Mark McGrath: ‘We’re champions and we will fight for that title’.

Mark McGrath: ‘We’re champions and we will fight for that title’.

Three consecutive Shamrock Bowl titles is an impressive feat but for the Belfast Trojans, they have bigger aspirations. Today, they enter Dalymount Park with only one thought in mind; to win again. Victory today would see them surpass the UL Vikings in Shamrock Bowl wins as the Trojans look to put themselves into the elite status of football in Ireland. Ahead of the game, we got chatting to Head Coach Mark McGrath about the teams preparation ahead of kickoff.

The Trojans have looked unstoppable at times this season, showing clinical production on offence coupled with the ever reliable shutout defence. It’s been their third unbeaten year in the last four and signs are already pointing to more success in the future. The defending champions are itching to get going!

‘The squad is feeling excited and impatient about the final’, said McGrath, ‘We have our game plan in place and can’t wait for kickoff!’

Photo by Dave Bradshaw
Photo by Dave Bradshaw

The ‘Green Machine’ have had terrific depth in their squad for the last number of years, stacked in quality and Irish National team calibre players. If the past teams were good, it’s scary to think of the potential this years team possesses. Mark, who plays on both offence and defence, claims that compared to the other successful rosters in the past; the 2015 squad could be the best one.

‘In my opinion this years squad is our strongest to date. We have good depth in our squad, our D is formidable but what makes us different this year from others is how well our O has performed.’

The Trojans came out victors in last years final 7-0, overcoming the rain and gruesome weather to narrowly defeat this weekends opponents, Trinity College. Although they won the game, there is still plenty to be learnt from last seasons showpiece as Connor Whitla’s pick 6 was all that could separate the sides in difficult conditions, as the game so easily could have had opposite fortunes for the defending champions.

‘The main thing I have taken from last years final, and the regular season games before it, is that Trinity cannot be underestimated. We will need to bring our A game to beat them. We will be looking for our defence to step up again and play as well as they did last year. As for the offence, we moved the ball well in tough conditions last year but we will be hoping to put points on the board this year regardless of the weather’.

Belfast go about business in commanding and professional fashion. They set the bar high for rival teams to reach their standards year after year. With the upcoming rookies clinching the IAFL-2 trophy last weekend, the winning mentality established within the team has already worked its way through the entire squad. However, for a team that has had great amounts of success in recent years, how do you motivate a winning team to keep going?

Photo by Dave Bradshaw
Photo by Dave Bradshaw

‘Complacency is a big problem to fight, fortunately our team is full of very competitive guys who will push each other, which makes my job as Coach much easier. We try to keep training fresh and interesting and having an extra six games for our rookies to play in has really helped keep the squad focused. At this stage of the season it’s win or go home and my guys don’t need much motivation from me. We’re champions and we will fight for that title because it’s who we are.’

Trinity College will post as difficult opposition to face, as the last two encounters between the pair have proven. It’s been a terrific year for reigning champions, but it all comes down to one game to prove they are the best in the country. Both sides will be filled with emotion, nerves but a lot of optimism and so they should be. They have had great seasons up to this point, but only one team can take home the biggest honour in Irish American Football.

10426317_10206641052485211_5535856864618686332_nMark knows what his team is capable of producing, as his side enter the battlefield ‘one more time’.

‘Obviously, Trinity are a very talented outfit but keys to victory for me are to play Trojan football. If we play our brand of football, there isn’t a team on this island that can beat us. This game, like the 3 before it is in our hands to win or lose and I personally can’t wait until the game to see my team lift another Shamrock Bowl!’

The Shamrock Bowl kicks off at 3pm today from Dalymount Park, Dublin.

Rob McDowell: I genuinely couldn’t be prouder of this TCD squad.

Rob McDowell: I genuinely couldn’t be prouder of this TCD squad

One of the most iconic American Football players in the IAFL, Rob McDowell has amazed us with his fantastic footballing ability for the last six years as his speed and skill have made him arguably the best player in the country over recent times. He has achieved plenty of recognition during that period, from national team call ups to the 2014 MVP award. Despite all that he has achieved, there is still one accolade that alludes him; the Shamrock Bowl trophy.

Trinity College enter Sunday on the back of a solid (7-1) campaign that included the 22-0 victory over the Dublin Rebels in the semi-finals. The students started 2015 slowly, but quickly turned on the jets that eventually saw them defend their SBC South crown.

After enduring 5 games in 8 weeks to complete a busy end to the regular season, fatigue may be slowly starting to settle in, but there is an air of excitement throughout the TCD camp ahead of the final and everyone is ready for the task at hand.

‘Physically? I feel terrible! I think I actually felt better with a torn ACL at the end of 2013 than I do now [ha]. Mentally, great. I’d be lying if I said there are no nerves, but mostly I’m excited. It’s great to get to play infront of actual supporters in a game that really means something.’ 

‘I think this season has been the most impressive performance by a TCD team in the 6 years I’ve been playing. Things weren’t exactly looking great at the start, To lose three in a row – Shamrock Bowl, College Championship and the season opener to the Vikings – was not how we pictured launching this campaign. But in hindsight I believe it was the start we needed.’

‘We didn’t really have to fight last year; but in the game with the Rebels we had to claw our way back, and it really bonded us – we gained a huge amount of trust and confidence in each other and it’s carried through the entire season.’

This weekend’s encounter will be only the second time the students have reached the coveted Bowl game, having fallen to this weekends opponents the Belfast Trojans 7-0 last year. Trinity were much fancied for last years title after a blistering season and although this year has proving seemingly more challenging, Rob still feels this team can go all the way.

