Dublin, Belfast open week 1 in Ireland’s American football league

The Irish American Football League rises from its slumber once again as this Sunday see’s the opening weekend of action in Ireland commence.

Whilst the NFL was captivating our television screens, coaches and players around the Irish American Football League (IAFL) were working hard in preparation for the 2017 campaign and with the professionals now enjoying their off-season break, Ireland’s premier division – the Shamrock Bowl Conference – is just starting up!

Photo by Bob Given Photography

       University College Dublin v Belfast Trojans   

Spectators will have the enjoyment of reliving last years semi-final contest between University College Dublin (UCD) and the Belfast Trojans as the two square off in Dublin this Sunday.

There isn’t many previous encounters to reflect upon between them, but with the students joining Belfast in the Shamrock Bowl North Conference this year, they will soon become familiar with each others strengths and qualities. The Trojans narrowly came away 10-7 victors last season as another closely contested game is expected.

Belfast enter 2017 with only one goal in mind; to reclaim the Shamrock Bowl. August proved to be a difficult month for the 4 time champions, falling 12-7 in a gut-wrenching final to the Dublin Rebels before falling short in defending their European crown in the Atlantic Cup. Teams generally go through a rebuilding phase after a solid 4-5 years and thats the case in the Trojan camp. Star quarterback, James McKelvey has been pondering retirement during the off-season so replacement Mark McVeigh will be tasked of filling the void under centre. Other experienced players, particularly across the offensive and defensive line have left meaning the emphasis will rely heavily on the upcoming rookie class.

UCD on the other hand will be more than ready for Sunday. Their preparations for the upcoming season started as early as October. Commonly with students teams, graduations and placements tend to mean player consistency is hard to replicate year after year, but the sky blue men continually churn out talented teams which has seen them progress dramatically. The transition to the SBC North could prove favourable to them, as previous wins over the South Dublin Panthers and Carrickfergus Knights should give them plenty of confidence in reaching the playoffs. Coach Dave Murphy enters his second campaign in charge of the team, hoping to build upon his no huddle spread offence. In partnership with the speed and skill of the players he has at his disposal; UCD pose a serious threat.

With a competitive schedule and the visit of NCAA Division III side Centre College Kentucky to come this year, the Trojans have a steep mountain to climb if they are to return to Ireland’s National title game for a 6th consecutive appearance. However, UCD will be sure to make life hard for the Trojans and will no doubt be looking to reverse the scoreline from last year.

Photography by Keith Elgin.

Trinity College Dublin v University of Limerick Vikings  

One of the longest rivalries in Irish American football comes to the fold on Sunday.

Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the University of Limerick (UL) have squared off numerous times in the past, with bragging rights trading back and forth throughout the years. It’s an annual occasion in Ireland that these sides kick-off the opening game of the season and it often provides a physical and exciting game of football. The Vikings have proven a formidable team in Ireland for well over a decade, whilst Trinity’s rebuilding mode could soon pay off as they look to recapture their 2014 form that saw them reach their first Shamrock Bowl final.

After headlining both the 2014 and 2015 Shamrock Bowls, Trinity College took a hard fall in 2016 as they went (2-6) in a season that saw them look to rebuild their squad after a number of key departures. With a further year of developing under their belts, Trinity may feel better prepared to make a strong case of challenging the Shamrock Bowl South Conference along with fellow heavyweights the Dublin Rebels and Sunday’s opponents, the Vikings. Running back, Ola Bademosi who had a breakout year in 2015 will be looking to take the lead in the run game and with the presence of the returning Dan Finnamore welcomed into the fold, the offence will be hoping to benefit from a potent aerial attack this season.

The Vikings haven’t made much noise during the off-season as they go about their business in typical fashion. The loss of quarterback Ian Cahill means utility player Raymond Burke steps up into the role. The multi-talented Adrian Garvey completed an injury free 2016 and should be even stronger heading into game-day. The Vikings defence will be their strongest link this year, a trademark of all their former successful sides. UL recently travelled to England to face the talented Lancashire Wolverines in a competitive scrimmage and will hope to put the experience to good use.

Previous bouts between the university teams rarely produce one sided affairs, so a low scoring margin wouldn’t be a surprise. UL burst out of the blocks in 2016 before fading away towards the latter stages. Trinity will be desperately hoping to improve on last seasons record and certainly have the tools to do it. This game will prove pivotal if both sides hope to get off on the right foot early.

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