American Football International

PREVIEW: 2015 Irish American Football League – North

[tps_title]Preview: Irish American Football[/tps_title]

Shamrock Bowl Conference North Preview

This is it!….this is the final week before the opening kickoff of the 2015 Irish League season! Ten teams will battle it out to make the Shamrock Bowl 29 final and carve their name into the Irish American Football history books. As the league continues to expand and the strength and depth of each team becomes tested; competition in Ireland’s toughest division remains as fierce as ever, and this year promises to be the most competitive and action packed IAFL season to date! We begin our preview of the Shamrock Bowl Conference by analyzing the five teams who will compete for honours in the North division.

Belfast Trojans (7-1 in 2014)

The reigning National Champions have proven over the last three years why they are considered to be the strongest force in Ireland. Back to back championships have made the Belfast outfit the team to beat in the country, and they relish the challenge! Having suffered their first defeat in 26 games at the hands of Trinity College last term, the Trojans went through a temporary transformation that helped them regroup heading into the playoff’s. They eventually went on to defeat the students in last year’s final after a hard fought contest and the Trojans will be looking to head back to Tallaght Stadium once again this year to win their fourth Shamrock Bowl trophy.

With the unbeaten streak over, the Trojans can now focus on each game without the added pressure. The men in green may have lost a number of key players this year, but after another successful recruitment drive this offseason, they will be hoping the next batch of rookies will be ready to make their mark. The Trojans arguably have their toughest schedule to date, as they face three away games to start off their campaign. Their opening games include visits to the South Dublin Panthers, North Kildare Reapers and rivals the Carrickfergus Knights, whilst also facing a trip to Scotland to take on the East Kilbride Pirates. However, the majority of their end of season fixtures will be at home that will prove a lot more favourable, including hosting their closest rivals the Dublin Rebels at Deramore Park.

Keys to Success: The Trojans are blessed to have numerous talents on the offensive side of the ball as well as an impressive defence, but the key aspect for them this year may be how the offensive line plays. With a number of experienced players missing this time round, including the loss of their offensive line coach, Conor Leckey, the emphasis will lie heavily with the upcoming rookies of last year and present. However, they showed a lot of promise last term in tough situations and should be more than ready to fill the void this season.

Prediction: The boys from Belfast will be early favourites to reclaim a place in this years final, and they still possess one of the most talented squads in the league comprising of James McKelvey, David Richardson, Patrick McElkerney and Neil Graham just to name a few. Teams may not suffer from the same fear factor of old, but when the Trojans are on form, they are ‘almost’ impossible to stop! 1st

[tps_title]Preview: Irish American Football[/tps_title]

Carrickfergus Knights (3-5 in 2014)

The Knights have been on the brink of entering into the semi finals of the playoff’s over the last few years, and were close to doing it again last term until they suffered defeat against the Dublin Rebels in the wildcard round. Despite 2014 not being their best year, the men in ‘Black and Gold’ still showed enough grit and determination in the latter stages to cement their place in the playoff’s. With an increasingly healthy squad, both in numbers and talent, the Knights have been developing a side capable of taking them back to the top of Irish Football. With the makings of a good youth set-up in the place, the Knights will have a squad capable of challenging for honours well into the future, as well as now!

Carrick had possibly the toughest opening schedule out of all the SBC teams last year, facing three of the semi finalists, the Trojans, Trinity College and the Rebels as they went to (0-3). All the teams in the SBC will be tough opponents, but the Knights will hope that they can get their season off to a better start this time round. Their opening fixture this year is away to the Craigavon Cowboys, followed closely by the visit of the South Dublin Panthers and then back to back games against Belfast rivals, the Trojans. The Knights have always proved to be a tough team to beat at home, and if they can continue that home form whilst adding a couple of away victories, they may find themselves in the thick of the division title race come of the end of the regular season. The key game could well come on Week 16 when they travel to face the Dublin Rebels at Seapoint Rugby Club, in a match that could make or break the teams playoff hopes.

Keys to Success: The Knights generally have a well-balanced team and are capable of putting up plenty of points on both offence and defence, with Paul McKillop, Chris Ireland, Darren Montgomery and Aaron McNaughton all scoring. The task they face will be how they cope against the top teams in their division, as they failed to register any points in their last meetings with the Rebels and Trojans. The Knights will need to find ways of outscoring their biggest opponents; but they do have the firepower to do it!

Prediction: The Carrickfergus side have been a constant presence in the post-season and have come agonisingly close on several occasions to making the semi-finals. The Knights have huge depth in their squad and will have plenty of talent to boast over the next few years, but they need to start making progress on the field now otherwise they could be caught by the likes of the Craigavon Cowboys and South Dublin Panthers. 3rd

[tps_title]Preview: Irish American Football[/tps_title]

Craigavon Cowboys (2-6 in 2014)

Although they finished 2-6 in 2014, the Cowboys still showed a lot of promise throughout the season and were still very close to clinching a playoff berth as their season drew to a close. With a fine balance between youth and experience, the Cowboys were still able to compete against the likes of the Knights and Trinity College early in the season, before injuries and player fatigue took there tole on a depleted squad. They were able to get victories against their closest challengers whilst also showing fight against the top sides in the league, and with a very promising u19’s side; the future looks bright in Craigavon.

The Cowboys will open their schedule with a home fixture at Portadown Rugby Club against the Carrickfergus Knights, who snapped the final wildcard berth just ahead of the Cowboys last season. They then face two tricky games against the Dublin Rebels and West Dublin Rhinos which will prove to be a competitive opening schedule for the ‘Boys’. The closest contest potentially for Craigavon could come down to the game against the now rebranded South Dublin Panthers, who they defeated 24-21 when they were formerly known as the Dublin Dragons. There will be a number of fixtures this term that Craigavon may feel they can get something out of, and with a few key victories they might be within touching distance of the playoff’s again.