 

Photo by Charisse Mae Ducao
Photo by Charisse Mae Ducao
‘Last season things just clicked for us in a way we couldn’t have expected going into it. That unbeaten run, taking down the Trojans away, beating the Rebels for the first time in club history to clinch our first ever playoff win, it was a lot. Any team that has traditionally been a mid-tier contender and on the end of a lot of heavy beatings is going to be proud of those achievements and unfortunately I think as a team we carried a little bit of hubris into the finals and even into the two losses that followed.’

‘We’ve been through a considerably tighter season than last year but its built a much more effective team. It will be a tough game undoubtedly but I’d expect nothing less from a side like the Trojans.

‘Our defence in particular is a massively overlooked strength of the team. We don’t post as many shutouts as the Trojans do, but when it comes to the big games and we have our full D out there, it’s scary! Brian O’Driscoll (CB) knows as much, if not more about football than anybody in this league and he brings it to bear as the Defensive Captain. He studies tape more than anyone I know and it pays off.

‘You just have to look at the numbers – at total of 8 points scored against our D in our last 3 postseason games, 0 points conceded against the Trojans offence in our last two match ups. They are a great unit, pretty much nameless and deserving of far more recognition than they garner. But thats fine by me because they all play with a chip on their shoulders and its fun to watch (and occasionally join in with).’

 

The talent that McDowell possess allows him to be a threat in every facet of the game. Primarily known for being the star running-back, Rob also features as the safety on defence and the dangerous returner on special teams. However, this season he has adopted the more unfamiliar Quarterback position, something he is still getting used to. Understandably, he receives a lot of attention for his ability on the field but he was quick to praise the players around him for helping him improve his game.

Photo by Ariane Boudias
Photo by Ariane Boudias
‘It’s been interesting. You have to approach the game so differently than you would at RB. I actually only played a total of 3 games at QB. I started the season at RB but after racking up a lot of minor injuries, we sat me for the better part of 3 games midway through the season. When Ola went in as the starting RB he absolutely tore it up – 7 touchdowns in three games with 4 or 5 of them scored against two great defences in the Vikings and UCD. There was no point in keeping Ola (and subsequently Brian DuToit: 5 touchdowns in two games) on the bench. Dan Finnamore makes for a great target out wide; he has the size and reach to box out any DBs in this league, so we figured QB was a logical spot to put me in to allow us to keep our best athletes on the field, and keep me somewhat healthy.’

‘I know the O-line were apprehensive about putting me in there though. They’re great pass blockers but I had twitchy feet and tended to bail out of the pocket before it had even formed, and then potentially run back into it 5 or 6 seconds later [haha]. After a while I got used to it and stopped thinking so much like a RB. It helps when you’ve got the receiving core that we have too – a great mix of size, speed and catching ability which really gives a QB a lot of confidence.’

Tomorrow is a huge occasion for football in Ireland, the showpiece that determines the best team in the country. Trinity came incredibly close to winning that honour last year and the misfortune still lingers. One of the defining moments of the game came at the expense of Rob, when the ball was forced from his grip and recovered by the Trojans that ultimately secured Belfast the title. Rather than let it affect him ahead of the game, Rob sees the lighthearted side of it and knows things could be different this Sunday.

‘Bring a lot of towels. Be adaptable. Carry the ball with my outside arm [haha]. In all seriousness though, last years final was a disaster. A huge portion of the team was playing every phase of the game and we never had a moment off the field to discuss what was going wrong and how to fix it. I think an air of panic set in when we hadn’t scored by the half and having no established coach last season to calm us down was a serious handicap. With Coach Drake on our sidelines this year we’re a much more focused team. He brings a calmness to the group that we desperately needed.’

The weather was a distinct struggle for both teams last year, with torrential rain and lightning making the pitch almost impossible to play on. The forecast is expected to be much better this Sunday, so we should expect a fantastic game of football in the season finale. It’s going to be a true battle this weekend and with memories of last years final still fresh in thought, both sides will know what they need to do to win.

‘Play hard, clear eyes, full hearts, yards and inches and stuff, etc… The gameplan is for us to know and the Trojans to figure out.’

 

Photo by Ariane Boudias
Photo by Ariane Boudias
Rob McDowell has proven himself to be a gifted athlete when it comes to American Football. Whether he is bursting out blockbuster runs with tremendous pace or evading would-be tacklers with his elusiveness, he has always been able electrify games with his playmaking ability. He admits he is unsure what the future holds for him, but the man dubbed the ‘Human Highlight Reel’ will always be remembered as a great IAFL player, regardless of the decision he chooses to make. He will look to finish this season on a high by helping his side lift their first ever Shamrock Bowl trophy in Dalymount Park on Sunday.

‘I don’t say it to them a whole lot, but I genuinely couldn’t be prouder of this TCD squad – the guys who were here at the start of the season, and those who stepped up to fill their spots when the inevitable summer turnover came around, the 1st year players and the veterans that are left.. every single one of them helped us get back to the Shamrock Bowl. It’s a special team and win or lose I am incredibly grateful to have spent my final season playing with this bunch of guys.’

 

 

Coach Rob Wills: ‘Our goal all year was to win this division’.

Coach Rob Wills: ‘Our goal all year was to win this division’. 

This past Sunday, the Waterford Wolves clinched the IAFL-1 Championship title with victory over Munster rivals, the Cork Admirals. Despite being 12-0 down at half time, the Wolves clawed their way back in the second half to win 13-12 at Navan RFC to lift the trophy.

On what proved to be an exceptional day of football that also included the Belfast Trojans 2nd’s winning the IAFL-2 title, we caught up with Waterford Head Coach Rob Wills to get his thoughts on his teams historic moment.

A retired high school coach from Texas, Coach Wills has had a long but decorated career within American Football. He played football at Texas Tech (although he claims he was too dumb to know any better) before embarking on a thirty-two year coaching journey, which mostly included small areas within West Texas. He had coached a number of conference championship winning teams, but never won the state championship. He can however add the IAFL-1 championship to his CV.

