NFL-Ireland’s Week 16: Game Previews

The countdown begins! Three weeks for teams to secure their future whether it be to clinch a playoff berth, a division title or simply to avoid the dreaded fate of relegation. From here on out; it’s do or die in the quest for post-season football.

Winning is everything, but even that may not be enough as we enter the stage of the season when complicated head-to-head tie-breakers come into effect. We will do our best to keep you in the loop as things progress but there is plenty to be determined over the coming weeks as the end to the regular season draws ever closer!

thumb_ULlogo UL Vikings (5-2) @ South Dublin Panthers (2-4) thumb_panthers  – Garda RFC, 2pm.

The Vikings will be heading to South Dublin the face the Panthers this Sunday looking to improve on their recent defeat to the Rebels, whilst the Dubliners need a victory to keep their own ambitions alive!

After a strong start to the season, the Vikings ship has started to capsize after suffering back-to-back defeats to both Trinity College and more recently, the Dublin Rebels. They looked odd’s on to clinch their first division title since 2012 but those defeats have left the title wide open for Trinity to grasp. TCD hold the tie-breaker advantage over UL with a superior points difference over the two games, so victory for the Vikings in Dublin would merely put pressure on the students to win all their remaining games.

The South Dublin Panthers defeated UCD 15-8 two weeks ago, which now looks to be a crucial outcome in the wildcard standings. Both sides rest on a (2-4) record, but the Panthers now hold the all-important H2H over the students. We’ve mentioned in the past the difficulty of the Panthers schedule, and their end of season run couldn’t be much tougher. The men from Westmanstown need to beat both the Vikings and the Rebels in their last two games and hope other results go their way in order to reach the playoff’s.

The Vikings will be heading into Sunday looking to overturn their disappointing defeats. They have welcomed back dynamic duo Alvaro Martinez and Marc Ashworth in recent weeks that will add great quality to the squad as the look to head into the post-season on winning form. The Panthers need two massive performances to improve their playoff chances and with UL on a downward slope, this could be their chance to steal a crucial win.

thumb_UCDlogo University College Dublin (2-4) @ North Kildare Reapers (3-3) thumb_reapersLogo2  – North Kildare Sports Club, 2pm.

Few weeks ago it seemed these two sides were better situated to reach the wildcard round, but considering recent results it looks more likely that victory for one team could have damaging consequences on the other.

UCD’s tremendous IAFL-1 form last season has failed materialize to life back in the Shamrock Bowl Conference. Home wins, including the giant killing against the Dublin Rebels and the 13-0 point swing over the struggling West Dublin Rhinos, has been met with three defeats on the trot that now leaves their playoff chances hanging in the balance. University rivals Trinity College await them in Week 18 with their own goals in mind so last years Shamrock Bowl finalists won’t be doing them any favours. That makes this Sunday’s game in Kildare pivotal as once again the H2H tie-breaker will become important.

The Reapers defence will be tasked of stopping the high powered UCD offence. Photo by Charisse Mae Ducao
The Reapers defence will be tasked of stopping the high powered UCD offence. Photo by Charisse Mae Ducao

Out of all the sides within touching distance of the wildcard spots, you’d have to say the North Kildare outfit are in the most advantageous position. The Reapers could book their place in the playoffs this weekend if they win against UCD, no questions asked. Alternative methods include; (1) losing to UCD, but defeating the Knights, or (2) fail to win both games, so long as the Cowboys don’t beat the Trojans and the Panthers fail to win both of their remaining games. Of course, aiming to win on Sunday would be a much simpler approach.

Overturning defeats so late in the season is a tricky task with so much at stake. There is a strong possibility that two South division sides could take both wildcard spots, but that will be dependant on the outcome of this game. Whoever takes home the ‘W’ will be in a much better place to make that final jump into the promise land, however the losing side will have an agonising wait on the final day.

thumb_CKlogo Carrickfergus Knights (1-5) @ Dublin Rebels (3-3) thumb_DRlogo  – Seapoint RFC, 2pm.

Hard to believe that two teams predicted to compete for at least 2nd place in the North division are siting uncertain in their current positions. The Rebels are yet to seal the automatic playoff spot whilst the Knights will be praying they can seal their SBC status.

The Knights will be aiming to outscore the Rebels on Sunday. Photography by Ariane Boudias
The Knights will be aiming to outscore the Rebels on Sunday. Photo by Ariane Boudias

It has been a long a 12 weeks since the Knights picked up their only win against the Cowboys in an impressive 34-12 performance back in March. On the contrary, last Sunday was a sight to behold as the ‘Black and Gold’ surrendered a 22 point lead within the final 5 mins against the aforementioned Cowboys. That win would have given Carrickfergus some breathing room over the Rhinos; now the chances of slipping into IAFL-1 have greatly increased. The only way to stop the rot is to win, starting with the road trip down south to face fierce rivals, the Dublin Rebels.

