Ireland: UCD hold on to down the Rebels – Week One Review

By Jimmy English

Irish American Football landed back with a bang this weekend, as no less than 8 teams took to the field for their opening games of the season. In UCD, the 2023 runners up just about held on for a win after jumping out to an early lead while in Limerick, the Vikings rallied late to force a draw in a Munster derby against the Cork Admirals. Elsewhere, in Division One the Mavericks fended off a late Eagles comeback attempt, the Vikings were an extra point away from an upset over Cork and the Razorbacks shut out the Jets in emphatic fashion! Keep reading for our full Irish American Football Week One recap!

UCD 42 – Dublin Rebels 40

Photo: Gregory Ufnal

The most anticipated game of the weekend took place in leafy South Dublin and featured a rematch of the previous two Shamrock Bowls. In what has become the league’s biggest rivalry, both teams moved the ball well early on but couldn’t find a score. It was nil all until early in the second quarter when UCD stripped and recovered the ball from the arms of Ty Henry on the 1 yard line and returned it the length of the field for an apparent touchdown. The call was ultimately turned over for a penalty and on their ensuing possession, Rory O’Dwyer caught a swing pass out of the backfield from Arun Mooney to get students on the board. The Rebels replied immediately when Andre Barlafa wrenched the ball from tight double coverage and scooted into the UCD endzone for their first points of the game. It was quickly becoming a back and forth affair as both sides began trading scores – Tom Donovan claiming the next one for the home team with a ridiculous one handed catch before outrunning the defense for six. Donovan would strike again in the 3rd quarter, shaking off defenders from 30 yards out to put UCD up 28-14 before his side ran back a kick return  for yet another touchdown. It was now 36 – 20 in the 3rd quarter and the game seemed to be getting away from the Rebels, but you cannot count out the combination of Ty Henry and Dan Johnson who scored several times in quick succession to claim the smallest of leads late in the fourth quarter. Johnson also had an absolute circus catch earlier in the game, where he literally kicked the ball into his own hands for a touchdown. It seemed like we were in for a dramatic finish in Bellfield and that’s exactly what we got when Brandon Atwell crossed the whitewash in the dying moments to swing the advantage back to UCD on a score line of 42 – 40. Henry’s heroic comeback attempt was cut short when a desperate pass attempt was easily intercepted by who else other than Tom Donovan. Atwell and O’Dwyer in particular had big boots to fill trying to replace the transferred Sean McVeigh, and certainly rose to the occasion. There was rust on display from both sides in this outing, and neither will be completely satisfied with their performance. But ultimately the boys in blue emerged victorious and got their 2024 campaign off to a good start.

Courtesy of Gregory Ufnal

Razorbacks 44 – Antrim Jets 0 

Photo: Paul McIlwaine

Now that’s a statement win. The Razorbacks ran roughshod over a hapless Jets side at home in Newforge on Sunday afternoon. James Earls opened the Hogs account with a touchdown in the first half followed by a score from Stu Wylie, while on defense Danny Moll and Ben Braniff made their presence felt with a fumble recovery and interception respectively. It was the second period of play however when they really got going and piled the points on with scores from Jamie McClean (who added the 2 point conversion as well in his first game), Mark Thompson, James Cameron and Duncan Maguire. Dean McNeil added a fumble recovery and PAT in this trouncing, and after a middling season in 2023, Gareth Millars charge’s look to be in good shape early on. The Jets will be disappointed with their performance, but will have plenty of chances to redeem themselves as the season progresses.

Louth Mavericks 34 – Wexford Eagles 19 

Photo: Ronan Doyle

After falling just short of a title in 2023, the Mavericks appear to be in pole position to dominate Division one this time around and made the trek down to Gorey for their opening encounter against an Eagles side keen to prove themselves post promotion. It was all Mavericks early on as the Louth men jumped out to an early 7-0 lead in the second quarter courtesy of a Nathan Hearty pass to Jack Compton, followed by scores from the 1-2 punch of Alan Minto and Dan Finley who got straight back to his scoring ways in the first game of the new season. It looked like it was going to get out of hand when Finley added a second score in the fourth quarter to make it 27 zip before Eamon Ward tagged on a pick six in the 4th quarter. It was only when the deficit reached 34 – 0 did the home side finally awaken from their slumber and put up a bit of a fight. Aodhan Jennings accounted for their first points, recovering a fumble for a touchdown, followed by rushing scores from Paddy Bissett and Luke Fitzpatrick. This is not the start the Eagles would have wanted for their return to the second tier of the league, but can take solace in the resilience they displayed by at least getting some points on the board.

UL Vikings 24 – Cork Admirals 24 

The Vikings are back in the big leagues and hosted last year’s Shamrock Bowl Conference semi finalists in their first game. Cork started strongly and were up by 24 to 0 by the time the whistle went to end the first half. QB Jake Kennedy had two scores through the air, both to Declan Maye, while Fionnan Cremin added one on the ground as well. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone really, as the Leesiders are one of the best teams in the country and will be expected to compete for a spot in the playoffs again in 2024. UL weren’t about to take this lying down though, and battled back one score at a time to force a draw in Maguire’s Field. Fin O’Donovan was immense as usual, connecting with Arun O’Hanlon and Aidan Maher for two scores and taking one in himself. Oisin Walsh added a fumble return touchdown for good measure as well. Now that result was more of a surprise, and not in a disrespectful way by any means. In fact, the Vikings were a stray extra point attempt away from an upset and have certainly set the tone for the rest of their campaign. Last year’s Division One champions are no pushovers and should be well in the mix for a postseason push at the business end of the season.