‘It is very satisfying’, Coach Wills said speaking of his teams win. ‘To see the faces of the players after Sunday’s victory makes it all worth while’. 

The Wolves entered halftime of the game on the back foot, trailing by 12 points to a strong Cork outfit. Waterford had lost the last two outings against the Admirals, but in a final event; anything was possible.

10409555_743277559075124_5366394276082200726_n‘At the end of the first half even though we missed a great opportunity to score, I sensed that the momentum had shifted. All we had to do was make a few minor adjustments and we could get back in the game. The biggest obstacle was our confidence’. 

The Admirals were the form team throughout the season, finishing a solid (7-1) in regular season and had on paper the best offence and defence to any team in the division. So it was fair to say the Wolves were considered the ‘underdogs’ heading into the game. Coach Wills believed that the tag worked to their advantage.

‘We had nothing to lose but at the same time we had something to prove. The lopsided loss to them earlier in the year was humiliating but at the same time, it was the team’s motivation to make it to the finals for a rematch.’

Shutting down Steve Hayes and co. would have been of upmost importance during the game. With that under consideration, Wills was able to devise a plan that would ultimately stop the Cork offence.

11781758_10204530430367670_6489579994880878568_n
Photo by Greg Barret

‘We knew we had to make them beat us running the football. We thought we matched up well with them up front but we were out matched in the secondary due to the height difference. Therefore, we left two half safeties over the top and mixed man under coverage with zone under (cover 2). Then we played mind-games up front with our Defensive-Line to confuse their O-Line and put pressure on their QB. We executed it well and were able to hold them to only two scores.’

Many often wonder what goes on or what is said in the changing rooms at halftime during games in order to provoke a better second half performance. That is when the leaders in the team step up. Coach Wills firmly believed his team could win, but he trusted his players to find a response; and they did.

‘I quietly challenged them to step up and take the game. No that’s not true at all. I went off on them in a controlled, calculated “old school” fashion. My three sons who all played for me call it “vintage Coach Wills.” I can’t say that was the difference but I do know they responded. I told Ryan (Byrne) to stick with our script when he calls plays. I did not follow that rule and called a play on the goal line that cost us the go ahead TD early in the fourth quarter. That did not phase the team. They continued to play hard and were able to overcome my lack of judgement (stupidity) to come back and score late.’

So with the IAFL-1 championship in the bag, the Wolves can set their sights on an automatic return to the top flight to compete in the Shamrock Bowl Conference once again. The ‘Wolf Pack’ can now enjoy a well-deserved break from their hardships of a long but successful season, before they plan for life in the SBC next season.

11060097_10204530440287918_2196733309481645044_n
Photo by Greg Barret

‘Our goal all year was to win this division and get back to the SBC. We were not ready in 2014 to compete at that level. The year’s experience back down will help. Our biggest obstacle is numbers. We need a good recruitment drive during the offseason to get our numbers up. It would be really nice to be able to platoon instead of playing both sides of the ball. Depth is the key to success at the SBC level.

Congratulations to the Wolves!

Paul Grogan: ‘This is why we play football!’

Paul Grogan: ‘This is why we play football!’
The Dublin Rebels are Ireland’s most successful American Football team. Founded in 1995, the Rebels have gone on to win 7 National Champions and several European accolades on their way to greatness.

This Sunday at Seapoint Rugby Club, they will be hoping to take one step closer to a record 8th Shamrock Bowl win when they take on the Craigavon Cowboys in the wildcard round.

We have already spoken to Cowboy’s star man, Peter Loughran about how he feels heading into the game. Now we will hear from Rebels Tight-End, Paul Grogan who will be lining up on the opposite sideline in this crucial divisional knockout game.

The Dublin outfit started the season off in similar fashion to the Cowboys, as they suffered narrow defeats to University pair, Trinity College and UCD. However victories against the Cowboys, Panthers and Vikings helped propel the Rebels into the post-season with a respectable (5-3) finish.

Their opening losses to the year effectively saw the Dubliners lose touch of the Trojans in the race for the division title, but the Rebels set themselves high expectations and we will expect better of themselves come the playoff’s.

‘On the face of it we’ve had a mixed season. Going 5-3 during the regular season suggests that. We have a young squad with a large influx of rookies, who are now all contributing greatly across the squad. When it comes down to it we were two individual plays away from being 7-1 on the season.’

‘As it is with every season, the Rebels making the playoffs is the absolute minimum. That has been achieved so I would say a lot done, a lot more to do’.

The playoff’s offer a fresh start for many teams. It allows for the opportunity to evaluate previous performances and make necessary adjustments that will prove crucial in the long run. Paul knows exactly what the Rebels need to improve on going forward.

‘Execution! We were two plays off being 7-1 this season and that came down to execution. A lot of football has been played since then, a lot work put in, fine tuning. If we can execute to the level we are capable of, we are a match-up nightmare!’

Paul has seen a lot of success during his playing career. He has played a part in two of the Rebels championship wins since he joined in 2007, whilst also winning a state championship in Australia with the Perth Blitz. Despite his own personal accolades, he’s always happy to see his team succeed.

‘Well, obviously I think I’ve been spectacular all year, as I’m sure I will attest to. I’m sure anyone that’s watched our games would give you a less biased, more accurate summation. Really for me it’s all about the team first and if I’m doing my job well, it means that the plethora of other weapons we have can shine, as they have done!
I’ve seen a lot of extra coverages on me or teams putting their best player on me and I take that as a huge compliment, but like I said, team first’.

The Rebels lost a number of key players during the off-season, particularly offensive weapons like Chris Purdy and Simon Mackey. However players like Sean Leamy, Sean Douglas and Kevin Finnegan have all stepped up to fill the void and have performed exceptionally over the course of the season. With that in mind, Paul is adamant that the Rebels will be in strong contention for the Shamrock Bowl this summer.

