IAFL Week 13: Game Previews
The countdown is on as the end to the regular season begins to draw ever closer. With a lot of teams futures hanging in the balance, each and every game becomes all the more important as a simple win or loss could dictate the outcome of the entire year. Five exceptional games to feast upon across Ireland with a number of teams battling to keep their playoff hopes alive, while others simply want to avoid the drop and we could have our first division champion of the year. Theres a lot at stake on Sunday, so who will take their chances?
Shamrock Bowl Conference
As the race for automatic promotion in the SBC South heats up, one of these sides could strengthen their grip on second spot whilst the other could be pinning all their hopes on clinching a wildcard berth come July. It will be all to play for at Santry on Sunday.
Outside of the Trojans, the Reapers and TCD are the next best sides in the form books. The Reapers have overcome two closely contested games against the Cowboys and Rhinos to put them in excellent position to steal second place. The Reapers have defied the odds once again up to this point and whilst they sit at -36 in points difference, they’ve managed to grind out victories. It’s all about the W at the end of the day. This game however could be the real test in determining whether North Kildare will be capable of competing in playoff football.
Despite the six week layoff before they faced UL, it appeared the lack of game day practice failed to affect Trinity’s performance on Sunday. An excellent 22-3 win over the division leaders has put Trinity on a purple patch and given them an excellent shot at catching the Vikings at the top. Some may have questioned if the students were capable of a repeat year, but Sunday’s outcome was reminiscent of their unbeaten path to the Shamrock Bowl in 2014. The positive news for last years finalists is that they sit in a great position in the playoff race, with still half of their season yet to play.
The intensity of the SBC South is there for all to see, with 3 teams looking to battle their way into second and the division title still yet to be claimed. It looks certain that this race could go right down to the wire. There is no better time for the Reapers and Trinity College to lock horns with both on such good form and with the playoff’s at stake, this game has that extra edge that not many would have saw coming when the schedule was published.
It’s been a disappointing season for both sides it must be said. There would have been a lot of promise heading into the campaign that playoff football was a distinct goal, now it’s a case of overturning poor form into wins and trying to salvage their seasons.
The Knights started off the season with a bang against the Cowboys, but now that opening game feels like a distant memory. It was always going to be a tough task to contend with the SBC North powerhouses of the Trojans and Rebels, but the Knights squad is filled with depth and quality and they are more than capable of challenging the very best in Ireland. So far things haven’t gone smoothly for the ‘Black and Gold’, they have lost 3 on the bounce and they have shipped in 117 points, 18 more than this weekends opponents who are yet to win a game.
The odd’s might be unrealistic, but there is still a ‘slim’ chance that the Rhino’s could avoid demotion! If we take a look back to last season, the Rhinos defeated the Knights 8-0 that helped grant them the last remaining wildcard spot against the odds and if there is a team you shouldn’t bet against, it’s the men from Castleknock. The Rhino’s have really struggled on offence all season, thats apparent; but coming up against the lowest ranked defence in the SBC on home soil, there’s no better opportunity to start putting points on the board.
With a number of playoff teams competing this weekend, the Knights cannot afford to be left behind. If they can take victory against the Rhinos, they will set themselves up nicely for the must win double headers against rival challengers the Craigavon Cowboys and Dublin Rebels. They need to regain their form in this match and the defence must prevent a potential Rhino’s breakout performance. For the West Dubliners the options are simple; win or bust!
The SBC’s last remaining unbeaten team will look to seal up the North Division title this Sunday. The Trojans travel to Portadown to face rivals the Craigavon Cowboys who have intentions of not only ruining the party, but to maintain their own path to the playoff’s.
Belfast are sitting comfortably atop of the IAFL rankings, both on points and on record. The current champions have scored 196 points in 5 games, tallying 27 touchdowns in total. The defence has performed as expected, only conceding 22 thus far so once again the Trojans have dominated every opposition they have faced in the league. The resounding wins against the Rebels and Knights has all but secured Belfast the title already, but victory against the Cowboys will confirm it in writing.
