Belfast Trojans reach playoffs with victory over University College Dublin in Irish American Football League.

The Trojans reached the Shamrock Bowl playoff’s of the Irish American Football League for a 7th straight year as they overcame a rugged UCD 31-14 in Belfast this past Sunday. The students own playoff hopes now hang in the balance with the Cork Admirals, Trinity College and division rivals the South Dublin Panthers all battling it out for limited spaces in the post-season.

It was Belfast who struck first blood as a balanced offensive attack saw the 4 time champions stride into UCD territory. However missed opportunities resulted in the Trojans settling for a field goal, as Ben Sloan slotted the ball between the posts for 3 points. UCD’s hurry-up offence caught the Trojans on the back foot early and it wasn’t long before they took the lead. Quarterback Tom Donovan’s ability to extend plays proved evident as he evaded pressure to help buy his receivers time. Scrambling out of the pocket, he found receiver Gavin Quirke lurking behind the secondary as he rounded off a 50 yard completion by scampering into the end-zone.

Travelling with a small squad, the students knew they needed a strong start with a long game ahead and succeeded with the resulting 2-point try as Daragh Mooney caught a short-yardage curl route from Donovans pass to give UCD an early 8-3 lead. Their control of the game was short-lived as the Trojans responded instantly as fullback, Neil Montgomery rumbled his way through the defence for a 10-yard touchdown run.

Photography by Ian Humes.

The Belfast defence adjusted to their early errors and started to find success, with a number of key sacks and pass-breakups. The pressure started to tell as they pinned UCD back inside their own half on a number of drives. The possession would soon benefit as the Trojans would strike again deep into the second period. Quarterback Mark McVeigh guided his team downfield before seeking out receiver David Richardson with a fade into the end zone as Belfast extended their advantage to 17-8.

The second half started with the Trojans looking to build on their late momentum in the first half, and they did just that when Neil Montgomery, who rushed for over 100 yards on the day, showed his agility by evading tacklers to stride in for a 30 yard touchdown. The 24-8 lead was healthy, but the Trojans were still cautious of UCD’s ability to create big plays. As the game entered the final quarter, it was the defences that were starting to take control of the game.

Photography by Ian Humes.

With the final stages approaching, the students of UCD began to tire as Belfast attempted to wear down their resolve with more powerful running and quick passing attempts. The Trojans would seal the game within the final 8 minutes as McVeigh connected with receiver Oran McMenamin across the middle as he outmuscled defenders into the end-zone to give his side a comfortable 31-8 scoreline.

Refusing to give in, UCD went for broke and started to move the ball downfield with pace. A number of big catches saw them within striking distance of the Trojans pylons and with a bit of luck, they struck gold with a late consolation score. Looking to thread a neat ball into his receiver, Donovan’s pass ricochet off a Trojans defender before bobbling into the air and Daragh Mooney was on hand to reel in the ball under pressure.

Photography by Ian Humes.

The failed 2pt attempt left the score at 31-14 as the Trojans would close out the game, moving to 4-3 on the season and clinching their place in the upcoming playoffs with a game to spare. The Trojans will now head south into Dublin to face the defending champions in the Rebels this Sunday with an opportunity at claiming a first round bye and a potential division title.

UCD are still within touching distance of the playoff’s with a place in the wildcard round a distinct possibility. They will hope to overcome fellow playoff challengers the Cork Admirals on July 9th in what could be a straight shoot-out for post-season football.

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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