‘As I mentioned before, making the playoff’s is an absolute minimum. This squad is not only capable of making the Bowl game, but more than capable of winning it all. We have absolute ballers on both sides of the football and between Andrew Dennehy and Ross McCooey, we have two of the best football minds Ireland has produced. They’re not bad players either’.

Before they can think about appearing in the final, the Rebels have the small task of two games to win, starting with the Craigavon Cowboys on Sunday. Two of oldest sides in Ireland have clashed hundreds of times over the course of their clubs lifespan, and Paul knows exactly what to expect from his opponents this weekend.

‘In short, it won’t be different. With the Cowboys, you know exactly what you’re going to get. A tough, physical, old-school slug fest! They’re going to run the football right at you, and tell you “try to stop us”. More recently they’ve added a very good passing game to their playbook, with a number of good pass-catchers.

 

‘Of course you guys have talked about Peter Loughran several times, I think everyone in the league knows how good he is, and in order to beat the Cowboys, you have to stop him!’

Two very physical and experienced sides that know everything there is to know about each other will go head-to-head this Sunday, with the definite goal to progress to the semi-finals. It’s a simple case of do or die now and for either the Cowboy’s or the Rebels, one teams season will live to fight another day, whilst the others hopes will be crushed.

‘It’s going to take four full quarters of punishing football that could go right to the final whistle. As the Cowboys proved, they are capable of making late comebacks, with their late showing against the Knights. Couple that with the fact we dropped two games that we were controlling in similar fashion, means that this game could come down to the wire’.

‘ However, this is why we play football! We’re prepared and ready, and I can’t wait!’

Wildcard game: Craigavon Cowboys @ Dublin Rebels: Seapoint RFC, Dublin – 2pm.

Peter Loughran: ‘I believe we are capable of challenging for the Shamrock Bowl’

Peter Loughran: ‘I believe we are capable of challenging for the Shamrock Bowl’

We have now reached the business end of the 2015 IAFL season. Whatever has happened over the course of the last eighteen weeks no longer matters, it’s a fresh start as teams prepare for their quest to headline Shamrock Bowl 29

This weekend will see the first set of playoff fixtures, as the wildcard round prepares to take center stage. The first of three matches this Sunday will take place at Seapoint RFC, as the Criagavon Cowboys head South to take on hosts, the Dublin Rebels.

Both sides have had a strong season up to this point. The Dublin Rebels were able to clinch automatic qualification to the playoff’s as they finished second in the SBC North, despite a slow start to the campaign. The Cowboys clinched post-season football courtesy of their superior points difference and although the inclusion may have been fortuitous and controversial, their end of season run more than deserved playoff football.

In order to get a taste of what’s to come, we were able to chat with two players who will be on opposite sidelines prior to kickoff and whom have aspirations of keeping their Shamrock Bowl dreams alive; first up, it’s Peter Loughran of the Craigavon Cowboys.

The Cowboys proved that quality outweighs quantity as their small squad conquered the odds and booked a place in this years wildcard round. Key victories against the Rhino’s, Panthers and a late comeback against the Knights were enough to see the men from Portadown steal the remaining slot away from the Reapers and finish with a (3-5) record.
The Cowboys have been Shamrock Bowl champions twice in their history, in 1986 and 1992. However their last appearance in the playoff’s came in 2011, when they defeated the Belfast Trojans 17-14 at the same stage. Since then it’s been a period of rebuilding for the ‘Boy’s’, but with playoff football on the horizon, its an exciting period in the Craigavon camp.

It feels great!’ explained Peter, ‘I’ve been struggling to sleep with the excitement. I’m finally happy that my ankle is back up to scratch and we can take part in the playoff’s.’

Despite losing their opening two games and back to back defeats against the Trojans, the Cowboys fought their way back into playoff contention and finished the season in solid fashion.

Team of the Week
Peter threw for 1o touchdowns in 8 games, 2nd most in the SBC. Photo by Ariane Boudias

‘We had a nervous start to the season, but after improving the offensive line and moving Conrad Smith to Tight-End, the offence began to flourish. Defensively we were shaky in places but I have seen big improvements as the season went on.’

‘Jonny Martin and Joe Buchanan stepped up and led the defence, providing some much needed organization. There were a few games I felt we should have won, but we have developed well on the fly and hopefully it will carry on into the post-season’.

The playoff’s often occupy the best teams in the country and in order to be considered a genuine title contender, you need to play your best football. Peter knows the Cowboys still have plenty to improve on, but is adamant the quality in the squad is there to compete.

‘Simply, we need to improve our consistency. We have the weapons and the plays to do very well in the playoffs but we need to execute on every play. Our comeback against the Knights for example, that final 5 minutes wasn’t luck or anything special, it was simply each player on the field doing their job to perfection.’

10492592_471539522980491_4740436547924099533_nPeter is the epitome of a coaches dream. He can play every down and at every position. Although he can play as both receiver and linebacker, Loughran had a tremendous season as the Cowboy’s signal-caller. He tallied 10 passing touchdowns whilst adding 5 rushing scores, making him the second highest scoring Quarterback in the Shamrock Bowl Conference.

For a man who can do it all, Peter still feels there is a lot he can improve on.

‘I would like to decrease the number of interceptions although I’m fairly happy with this year. My O-Line stepped up hugely to protect me when I was injured, only allowing 2 sacks that allowed me to develop as a pocket-passer.’

For a current squad that has little playoff experience, Sunday’s game will not be a typical encounter against the Dublin Rebels. The Cowboys will have to play to the best of their ability to overturn what must be considered a losing spell against their opponents. This will be a big occasion, but Loughran spoke highly of his team and believes they are capable of battling the best.

We might not have played our best football and it will take something special to win, but I think we shown this season that we have that something. We just need to execute and get a full roster available on the day. I believe we are capable of challenging for the Shamrock Bowl, I really do!’

