The Dublin Rebels created a new chapter in their illustrious history by defeating the Belfast Trojans to win their 8th Shamrock Bowl at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on Saturday.
In a closely contested game between two of Ireland’s most successful sides, the Rebels made a dramatic late comeback to defeat the reigning champion Trojans 12-7 to win their first title since 2011. The Trojans had defeated Dublin in the 2013 title game.
In the opening period of the fixture, both sides exchanged possession in a bid to find their footing in the biggest game of the year. With both teams failing to find breakthroughs on their starting drives, the Rebels would soon make the first of their four turnovers during the match. Following a fumble by the Trojans and a defensive pass interference call, the Rebels found themselves perched at Belfast’s 2 yard line. With the first opportunity of the game, Rebels quarterback Andrew Dennehy found receiver Cathal Keane in traffic for the opening score of the bout. The Rebels 2 point conversion was foiled, but they did take a 6-0 lead early in the 1st quarter.
As soon as the second quarter got underway, the Rebels were soon on the move again. On a long 3rd down play, Trojans signal-caller James McKelvey was picked off by linebacker Conrad Cook. Cook jumped underneath the pass intended for receiver David Richardson to intercept the ball and hand it to the Dubliners at midfield. Sturdy defence from the Trojans however prevented the Rebels from benefiting and with the failed 4th down attempt, the Trojans regained the ball.
With the Trojans offence stalling, the Rebels were hoping to make their early pressure count. On the resulting drive, McKelvey would find himself intercepted yet again by that man Conrad Cook, the second of the day for the game MVP. With that turnover, they marched down the field looking to capitalise and with a series of penalties going against the Trojans, the Rebels found themselves within striking distance. Hard work along the ground by Wello Omo and Sean Leamy brought the Rebels to within a yard of the end zone.
Dublin continued to apply the pressure and eventually were able to cross the line, only for an offensive holding call to bring them back. Further penalties disrupted the Rebels drive and with the final play of the half, Dennehy was intercepted on 3rd and long by Alex Kusmirek that kept the score close at 6-0 heading into the break.
The second half started off with a bang for the Trojans, who were revitalised after a slow first half. They responded instantly through the physical running of backfield pair Jonah Siri and Neil Montgomery who worked their way downfield, courtesy of a few Rebels penalties. It would be Montgomery who would steamroll his way in from a few inches out to give the Trojans their only score of the game, as Rick Duffield converted the PAT. It appeared that the failed scoring drive before the break could comeback to haunt Dublin.
Possession continued to swing back and forth between the heavyweights of Irish football, but once again the Rebels defence continued to create turnovers. With the Trojans gaining momentum, the Rebels stole it back once again as they forced a fumble from McKelvey to take control of the ball entering the final quarter.
At this point, the game was on a knife edge but the Trojans had a narrow 7-6 lead. The defences continued to trade blows in the hope that their respective offences could find a breakthrough. As the game entered the 4th quarter, the Rebels were in desperation mode. In an attempt to find a spark, they went for it on 4th & 11 only to be upended by the resolute Trojans defence. It would result in a turnover on downs with less than 8 minutes remaining, another seemingly missed opportunity for the challengers.
Trailing by a point, they knew the clock was ticking but one last turnover would give them a final shot at victory. As the 2 minute warning drew nearer, the Rebels defence forced McKelvey out of the pocket and with defenders chasing, the quarterback fumbled the ball under duress and the Rebels had it back.
This would be the last roll of the dice for the seven-time champions. As the refs called for the 2 minute warning, the Rebels were left in a precarious 4th & 5 dilemma. With the field goal a brave distance and having elected not to kick all game, the Dubliners fate would come down to this play. Dennehy kept his cool under immense pressure and placed a perfectly timed slant pass into the hands of his receiver that kept the drive alive. Through calmness and persistence, the Rebels stuck to their game-plan and worked their way into the red-zone with more physical running and timely passes. This would lead to Dublin’s final chance with less than 18 seconds on the clock.
In pressure moments, experience tells and quarterback Andrew Dennehy has that in abundance. With the game on the line, the offensive talisman delivered a dart into heavy coverage that found the hands of Ciaran Fitzpatrick who outmuscled his way through would-be tacklers to send the Rebels faithful into hysteria. The 20 yard completion would see Dublin take a 12-7 lead with only a matter of seconds remaining.
Despite an solid kickoff return by Siri and some late trickery, the Rebels were able to hold on to claim their 8th National title and set a new record in Irish American Football. Although the Belfast Trojans were unable to win their 5th straight championship, the defending champions matched the Rebels stride for stride, making Ireland’s most prolific team earn their victory. The match itself was a testament to the standard of football in the country that has continued to improve year after year.
As the Irish American Football season comes to a close after nearly 20 weeks of excellent football, it proved to be a grandstand finish to an exciting year. The Dublin Rebels now return to the summit of the Irish game as Shamrock Bowl Champions and will no doubt have sights set on defending their title in 2017.