As mentioned, the Rebels currently reside in 2nd place but their position is not yet confirmed. Defeating the Carrickfergus Knights would secure that spot without any doubt, but defeat would leave them looking over their shoulder. Mathematically, only the South Dublin Panthers could steal second away from them on the H2H rule, but they would need to beat UL first and then defeat the Rebels by 10 points or better. The Rebels recently defeated their historic counterparts the Vikings 21-14 two weeks ago and will be feeling confident ahead of the Knights visit.

The opposing sidelines will be feeling very different levels of pressure on Sunday. The Rebels will know that a win will see them make yet another playoff appearance, but they will still be cautious of a Knights side fighting for survival. Carrick on the other hand will need to go for it! They MUST win against either the Rebels or Reapers if not both to remain in the top tier, as the Rhino’s hold the H2H stakes. It really is all or nothing for the Carrickfergus Knights.

thumb_mullingarlogo Mullingar Minotaurs (0-6) @ Dundalk Mavericks (1-4) thumb_DMlogo1   – DIT, 2pm

It’s a case of 5th versus 6th in the IAFL-1 as the Mavericks host the Minotaurs in the only match in the division this weekend. Dundalk will be looking to clinch a victory that will just about keep them in contention for third. Mullingar will be aiming to end their chances.

Dermot Corroon could be the difference maker for the Minotaurs. Photo by Declan Forrest
Dermot Corroon could be the difference maker for the Minotaurs. Photo by Declan Forrest

The Minotaurs have had a tough time of it this year. They have struggled with numbers and have lost several players to injury and other commitments throughout the course of the campaign. Their goals for the season crumbled a long time ago, but with two games left in their schedule there is still time to earn a consolation victory. The Minotaurs have been steadily improving game after game, so maybe this is the weekend they put a win on the board.

The Mavericks have a flurry of games on the horizon, as they play 3 matches over the next 4 weeks. The Wolves and Admirals will provide tough challenges, but if they can get the better of Mullingar at DIT then they will set themselves up for a showdown with the Waterford Wolves in their last opportunity to make a 3rd place finish. Matty Hagan has been an explosive weapon for Dundalk this season and their defence has been fairly sound, but it’s the physical battles that have got the better of them recently with their last two games being decided by 4 points or less.

This game on paper should be closely contested, but the talent that both teams possess could also make it a high scoring encounter. The Mavericks home form this season has been stagnant whilst the Minotaurs have had similar struggles on the road, but something has got to give. Both teams are in desperate need of wins for one reason or another so this match is just as important as any they have faced this season.

10968328_827634113959732_1746668201097951904_n Galway Warriors (1-1-1) @ Donegal Derry Vipers (0-4) Vip  – Londonderry YMCA, 2pm.

Londonderry is the site for the only IAFL-2 game this weekend as Galway make the journey north to face the Vipers for the first time.

The Warriors have had mixed fortunes in their first 3 games. They overcame challengers the South Kildare Soldiers before going toe-to-toe in a 0-0 tie with the West Dublin Rhino’s 2nds. Their most recent contest took place in Belfast, when the Trojan 2nd’s put on a masterclass showing as the Warriors suffered an uncomfortable 60-7 defeat to the division leaders. Minus the heavy scoreline and the Warriors should feel content with their progress. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done on both sides of the ball, but they have half of their fixture still to play so plenty of time to keep improving.

The Vipers have come a long way since their first game of the season. They have improved at a tremendous rate and are starting to show the IAFL-2 what they are capable of. Their performances have shown grit and determination and the only thing that is missing now is the first win in the books. Quarterback, Nic Young is having a terrific debut season as he leads the team in offensive production. They may have conceded 198 points in 4 games, but 125 of those came against the all-conquering Belfast Trojans 2nd’s. Everyone else in the division has suffered the same fate so it is nothing to be ashamed of. The plus side however is the Vipers are scoring plenty of points of there own, totalling 53.

Both teams have a few games between them to make one last push towards a strong end to the year. When you take the Belfast Trojans out of the equation, as well as the much improved South Kildare Soldiers a third place finish for either side is a distinct possibility and should be considered an achievement in a tough division. These sides are very evenly matched on paper and should provide a more balanced outcome, rather than the typical blowout we’ve come to expect. The return leg takes place in July so this will be a great opportunity for this pair to improve their ‘W’ columns.

Published by Scott Morrow

Scott is an aspiring sports writer and has previous publications with Double Coverage, Touchdown Europe and American Football International. He has played football for both the Belfast Trojans and Dundee Hurricanes and currently lives in Scotland. He is also a fan of the Green Bay Packers!