Match details: Craigavon Cowboys @ Dublin Rebels: Seapoint RFC, Dublin. 2pm.

Arun Mooney: ‘Never count the Rhinos out’

Arun Mooney: ‘Never count the Rhino’s out’

The West Dublin Rhinos travel across Dublin to face divisional rivals UCD this Sunday at the UCD Sports Grounds. The Rhino’s are currently 0-2 and sitting bottom of the SBC South and the SBC Generally for the season after succumbing to defeats against both the North Kildare Reapers and SBC South leaders, the UL Vikings.

It’s not the start the Rhino’s would have been hoping for as they looked set to make positive strides after clinching a wildcard berth last season. So far, they are yet to replicate their end of season performances from 2014, that saw them win 3 of their last 4 games.

UCD will be tough opponents and the West Dublin outfit will need to improve greatly from their previous outings if they look to clinch their first win of the year. In order to find out how the team was preparing for Sunday, we sat down with Quarterback, Arun Mooney to discuss the teams goals for the weekends match-up.

The Rhino’s have been blessed with a strong squad this year, boasting on average of 30+ players. They certainly have the numbers to cause teams problems and Arun says that this is the strongest he has seen the Rhino’s for a long time.

‘I definitely feel that this is the strongest team the Rhinos have fielded, because every year I believe we are improving in terms of the number of players we have and the experience gained by the veteran players on the team. It also helps to have a great coaching staff keeping us, the players, on our toes week in week out.’

The Castleknock squad is defined by their toughness and positive attitude. Many competitors know they are in for a tough game against the Rhino’s, particularly when they come face-to-face with their hard hitting defence. However, their struggles on offence is apparent as they have failed to click in the early stages of the season.

Arun realised the offence has work to do, but they certainly have the potential to improve.

563219_10201224526437919_1796208446_n‘I have to give props to the defensive side of the ball, they hit hard and never give up. In terms of the offensive side of the ball, we’ve been working on knowing the playbook fully and being ready to go when our number is called. We have been pushing ourselves in training every Sunday and working with our coaches to optimise our efforts and turn this into points. There is no magic formula to get better other than train hard and know your job.’

Travelling across town to UCD, albeit a short trip, will be a difficult away fixture for the Rhino’s. UCD were formidable at home during their IAFL-1 reign and that form has continued over to the SBC, as they picked up a close victory against the Dublin Rebels. The Rhino’s know they will have their work cut out in stopping the speed and skill of the students spread-option offence.

What is guaranteed however is a dedicated performance from the Rhinos; but in terms of a gameplan? Arun say’s that must remain a secret until Sunday.

‘UCD will be very tough opponents on Sunday, but I am really looking forward to this game as we have another chance at showing everyone what we can do as a team. As I’ve already mentioned the team has been working hard at improving their game and to bring home the win. The game plan is top secret I’m afraid and we look forward to the challenge on Sunday.’

2015 has proven challenging thus far for the West Siders. They are 0-2 and considering the difficulty of opponents they are yet to face, it will be a big ask for the team to stay within the playoff hunt, or even the division come the end of the season. However if any team is capable of defying the odd’s, like they showed last season, its the boys from Castleknock.

‘It will be a tough road ahead for our season and last year was amazing to comeback after a 0-4 start . Things started going our way and our team really stepped up and delivered. We expect to improve on this feat this season.’

‘The 2015 campaign has not gone to plan given our 0-2 record, but I do fully believe that we can turn this around as we have done in the past. This team always gives it their best and plays until the whistle. Its a tough road ahead given the talent in this league but never count the Rhinos out.’

10320412_10204121325896095_1717971042385701356_nArun was very honest in his assessment of the teams performances so far and admits that the offence has been playing below par. However, he knows what needs to be improved and has challenged himself to make the necessary adjustments that will grant the team victories sooner rather than later.

Despite the added pressure he puts on himself, the Quarterback is confident the team will start to see major changes that their hard work and effort deserves.

‘The expectations I’ve set myself for this season first of all, is to put the team in the best position to win games. Unfortunately I have yet to meet this expectation as we haven’t put close to enough points on the board to do so. Secondly, is to become a better player by being more consistent and improving the game management aspect of the game.’

You can see Arun in action this weekend at UCD Sports Grounds, 2pm for UCD vs the Rhinos.

Getting to know the Donegal/Derry Vipers!

Getting to know the Donegal/Derry Vipers!

The Donegal/Derry Vipers are mere days away from making their first competitive debut in the IAFL. It has been a busy 6-8 months for the rookies and a lot of hard work has happened behind the scenes as they ready themselves for Sunday’s big game.

As newest members of the growing IAFL family, the Vipers will be looking to make an immediate impact in the IAFL-2 as they clash heads with the Trojans 2nd’s. Some people may not be too familiar with the leagues newest outfit at this stage so we caught up with club chairman and Right Guard, Shaun McGrory to find out more.

From an idea that started as early as last summer, the plan to get the team off the ground was quickly set in motion.

‘Our founding members, Cathal Curran and James Fox, had always been big fans of the NFL and always had a really sports orientated life pre The Vipers having played GAA all their lives. They became aware of the IAFA and their league structure through word of mouth back in the summer of 2014 and decided to have a look and see how it was set up and where each of the teams played.

‘Having found that the sport was thriving in Ireland, that it was the fastest growing sport in the world an armed with the realisation that there was neither a team in Donegal or Derry the guys had the crazy idea of forming one and seeing if their dream would become a reality.’

Once the structure of the club was in place, the next duty was to create an iconic club name. Its alway’s interesting to learn of the reasoning behind a chosen team name, maybe due to its symbolic significance or the history of a city; or perhaps you just like the sound of it!

