Wildcard Playoffs In Ireland Could Surprise

The business end of the IAFL 2016 season in Ireland is upon us. The remaining six teams in the knockout round will do battle in a bid to reach Shamrock Bowl 30 in August. The 1# seed, the Dublin Rebels and 2# seed, University College Dublin have been granted first round byes courtesy of their superior records, meaning the defending champion Belfast Trojans along with the Carrickfergus Knights, University of Limerick Vikings and Trinity College will contest the wildcard rounds on July 17th.

4# Belfast Trojans thumb_Trojans_Logo_40pxvs 5# Carrickfergus Knights thumb_Knights_Logo_40px – Deramore Park, 2pm. 

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Quarterback, James McKelvey reads the defence. Photo by Dave Bradshaw photography

The defending Irish champions, the Belfast Trojans will be competing in unfamiliar territory this weekend as they lock heads with the Carrickfergus Knights in the first wildcard game. The Trojans have won four back-to-back national championships and numerous division titles in successive seasons. However, a drop in results saw them finish (6-2) on the year and they now must contend with an extra game in their already hectic schedule.

Their opponents on Sunday will be none other than local rivals, the Knights who finished 2016 with a solid (5-3) effort; a huge improvement from 2015. The Knights have shown a knack for grinding out results this year, but the Trojans have proven difficult to overcome in recent times. Belfast defeated the Knights 40-6 over a month ago, so the Knights will need an improved performance if they are to knock the champions out of the playoffs.

Trojans Quarterback, James McKelvey is having another productive year that mimicked his 2015 MVP season. His connection with receiver David Richardson has been fluent all year long, so the Knights secondary will need to be focused. The offence has some serious weapons in the backfield too. The quartet of David Colvin, Neil Montgomery, Matt Armstrong and Jonah Siri is hard to game-plan for, especially as they all have specific skill sets. Siri’s return ability on special teams makes him an even bigger danger and adds another dimension to an already dynamic offence. Not too mention, when you have the best defence in the country thats only conceded 52 points in 8 games, it’s hard not to be confident about your chances.

Trojans D gang tackle the ball carrier. Photo by Dave Bradshaw photography

Trojans D gang tackle the ball carrier. Photo by Dave Bradshaw photography

As talented as the Trojans are, the Knights have more than enough firepower of their own to cause Belfast problems. They have shown in previous years, particularly at home, that they can stifle the champions. The return of Adam Devenney in 2016 has added both experience and composure at Quarterback and the offence has benefitted the results. Tight-End, Marty Caskey has been a favoured target of Devenney and coupled with the reliability of veteran running back, Gareth Millar, the Knights have plenty of targets at their disposal. Carrick’s defence has contributed to several turnovers and clean sheets this season, however the Trojans will offer much stiffer competition. The Knights defence allowed on average of 22 points per game, but considering the Trojans had a scoring average of 37 per game; it will need to be a monumental effort from the Knights on Sunday.

With no shortage of aggressive, physical football and regularly fuelled by a strong bitterness of each other; the Trojans versus Knights games rarely disappoint. Throw in an extra ingredient of a winner takes all wildcard bout and you have the makings of an explosive local derby game. The Knights are a playoff calibre team and their return this year has been greatly deserved, but they certainly wouldn’t have expected to meet the Trojans this early. Home field advantage and a good record over their rivals, will still make the Trojans much fancied favourites; but anything can happen!

#3 UL Vikings thumb_UL_Logo_40px vs. #6 Trinity College trinity_football – UL Sports Grounds, 2pm.

Running-Back, Shane Gleeson breaks lose. Photography by Keith Elgin

Running-Back, Shane Gleeson breaks lose. Photography by Keith Elgin

Having dominated the league for the best part of four months, the UL Vikings were well on course to win their first division title since 2012. That was until the final weekend of the regular season, as UL fell 28-7 to the Rebels and with UCD defeating the Knights 27-16, it meant UCD would steal the title away from their division rivals and with it, the #2 seeding. The points difference would be the deciding factor as both teams finished on (6-1-1) records, but the Vikings shortcomings has now paired them with a tricky encounter against last years Shamrock Bowl finalists, Trinity College.

Both sides have had very contrasting seasons. Whilst UL were surging towards an undefeated year, Trinity’s playoff hopes were in question right up until the final day. The Vikings have stuck to their ground and pound, physical style of football that has brought them numerous Shamrock Bowl titles in the past, whilst TCD are a team in transition having lost several key components to their squad during the 2015 off-season.

UL were the most consistent team throughout the season, even handing the Trojans their first scalp in over 2 years. If it wasn’t for the by-laws, it could well have been the Vikings in the semi-final. QB Ian Cahill picked up where he left off in 2015 at the helm of the offence having transitioned from Defensive-End. His strong arm and mobility has proven successful in adding a dangerous aerial threat to compliment their ground attack, that the likes of Sean Goldrick has profited from. Last years leading rusher, Shane Gleeson has again spearheaded the run-game and Adrian Garvey’s move from Running-Back to Linebacker has added more balance on both sides of the ball. Despite only having the leagues 4th best points difference (+77) they only surrendered on average 12 points per game, proving their defence is hard to break down.

UL tackling in numbers. Photography by Keith Elgin

UL tackling in numbers. Photography by Keith Elgin

Losing the likes of Dan Finnamore and Rob McDowell not only at two key positions, but two of the best talents in the league it will always take time to adjust. It seems like last years final appearance and this seasons league performances are worlds apart, but TCD are starting to improve at the right time. Running-Back, Ola Bademosi has had added pressure on his shoulders this year after a tremendous 2015 campaign and although he has struggled in comparison this year, he will still be the focus of the Trinity offence heading into the playoffs. Despite a number of changes to the starting line-up, the likes of Daniel McCarthy-Edwards and Conor O’Dwyer have provided consistency over the season and with QB Miguel Angel Moran and receivers Pavel Rozman and Leendert Van Dalsen offering promising glimpses for the future, Trinity could well make a late surge deep into the competition.

The Vikings and Trinity are all to familiar with each other. They often meet in the college championship, they play twice a year and are both persistent playoff teams. Results between them swing like a pendulum every year, with the Vikings getting the upper-hand on both occasions this time round. However, playoff football offers a clean slate and a different kind of pressure, so either one of these sides are good enough to progress and they will be made to earn it. Although the result is by no means certain, what can be guaranteed is an exciting game of football displayed by two of the best sides in Ireland.

Playoff schedule:

1# – Wildcard round, Belfast Trojans vs. Carrickfergus Knights, July 17th.
– winner plays University College Dublin, July 24th.

2# – Wildcard round, UL Vikings vs. Trinity College, July 17th.
– winner plays Dublin Rebels, July 24th.

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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