Keys to Success: The Cowboys have a number of individual talents on their side, but struggle when it comes to squad depth. Peter Loughran will prove to be the catalyst of the team once again, but after a number of first team appearances, big things may be expected from the upcoming stars like Peter Cowan and Luis Alberto. Craigavon had the tendency to fade away late in the fourth quarter last year, so if they can remain in games and solidify the defence, the Cowboys could turn heads this campaign.

Prediction: Losing the experience of defensive end Chris Bell to retirement will be a major loss to the defence, but maintaining him in a coaching role was a major step forward. The Cowboys have an excellent future ahead of them with a great youth set-up in place and plenty of talent coming through the ranks, however with a lot of younger players still gaining playing experience, this season may prove to be an experimental one for the Cowboys. 5th

[tps_title]Preview: Irish American Football[/tps_title]

Dublin Rebels (7-1 in 2014)

The most prestigious American Football team in Ireland, the Dublin Rebels have won the Shamrock Bowl a record 7 times and have been a constant presence at the top of the IAFL, as they set to commence their 20th season in the league! The Dubliners have always been challenging for trophies since they were founded back in 1995, but their last domestic triumph came at Shamrock Bowl XXV in 2011. The most recent final appearance for the Rebels came two years ago, when they were defeated by the Belfast Trojans in 2013. However with exceptional talent and experience throughout the squad, the Rebels have been knocking at the door in recent years as they look to clinch their 8th Shamrock Bowl title!

The Rebels have been a dominant side for decades, particularly in the years between 2003 and 2006 when they won four national championships in a row, and this is the kind of form the Rebels will be looking to return to this year. Having missed out on the final last season after defeat to Trinity College in the semi-finals, the Rebels will be looking to go one step further and reach the Bowl game in 2015. Their first match will give them the taste for revenge as they host Trinity at Seapoint Rugby Club, which will be closely followed by games against the promoted UCD and the Craigavon Cowboys. With three games on the bounce, the Rebels will have a quieter end of season stretch before finishing off with two home fixtures against the Carrickfergus Knights and South Dublin Panthers. After a series of second placed finishes, the North Conference could once again come down to the Rebels and Trojans. If they can head up North and defeat the Trojans on their home turf, the Rebels could be considered favourites to take the division.

Keys to Success: Scoring. It’s not often the Rebels will be highlighted for a lack of scoring, but this season may prove more problematic than most. With two huge losses on offence with wide receiver Chris Purdy leaving and running back Simon Mackey potentially missing most of the season after undergoing surgery, quarterback Andrew Dennehy will have less offensive weapons to work with. More pressure will be added to the shoulders of new running back Sean Leamy and the reliable tight end Paul Grogan to rein in the points. The Rebels failed to register any defensive touchdowns last year, so scoring points on defence will be crucial in order to help out the offence!
Prediction: With a number of key absentees out on both sides of the ball, the Rebels may look a little weaker on paper, but they still have bags of experience and individual talents who know how to get the job done. Games against the Trojans, Trinity and the Knights will be crucial, but they will be fully expected to reach the playoff stages once again, and it would be foolish not to back the seven time champions on making yet another Shamrock Bowl bout. 2nd

[tps_title]Preview: Irish American Football[/tps_title]

South Dublin Panthers (1-7 in 2014, as Dublin Dragons)

After undergoing a revaluation at the end of 2014, the Dublin outfit decided it was time for a change, and rebranded themselves from the historic Dublin Dragons, to the flashy new South Dublin Panthers. A lot of work has gone on in the offseason in order to improve upon a (1-7) season and many will be expecting big things from the Panthers this year, particularly themselves! After a huge recruitment frenzy and bringing in some of the most respected coaches in Ireland, with the likes of Russell Kerley previously of Drogheda Lightning joining the defensive ranks, the team has built a formidable coaching staff to bring out the best in the players this season. Much has been made about how the Panthers will perform this year, but they have huge ambitions to improve not only on last seasons performances, but to rival the best teams in Ireland!

Formerly as the Dublin Dragons, having been one of three teams to be promoted from the IAFL-1 in 2013, the Dragons suffered a reality shock being back in the top division, as they only picked up one win all season against the Waterford Wolves. At times they did show signs of resilience and spark, particularly in the ‘game of the season’ against the Cowboys when they lost 21-24 in a thrilling encounter. The Panthers first era in the IAFL will be a difficult one, as they host the reigning champions the Belfast Trojans in Westmanstown in their debutant game before taking on Trinity College and the Carrickfergus Knights. With two games against the Dublin Rebels and further fixtures against UCD and the UL Vikings, the Panthers have their work cut out for them! However they will be in a much better position this year to tackle an incredibly tough schedule.

Keys to Success: Last year, the Dublin side conceded four times as many points as they scored! So improving their offensive production and stabilising the defence will be the obvious improvements needed. They had one of the biggest squad sizes last year and if they can make adjustments across all phases of their game, the Panthers may have a success in the 2015 campaign.
Prediction: Its too early to call how well the Panthers will do this season, but they are heading in the right direction. It’s great to see the high ambition across the team but whether those ambitions are fulfilled this year remains to be seen. They do have strong foundations to work from and with the majority of the Dragons backbone still intact and a new offensive scheme in place, the Panthers do have the ingredients to be a success story in the IAFL. 4th


[tps_title]Preview: Irish American Football[/tps_title]

Predicted 2015 standings – North Conference

1. Belfast Trojans
2. Dublin Rebels
3. Carrickfergus Knights
4. South Dublin Panthers
5. Craigavon Cowboys

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