all of 50 yards! Tom Morris also got his Touchdown hat-trick before another Caskey score put some sort of respectability on the scoreboard. Adam Cole wrapped up the scoring with a late catch from quarterback Mark McVeigh to give the Trojans a 59-13 victory.
Trojans Head Coach Mark McGrath was satisfied with the win, but is firmly focused on the game with the Rebels in two weeks time. He said, “It was a good victory for us on Sunday. We’d obviously done our home work and having already played the knights twice before we were able to implement a very successful strategy.”
“Moving forward we have another hard battle with the Rebels who are always a hard team to beat. My guys are working very hard and putting in the hours, but our games against the Rebels usually come down to discipline and turnovers. Which ever way it goes it will be an explosive hard hitting game.”
It was a disappointing day for the Knights, and their Coach Adam Devenney said as much afterwards, “It was a very tough day at the office for the Knights. We had some positives but as you can see from the scoreline there wasn’t many! It was very obvious to see that the Trojans coaching staff had done their homework and prepared well for us. We have had to make a lot of adjustments lately at defensive back but our plans didn’t work out yesterday. Hats off to the Trojans, they seem to be clicking at the right time and have great momentum now rolling into the playoffs.”
As for the Knights season overall Devenney said, “It’s not to many moons ago we were fighting to avoid relegation to maintain our place in the SBC. We had a great season last year and had set our expectations high this season. We started strong, but we seemed to run out of gas coming to the end of the season. I’m happy and proud that the Belfast Knights have gone from the bottom end of the table to a bowl appearance and followed that up with another playoff year. We have work to do, we all know that, but we will be back bigger and stronger next season!”
In Cork, it took double-overtime to settle the game between the Admirals and the Panthers. These sides had split the season series, but it was the who took the early ascendancy, jumping out to a 24-7 lead by the third quarter. Touchdowns from Cillian McGillicuddy, Philip Walters and a sack recovery fumble score by Harris Monagan had the home side in relative control. The Panthers did get a Touchdown through a brilliant 60-yard run from Sean Goldrick.
They looked to be heading to victory, however two quick Touchdowns from running-back Ben Arulogun, followed by a late field goal sent the game into Overtime.
Two missed field goals, one from either side, sent the game into double-OT before Admirals receiver Jahn Dasini got on the end of a pass from quarterback Stephen Hayes to win the game 31-24 for the home side.
Admirals Head Coach Alan Lomasney told us it was a very tough, hard hitting game. Lomasney said, “Usually playoff games don’t follow a script and today was no exception.
We knew that we were short on bodies today and we had to execute our gameplan in order to win. We wanted to control the time of possession and run the ball as much as possible.”
“We knew that even being up 17-7 at the half that the Panthers would make adjustments and we would have to play as hard as we did in the first half in order to win.”
He was full of praise for the opposition however, “All credit to the Panthers and their coaches, they fought their way back and the second half was a real battle.”
Lomasney continued, “Obviously we would have liked to win the game in regulation, but it wasn’t to be. When we got to overtime the guys were actually quite looking forward to it, as it’s such a rare thing in our league. We knew we had to keep executing. We were having good success running the ball all day so we kept up the pressure and finally got the go ahead score. Our defense then stepped up and shut down the Panther’s offense to close out the game.”
He admitted that there was an extra motivation from his side following their previous game against the Panthers saying, “We are delighted to get the win as we felt we hadn’t played well at all in the previous game between us and the guys wanted to put that right today.”
Lomasney added, “We’ll celebrate tonight and start getting ready for UCD tomorrow. Obviously, seeing as UCD beat us a couple of weeks ago, they will be the favourites heading into the game, which is fine with us. We will prepare the same as we always do, and we will be ready for the game on the 5th of August.”
For the South Dublin Panthers, there season came to an end with the defeat, but Head Coach Stephen McDonnell was extremely proud of his players for the way they’ve played this season, “Disappointed to lose but can’t be anything but proud of the fight those guys have put in recently. 4 games in 4 weeks and finishing in double OT. We’ve had guys fly home from family events and cancel holidays to be there and that just goes to show the resilience and strength of character of our current squad.”
He said, “It was an unreal game from a spectators point of view. What playoff football should be all about.”