‘We would love to tell you that the name Vipers came from some deep spiritual place, after having walked miles barefooted to Tibet but unfortunately that isn’t the case. They liked the name The Donegal Derry Vipers so they went for it. Since then the players and staff have begun to attach meaning to it with the main theme being around bringing snakes BACK to Ireland, even going as far as, unofficially, calling our home ground at the YMCA Rugby pitches in Drumahoe, ‘The Viper Pit!’

Starting up a brand new club has its difficulties. Sponsorships and finances are vital in maintaining the health of a team and finding a city where there is a big pool for recruiting talent is also a must. However, the Vipers have been working extremely hard this off-season in preparation for what will prove to be a challenging year.

11139424_968754763149730_786476559824251160_n‘Up until late 2014 the team was merely a pipe dream but our founders really stepped it up around October of that year. Cathal and our Treasurer Frieda Gallagher contacted The Belfast Giants Ice Hockey team and managed to blag a slot at the interval and really publicize their vision of what we wanted to do. How many people would have imagined we would have a successful Ice Hockey team from Belfast 20years ago and by that logic, why couldn’t we do the same with The Vipers?’

‘After setting up all the social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and our own club website the guys started promoting the club in various local newspapers and radio stations pointing people towards our 1st training session. We recruited our Head Coach, Jason Brock, a Chicago born American who had moved to Donegal after falling in love with a beautiful Irish girl. Jason grew up playing and loving the sport and was the ideal person to mould a group of amateur American Football fans into a fully functional, closely knit, Viper machine. We now have a core team of around 40players or varying age and skill but with an equal amount of enthusiasm.’

Shaun admitted that one of the many benefactors the Vipers have had, came courtesy of the generosity of the now folded, Drogheda Lightning. Many of the founding members of the Lightning travelled up north to personally pass on old equipment and knowledge, that will greatly assist the Vipers development.

Something that Shaun and the rest of the team will be eternally grateful for.

‘As a group and as individuals, setting up the club was an adventure none of us had ever been on. The Lightning first contacted us in February of this year and rode into the Vipers like knights in shining armour. They decided, though heart-breaking to those involved with the Lightning, that their legacy should live on and that all the equipment would be passed down to our newly formed team. Not only did they provide us with equipment for players, practice and for game day but they also came with a wealth of knowledge and experience in the form of Ross and Kim Neville and Fergal Waters.’

‘To this day the guys continue to support and invest time in the team whether it is through coming to training or offering help and guidance over the phone. The Drogheda Lightning lives on in The Vipers.’

Focus will now turn to the task that lays ahead as the Donegal/Derry Vipers host the current Irish champions, the Belfast Trojans; well, to be more precise the Trojans 2nd’s team. The opening debut for a new side can be filled with mix feelings of nerves, optimism as well as excitement. Strapping on new helmets and pad’s will feel like Christmas to many of the young Vipers players.

However when Sunday arrives, all attentions must be turned to the match itself, and putting that all important first win in the history books!

11094737_968753289816544_7698314626258052092_n‘When the fixtures were released I think the initial feeling was shock. The Trojans are, undoubtedly, one of the best, if not the best team in Ireland. For a team as new as ours, to play the Champions, regardless of whether it is the 1sts or 2nds is a huge challenge and one that is not lost on our players or staff.’

‘The feeling will quickly change to excitement and determination to show that we are a team, a good team and one that is worthy of playing in the IAFL2 league. We have had contact with The Trojans and their professional attitude and approach towards the game has rung true each and every time. They are the type of team that each side in the league should aspire to be.’

‘With that said, on game day they are our opponents, they will not hold back, they will not take into consideration that we are a new team, they will go to work in the usual Trojans way. They will push us hard and we hope to push back with equal intensity.

Getting the first victory under the belts will be a fantastic feeling for the newly established Vipers, however their opening game couldn’t be much harder and then they will need to put everything they have learnt throughout the off-season into practice.

Many teams goals each year are to win trophies and to be the best. The Vipers will no doubt be aiming for the same but their first goal this season is simple. Establish the team and build for the future.

‘For us, the goal was never to blow teams away, it was to set up a family orientated club that bridged the border between north and south, to build an inclusive club based on respect and our mutual love of the sport. This is our debut season and we believe we are prepared. For now, our goal is to give the Trojans a game that both teams will remember for all the right reasons and as we progress through the season to build a club that is sustainable, competitive and spoke of in the highest terms possible both on and off the field.’

#TheVipersAreHere

Corey McKenna: ‘The Titan’s are looking forward to the challenge.’

Corey McKenna: ‘The Titan’s are looking forward to the challenge.’

Not many teams are expected to go the regular season unbeaten in their league debut, to then top it off by claiming the IAFL-2 Bowl; but that’s exactly what the Tyrone Titans did. The Titans will be taking their first leap from the rookie tier after a hugely impressive season, as they prepare for their opening competitive game in IAFL-1 on Sunday.

Going unbeaten throughout a season is no easy task, just ask the Trojans and Trinity College. It takes a special kind of team and chemistry to replicate a perfect season and the Titans are amongst the few teams in the league to have achieved such a feat.

Come Sunday, the competition will be much greater. No longer will the Tyrone outfit be considered a developing side attempting to gain experience, they will be competing in a very tough division and expected to do well.

It must feel like a long time since the championship win in the summer. However, that hasn’t stopped the team from putting in even more hard work in preparation for what will be a big year ahead, as Titans Safety Corey McKenna explains.

10628042_842258835784330_2017393210459180035_n

‘It felt amazing to go through the whole season unbeaten but to come out and win the IAFL-2 Bowl game as well was just over whelming, all the hard work during training had paid off better than what we could have hoped for.’

‘The team’s goals this year is pretty much the same as last year which is win. We don’t want anything less, we want to do the exact same as last year and go undefeated.’ 

