Irish Champions Belfast Trojans to host Tennessee’s Sewanee Tigers

This Saturday, May 14th, the defending Irish champions the Belfast Trojans will take on arguably their biggest challenge in the clubs tenure.

The Sewanee Tigers from Tennessee will be the visitors as they travel across the Atlantic Ocean to face the Belfast Trojans an exhibition match at Deramore Park Saturday. The Tigers, who represent the University of the South and play their football in the Southern Athletic Association (NCAA Division III) will offer a level of competition not often seen on Irish soil. There has been much anticipation for this game and the match itself offers spectators a great opportunity to see potential NFL stars in the making. It also marks a special milestone for the Trojans in the teams history.

Ahead of the game on Saturday, I spoke with Belfast Trojans chairman Barry Keil, about how the team has prepared for the game and the potential it has for Irish American Football.

Ireland - Sewanee Tigers action 2015

Sewanee Tigers in action in 2015

‘We had been thinking about an event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Trojans,’ Barry explained. ‘Initially our hope was to have the East Kilbride Pirates come over to repeat our friendly game from last year. It turned out however that EKP wouldn’t be able to commit to the plan and around that time we were contacted by Jim Barnes from American Football Worldwide to see if we would have any interest in hosting an NCAA team. We were of course delighted to be given the opportunity and things accelerated from there.’

The Trojans don’t shy away from challenges. Over the years they have contested in games across the UK and Europe to show their ability, so it’s no surprise that when this opportunity arose, they jumped at the chance to test their metal against the very best.

‘We are very excited about this game. I think that it’s part of our make up as a team to crave a challenge and there’s no question that this game will be a challenge.’

Some context that should add some flavour is that former Trojans Head Coach Jeroen Egge, who played football at both Duke University and in NFL Europe, was once scouted by Sewanee University. Nice coincidence. So to have a player of that experience on the Trojan sideline will be a nice boost ahead of Saturday, but how does a team that has dominated Irish football in the past 4 years prepare for a game of this magnitude?

‘We’ve really just been going about our business domestically. The Trojans schedule means that we have a game every week now so it’s not really been possible to focus on Sewanee. Having said that we believe that competitive reps in game situations is the best preparation and we’re certainly getting plenty of that.’

The Trojans are once again the front-runners for this year’s Shamrock Bowl, sitting at a comfortable 3-0 record as they come to the mid-point of the regular season. Saturday’s game against the Tigers will offer a nice, but tough break from league duty; it will however offer an incredible experience for the players to compete against athletes of this quality.

As the popularity of American Football accelerates across the globe, games such as this will greatly benefit the sport in a small market like Ireland. The most recent IAFL encounter of this level came in 2014, when the Dublin Rebels hosted Centre College of Kentucky in Dublin and with the NCAA fixture between Georgia Tech and Boston College taken place at the Aviva Stadium in Ireland this fall, It will be exciting to see if games of this stature become a regular occurrence in years to come.

‘Well this certainly isn’t the first time that a college team has played against an Irish team but we hope that we can usher in a new era of regular competition against NCAA teams. Exposure is one of the most vital things for our sport and hopefully matches like this can help us attain that.’

Belfast Trojans game winning huddle.

Belfast Trojans game winning huddle.

With more annual friendlies against European opposition, coupled with the Irish national teams rebirth, the IAFL is starting to make its mark on the European scene, with the Belfast Trojans leading the charge. It’s set to be a huge occasion for the 2015 Shamrock Bowl winners and they have gone to all extents to replicate the real experience of an American football game-day, with live commentary, cheerleaders, music, BBQ’s and competitions all to be expected; and that’s just off the field. On the field you’ll be able to see the 4 time Shamrock Bowl winners test their pedigree against one of America’s finest college teams.

This is sure to be an excellent day all-round and a massive occasion for football in Ireland. So whether you follow the sport or not, this is will be a truly amazing event to witness your first taste of American Football.

‘Whether you’re a long term fan of the sport or someone just looking for something different to do just get down here! This is the only chance to see an American team playing their game in Northern Ireland this year and for an added thrill you get to watch the Irish Champions doing their thing. Make no mistake we are not going into this game just being happy to be there, we want to make an impact. You’ll have to get down to Deramore Park, Saturday the 14th of May at 3pm to see if we can do that.’

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