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.
‘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.
‘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.’
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.’