The IAFL-1 will be a tough tier to break out of. Tests against the likes of Waterford and Cork, who have experience of playing in Irelands top flight of football await them and with the Dundalk Mavericks clinching their first win last Sunday, there may be more added pressure on the Titans to make a fast start out of the blocks.

Corey was well aware of the difference the IAFL-1 will bring, but say’s the team is more than ready for the challenge.

10167915_689550901110796_3725968805251154440_n‘I think most of the team is quite eager to get out there on Sunday and show the league the work the Titan’s have been putting in during the pre-season training.’

‘The main difference I would be expecting would be the physicality of the IAFL-1 team’s, they all play smarter, hard hitting football but the Titan’s are looking forward to the challenge.’

The Titans opening game will be a home fixture against the experienced Meath Bulldog’s. The Bulldog’s were one of the last teams to compete in the DV8’s league that finished in 2012. Since then they have been a regular competitor in the IAFL-1 division, finishing with a respectable (4-4) record last year.

It will be a tough, physical battle on Sunday but the Titans are more than confident in their own ability, and won’t be backing down despite the experience of their opposition.


‘We have been preparing like the same as last season, just preparing ourselves for any challenge to come our way. On Sunday we are expecting a tough match against the Bulldog’s, we went unbeaten last season so every team will be wanting to put that first loss on the board for us but we aren’t going to give it away that easy.’

There will be massive expectations on the young shoulders of the Tyrone Titans this year, and after a successful 2014, there will no doubt be a target on their backs.

The IAFL-1 won’t be as easy to dominate as the IAFL-2 proved to be. However with experience throughout the coaching staff with the likes of Paul Braniff and Gary Carr holding the fort, coupled with the youthful exuberance and winning mentality that has been instilled in the Titans will allow this team to flourish and make them a force to be reckoned with this season!

Meath Bulldogs @ Tyrone Titans – Kickoff: Omagh RFC, 2pm.

Paul McKay: ‘You can only learn from playing the best’.

Paul McKay: You can only learn from playing the best.

The North Kildare Reapers have been impressive since admission to the IAFL in 2013. They have continued to improve year on year and after a solid opening campaign in the SBC, notching 3 victories, the Reapers should feel plenty of optimism this year.

The former IAFL-1 champions have got their season off to a good start, clinching a 12-0 victory over the West Dublin Rhinos that should give them great momentum in what will prove to be, a testing year for a team that is still growing.

It’s always interesting to hear how teams and players prepare themselves to make a greater leap the following season, so we took the time to catch up with Reapers Defensive Back, Paul McKay to chat with him about the teams plans for 2015 and how it felt getting his first win of the season under his belt.

‘It was a great way to start the season, the Rhinos are a massively experienced side. It was a huge boost for us too because we had lost a chunk of big names leading up to the game. Also it was my own first start on defence in a very new position so I was thrilled we shut out the Rhinos. It wasn’t easy!’

The Rhino’s are well known for their physicality and toughness and they have plenty of experience in the Shamrock Bowl Conference. However, the Reapers were well deserving of their victory as they put in a professional defensive display. Paul even grasped his first interception of his career!

‘Well of course, that was a nice boost for me. I haven’t played a lot the last three years. Started as a WR in 2013..didn’t get one catch. I wasn’t available most of the time so I got a few minutes as a CB. But my first game as FS I got my first SBC catch..but honestly it was all down to Coach Q’s (the 12th man) training..I think our Defense nailed it as a group and if it wasn’t for our corners and linebackers coverage, I wouldn’t have had the chance to catch it.’

Having faced some difficult teams last season, the Reapers have come away with a lot of lessons learnt from 2014. It’s still very early in the season and Paul knows the team can’t afford to rest on their laurels, but after last seasons performances, there is a lot of positives that the team can build upon.


11071747_710676439043479_4737464280269956132_n‘The Coaches have implemented a focused and tailored training programme this year and if you put in
 the work you will get game time, this is a tough balancing job for coaches because its an amateur league and people have family and work commitments. The team is confident this year as we played some massive sides last year like the Rebels, Vikings, Trinity etc, and learned a lot of valuable lessons. NKR’s programme this year is to compete for that playoff spot and with the addition of new coaches with a wealth of experience the positive atmosphere at training feels like that target is very possible.’

The Kildare outfit, like many teams throughout off season can suffer from moments of misfortune. With the season mere weeks away, the Reapers suddenly lost a significant group of players from the 2014 side, whose focus turned to other commitments and pastures new.

Understandably this could have affected team morale and potentially damaged the Reapers immediate plans to improve upon last year. So far, it hasn’t created too many problems as with their first W in the books, the remaining group is looking more focused than ever.

549362_576179389061089_923177815_n‘I think players leave every team for personal circumstances like moving house, job opportunities, you are always going to loose a few guys in the off season. Its all about how you respond to these changes and I think it galvanised us as a unit. We had new players playing their first game against a solid West Dublin Rhinos team and were it not for a few players having left, these guys (including myself) probably wouldn’t have got the opportunity..but we won, everyone played their hearts out, picked each other up after every play and enjoyed every snap. Our squad is the strongest its ever been and we are all excited about the upcoming games to test ourselves as a Team.’

Sunday’s fixture will be a major test and a huge jump in quality from previous games for what is still a young team in development. The Reapers must welcome the current champions, the Belfast Trojans to Kildare Sports Club and this will arguably be the hardest challenge the team is yet to face.

‘The team is psyched! These guys are a brilliant team that play great football. It will be an experience to put our style against theirs and see what happens. Its no small achievement to put points up against these guys like the Panthers did last week. You can only learn from playing the best. We are going out there to win and I think it will be an amazing game of football.’

Having dealt with any threat the Rhino’s could throw at them, coping with some of the leagues top scorers in Trojans trio James McKelvey, Dave Colvin and David Richardson will be a tall order. Despite being the overwhelming underdogs heading into the game, McKay maintains that the Reapers will be ready for Sunday.