On the game itself, McDonnell said, “I think we put ourselves in a hole in the first half between penalties and errors but the second half performance was really fantastic. To see all phases of the team fire like that was great.”
“The defence got us the ball back with a great pick, Calvin Comerford looked for a moment like he could take it the house but he put the offence in a great spot and were able to get the scores we needed to get back into it.”
“The Offensive Line, and Oisin Russell-Conway and Ben Arulogun, did a great job getting the scores.”
McDonnell added, “It’s common knowledge around the league the level of Sean Goldrick plays at and he proved why yet again. He took the first score 60 yards to the house. When we had to have the 2 point attempt to get us back to a field goal, I saw a comment on Facebook after the game, that he had half the city of cork covering him and he still brought the catch in. On the final drive, I’m hoping we have good footage of it but he made an identical catch to Julian Edelman in the Super Bowl after the ball was batted and that catch put us in field goal range.”
“The field goal to tie it up was great too. Eoghan Gately, 18 years old in his first year playing football showed the steal nerves of a veteran. Stuart Bowles the snapper another guy in his first year and Eoin Neville who just does everything for us on the hold. It looks automatic when it’s done well and these guys worked hard this year and it really showed in that kick.”
On the Panthers season as a whole, the coach said, “Really was a tale of two seasons for us. First half wasn’t good no doubt and as the head coach the responsibility for that was on me. These athletes and their ability was never in question but there was no secret formula to the turnaround second half of the season, we knew if we put guys in a position to succeed they wouldn’t disappoint.”
“We have to take a breath now and give ourselves some space to look at this season critically and identify the key issues and improve on all of them. Next season is a long way off and for a coach the post season and preseason is where the real work happens so that’s what the focus is on right now.”
In IAFL 1 the Craigavon Cowboys came out on top 54-14 against the Galway Warriors, in a game that was delayed for an hour due to issues with their bus. It was game that was close for much of the opening half. However, once the Cowboys came out for the second half there was only going to be one winner. They scored 8 Touchdowns in the game, with both Jamie Wilson and Andy Herron scoring three apiece. Also scoring for the Cowboys were Michael McGregor and Conrad Smith
Cowboys Head Coach Greg Loughran admits his side started slow but said once they got going they were hard to stop. Loughran said, “We were slow out of the blocks against the Warriors and they showed straight away that they hadn’t travelled to Portadown for the sightseeing.”
“The Warriors gave us a hard time when we were on Offense and traded scores early on.
I though that we were a bit rusty having been without a game for 5 weeks but we started finding our rhythm in the second quarter.
I was pleased that we had four different players scoring and that our Defense made the important adjustments to close down the Warriors in the second half.”
“We picked up a few injuries but we will assess them later in the week.”
“We are now looking forward to a rematch with the Eagles, said the Cowboys coach.
Warriors coach Colin O’Halloran said that the delay in getting to the venue wouldn’t be used as an excuse for the defeat. He said, “Honestly, the bus issue had no part to play in the result. The Cowboys were kind enough to delay the start of the game and we still got a full pregame routine in.”
On the game O’Halloran said, I thought we had an excellent first half and showed we can compete with the better teams in this division. However, we unfortunately ran out of steam in the second half.”
How did he feel the team done overall this season? “I think we can look at the season overall as a success. I’m delighted that the effort the lads put in was rewarded with our first ever playoff appearance. If we can keep this group together and add some more in the off-season, we have a very bright future.”
In Mullingar the West Dublin Rhinos won a tight defensive battle with the Westmeath Minotaurs 13-3. The Minotaurs went in front in the first quarter with a Field Goal, and it remained that way until Kate into the fourth quarter when the Rhinos scored two rushing Touchdowns to get the win.
We spoke to both coaches after the game, and you can listen to it here
Belfast Trojans 59 Belfast Knights 13
Cork Admirals 31 South Dublin Panthers 24 (2OT)
Craigavon Cowboys 54 Galway Warriors 14
Westmeath Minotaurs 3 West Dublin Rhinos 13
This weekend’s fixtures
Wexford Eagles v Craigavon Cowboys
Donegal/Derry Vipers v West Dublin Rhinos
Both games kick off at 2pm on Sunday July 29th
Photo Credit: Bob Given, Terence McCann, Eamon McCormick, Thomas Casey