The Cowboys last gasp defeat away to the Reapers would have left a sour taste in the mouth, but the recent home win against the Panthers has now placed them into the current wildcard vacancy. All they need to do now is stay there; easier said than done of course. It now looks that the Cowboys have found a winning remedy to reward their efforts, as they are now attributing good performances with wins. They currently score as much as they concede with a +2 points difference, but they have tallied the third most touchdowns in the SBC. So with the offence in good form, it’s up to the defence to follow suit.
It will be a tricky end of season run for the Cowboys as they face Belfast in the return leg to close out the regular season, but the Knights game mere weeks away will be the key fixture. Peter Loughran and co. will be hoping to stay in contention this weekend as the Trojans scored 84 points against the Cowboys in the last two outings. However the Cowboys have been impressive at home, but a Trojans victory in Portadown would clinch them another consecutive division title.
This game is our chosen ‘Game of the Week’ candidate as both sides are evenly matched on paper and added with the extra incentive of potential playoff football, a loss to either side could be damaging with difficult fixtures still to come.
The Panthers and UCD have suffered losses in recent weeks, as the students fell short against the Vikings by a 12-13 scoreline over a month ago. Their high-octane offence is yet to reach the dizzying heights that they achieved in the IAFL-1 as they currently lie in the bottom half of the division in points scored. The defence however has been tough to breakdown only surrendering 42 points, the lowest amount in the SBC South. UCD do have an incredibly talented squad, with Tom Donovan and Paul Geraghty consistent threats in every game. It will only be a matter of time before the O gets clicking like normal.
The South Dubliners have proven that they can battle with the best in the country, with impressive performances against the Carrickfergus Knights and Trinity College. Unfortunately those performances haven’t transpired of late, losing to both the Dublin Rebels and Craigavon Cowboys that has set them on a two game losing streak. The Westmanstowns outfit have by far and away the toughest schedule of all teams in the SBC and UCD will pose another stern test for the Panthers. Still to face the Vikings and Rebels, the Panthers have done well to stay in playoff contention up to this point.
This is an even match-up and it’s too close to call how it could turn out. The Panthers have currently scored more points than UCD, however the students have conceded less and have played a game less too. The stats show that both teams have had success running the ball, but its Quarterback duo Tom Donovan and Mick Duncan that lead the team in rushing scores. The Panthers are yet to register a single passing touchdown so far, whilst receiver Paul Geraghty will be a target on Sunday for UCD, as he looks to exploit the Panthers pass defence. So what we know is that both teams like to run the ball, the Quarterbacks have the potential to go mobile and we should expect a very close contest.
The Wolves make the trip up to Meath this weekend as only one team will be left in 3rd place as both sides look to close the gap on the Tyrone Titans in second. Meath defeated Waterford 13-0 three weeks ago and will be looking to complete the double over their fierce rivals.
The Wolves performances have been rather mixed so far but one thing is for sure; they have won games. Recovering from a winless season in the SBC takes a lot of mental toughness, but securing wins against Mullingar and Dundalk has left a sense of confidence in the ‘Wolf Pack’. Now with those victories under the belts, the Wolves have the opportunity to make the Bowl game after an off-season of rebuilding and reflection. In order to do that however they need to improve their offensive production and become more consistent performers on the field. The defence however are good at creating turnovers and they will be pivotal to a good Waterford performance
The Bulldogs have always been a very physical team to play against and sides know they are in for tough game of football. Meath are usually a very difficult side to contend with at home, however Navan RFC hasn’t been same fortress that it’s been in recent years. Both of the Bulldogs victories have come away from home against Dundalk and the Wolves, and they have conceded the more points at home this season. The combination of brothers, Pete and Eddie McMahon will look to be the difference again, similar to the previous fixture.
Out of the three teams chasing for third, the Bulldogs currently hold the advantage. They have defeated both the Mavericks and Wolves already and winning on Sunday would give them the tie-breaker over the Wolves should it be needed. Neither side has a high scoring offence so it looks set to be another defensive battle this weekend. This game will be crucial for both sides, as with the Admirals and Titans steaming ahead, there will only be one place available in the Bowl for those chasing it. It’s now about who wants it more.