‘Each of us know what we have to do. The coaches have instructed us in every way they can, if we turn up as a team and play our football, react to the changes in the game and do what we have been trained to do then you cant ask for more than that. If you can sit down with the guys after the game and know you did everything at 100% of your ability…that you didn’t let them or yourself down..that’s a plan in itself.’

This might be Paul’s first serious spell in the team, after having a bit-part inclusion over the past 3 years. He has shown great motivation and impressed on his debut at Free Safety, earning himself an honourable mention in our first Team of the Week article.

Knowing that his spot isn’t guaranteed and there’s still room to improve, Paul’s first priority is helping the team succeed. So far so good!

‘My personal goal is too earn my start on the squad, be an addition to our defense and have no regrets by the end of the regular season.’

You can watch Paul in action this weekend at Kildare Sports Club at 1pm, as the North Kildare Reapers host the Belfast Trojans!

Interview with Belfast Trojans Linebacker Neil Graham

The Belfast Trojans  have been the most dominant team in the IAFL in recent years. Last years Shamrock Bowl Champions have taken home the Waterford Crystal Bowl three times on the bounce, also adding the Atlantic Cup to their honours in 2013. With the Trojans taking to the field this Sunday against the South Dublin Panthers, the Belfast outfit will be gearing up for their charge towards a 4th National Championship.

The Trojans have reached the pinnacle of Irish Football over the last 3 seasons and have set a high standard for other teams to follow, as well as better. Their return to the Atlantic Cup in the Netherlands this summer alongside the mid-season clash with Scotland’s finest, the East Kilbride Pirates means the Trojans will be tackling their toughest schedule to date; but it’s one they have been preparing for.

The fact the Trojans are always striving to improve is one of many reasons as to why they have been so successful. Challenging fixtures and a hefty schedule will stretch the Trojans to their limits, but it’s necessary when the ultimate goal is to be considered one of the top sides in Europe.

NFL-Ireland caught up with Trojans Outside Linebacker, Neil Graham this week to talk about the how the team is looking to improve heading into 2015.

‘We have been working really hard this preseason with a combination of padded, unpadded, on field and off field sessions. The coaching staff has focused a lot this pre season on ensuring that there is little to no “game rust” and this first match is just a continuation of the previous season. This has meant more time being dedicated to scrimmaging and situational based drills, which I think has put us in a position where we are ready for the season.’ 

The reigning champions will be looking to add more silverware to their resume, but Graham knows that this season will be prove more difficult than in previous years to achieve that.

10527293_10154980685210626_7074342492151166502_n‘This year the team is reaching further than ever before by competing in two IAFL leagues at the same time, the Atlantic Cup, as well as playing the East Kilbride Pirates who are the best team in Scotland and one of the premier teams in England. The club is very much focused on no matter what team we play against we will play to the best of our ability and not the level of our competition, we have reached the place we are currently at by separating ourselves from other teams and we will progress further by doing the same. The team is certainly in the stages of planning all the things that are involved in us competing but right now the season is our main focus.’

With the added challenge of facing the East Kilbride Pirates in April, one of the strongest teams in the British Football League (BAFANL) the Trojans felt it was time to test their skills against other top teams across the UK.

‘The East Kilbride game is a way for us to test ourselves to see where we stand in the British league and we are doing this because of the fear of stagnation, we are determined to ensure that as a team we continue to progress both on and off the pitch.’

The Trojans star Linebacker has been pivotal to the sides recent success and earned himself a deserved call up to the National side after some stellar performances. In 2014, the OLB racked up 64 total tackles, 3.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles (including the huge play in SB28 that clinched the game) throughout the regular season. Looking to become the most dominant player in the country, Neil is adamant that he still has plenty of room for improvement.

‘I want to be the best player in the country, which means I need to continue to work hard and improve all the aspects of my game so that I am the best equipped to help the team. Although I have been just shy of 100 total tackles for two years now and I would really like to break that.’

The Trojans can’t afford to look too far ahead however, with their first game just around the corner. The Green Machine will head to Westmanstown, Dublin to take on the newly established South Dublin Panthers, who rebranded from the original Dublin Dragons. The Belfast side comfortably won last seasons game with a convincing 35-0 victory, but this upcoming match might tell a different story.

Much of the Dragons backbone still exists, but wholesale changes to both players and staff will give the Panthers a very different look heading into Sunday, something the Trojans will have to account for.

‘It would be very naïve to go into the game against the Panthers with preparations for the Dragons. They have worked hard both on and off the field to separate themselves from the previous branding (which I think is brilliant). That being said you can only work with the information that you have so the coaching staff have reviewed the previous footage and created a game-plan that takes into account the possible changes that they might have made.’ 

 

10580091_801770353190200_5999514538322903793_nThis weekend will be the first step towards the Trojans path to defending their crown. With a defence that conceded 62 points all year whilst scoring 6 defensive touchdowns, the Trojans very own ‘Walls of Troy’ will be looking to replicate their 2014 form. In order to win back to back championships, the defence will need to come together once again if they look to make another Shamrock Bowl Final. 

‘The defence worked brilliantly together last year, the DL with Patrick Mc Elkerney and Teddy Canty provided outstanding run stoppage and pressure. The secondary with Jon Eric Talvio created game changing situations at crucial times. Everyone probably knows what I think of our linebacking corps by now but Jonny McConnell, Connor Whitla and Chris Weir all played amazing last season. We had in both post and regular season a total of 62 points scored on us with defence scoring 40 through interceptions and safeties and the simple answer is make other teams score less and we score more. We are getting better by training as hard as we can as a team and as individuals, so that when it comes game time we are the ones that are dictating the game and the opposition will react to what we are doing.’ 

Belfast Trojans @ South Dublin Panthers: Kickoff – 1pm at Garda RFC Westmanstown, Dublin.