Shamrock Bowl XXX Preview – Belfast Trojans face the Dublin Rebels in Ireland’s Championship game.

This Sunday sees the pinnacle of the Irish American Football season come to a grandstand finish as the Belfast Trojans face the Dublin Rebels for Shamrock Bowl 30. The Rebels are in search for their 8th national title as the Trojans hope to add a 5th Bowl win to their recent trophy haul. Both the Trojans and Rebels have won 4 championships in a row, but no team in the leagues history has managed five. Now, both will get the chance to break that record this weekend.

The defending Irish champions the Belfast Trojans have set the pace in recent years having won the Shamrock Bowl four consecutive times between 2012-2015, including defeating the Rebels 48-18 in 2013. They have also added the Atlantic Cup twice in that time period adding international honours to their domestic success. The Trojans have managed two unbeaten seasons since their first trophy win in 2012 making them to team to beat.

Despite finishing the regular season with a (6-2) record, their quality and will-to-win was ever present in the playoffs. They defeated both the Carrickfergus Knights 31-16 in the wildcard round before squeezing past UCD in the semi-finals with a 10-7 scoreline. If the Trojans were to win on Sunday, they will set a new IAFL record by becoming the first team in its history to win 5 straight championships, a feat that the Dublin Rebels are also hoping to obtain.

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The Belfast offence has been prolific this year, with quarterback James McKelvey matching his touchdown ratio from his MVP campaign in 2015 despite only playing 7 games. His favourite target David Richardson has again been the key component to his success along with the great protection from his offensive line that includes a number of senior Irish team starters. With Richardson likely to be double-teamed at every opportunity, rookie Jack Millar may offer a solid outlet to take the pressure off his teammate. Not too mention when you have a backfield quartet of Matt Armstrong, David Colvin, Neil Montgomery and the ridiculously multi-talented Jonah Siri, its no surprise the Trojans finished with the best scoring total in the league (298).

The defence more than matched up to the offences production, holding their opponents to no more than 75 points all season. The Trojans can depend on the disruption of Patrick McElkerney, Mark McGrath and veteran Marty Devlin upfront to create penetration that will allow linebackers, Conor Whitla and Neil Graham to flow to the ball. Unfortunately for Belfast, key playmaker Jonathan McConnell will be a huge loss as he misses out through suspension. The Trojans are also known for their ball-hawking secondary. Safeties Chris Mikhael and Rick Duffield offer a commanding presence at the back and cornerback, James Gallagher has been impressive this season. Belfast have a strong all-round unit, with depth and skill at every position which is why they have only lost 3 matches in the last 4 years.

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Their opponents on Sunday will be none other than Ireland’s most successful team, the Dublin Rebels, who will be competing in their 11th final. The Dubliners have been around since 1995 and have remained one of the most formidable teams in the league for over 20 years. A consistent playoff contender, the Rebels experience has guided them to 7 Shamrock Bowl victories, the most by any team on Irish soil. Their last trip to the final came in 2013 that ended in defeat to the Trojans, so payback will certainly be in mind come Sunday.

The Rebels had an excellent season by wrapping up the SBC North division title with a solid (7-1) season, before dispatching the difficult University of Limerick Vikings 20-12 in the semi-finals. Much like the Trojans, they too will be hoping to break the record of 5 straight Bowl wins. The Rebels kept pace with Belfast throughout the year, as they finished just behind with 284 scoring points in 8 games. Their defence, not often getting the credit they deserve, only surrendered 94 points this year.

Quarterback Andrew Dennehy has been there and done it all. He is no stranger to finals having contributed to all 7 of the Rebels Bowl wins. His experience will prove vital for the upcoming crop of players competing for their first piece of silverware this weekend. The backfield tandem of Wello Omo and Sean Leamy is exciting to watch, as they offer a one-two punch of both speed and power. Receiver Paul Grogan is another member with vast experience at high level and could be a difference maker in the passing game. Dennehy will rely heavily on his trustworthy offensive line to keep the Trojans pressure at bay.

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On the other side of the ball, defensive stalwarts Gerard O’Leary and Steve Walsh will make a productive presence in the trenches and with inside linebacker Marhias Durot controlling the middle, they should be capable of stopping the run game. Summer acquisition Conrad Cook, who moved from cross city rivals the Panthers, will be aiming to apply pressure off the edge to get to the Trojans quarterback. Former Lubeck Cougar, Darragh Farrell and Keith Foster have improved the secondary this year and with the Paisley brothers, Ricky and Dylan, the Rebels will feel they have the ingredients to shut down Belfast’s passing attack. Defensive coach and interior lineman Ross McCooey could be the biggest key to the Rebels defence. The former Berlin Rebel has played football for 11 years and his leadership will be vital in anchoring the defence on game day.

Spectators in Ireland and beyond should be prepared for a fast and physical ball game, played by two of the most accomplished sides in IAFL history. The Belfast Trojans and Dublin Rebels have faced each other twice already this year. The Trojans defeated the Rebels 25-8 back in week 7, before the Rebels reversed the scoreline in Belfast to win 8-7 over 6 weeks ago. Now they will do battle for a third time, with the hope of lifting the Waterford Crystal trophy on the biggest stage in Shamrock Bowl 30.

All the hard work during the off-season, fighting off the cold Irish weather and 18 weeks of gruelling football all comes down to 1 game. There’s no better way to celebrate 30 years of Shamrock Bowl history than to watch two of the best in Ireland collide once again.

Shamrock Bowl 30 – August 7th, Tallaght Stadium Dublin, 3pm. Belfast Trojans versus the Dublin Rebels.

The game will be streamed live from the Irish American Football Associations Facebook page.

Scott Morrow
Scott is an aspiring Sports Journalist who enjoys writing about all things American Football. He is a regular contributor to AFI Review and also writes for both NFL Ireland and Double Coverage, and currently plays for the Belfast Trojans. He also supports the Green Bay Packers.
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