IAFA Week #6 Previews

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IAFA Week 6

This Weekends Fixtures

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West Dublin Rhinos @ Tyrone Titans

The Rhinos got off to a great start turning over the Bulldogs who, in beating the Trojans, didn’t start badly themselves. The Titans are a team undergoing a very serious rebuild and have looked like it, losing out to the Soldiers and Trojans.
A stuttering start for the Dubs, after their first game didn’t happen but it didn’t appear upset them too much and that SBC pedigree we spoke of showed itself vs the Bulldogs. Veteran defenders Barry Bolton and Darragh McDonnell getting the scores. The lack of offensive output in that game has to be a concern but the Bulldogs shutting out the Trojans the week before would appear to indicate that they will a tough challenge for most to score on this year. The Titans unfortunately haven’t been as robust and with so much of offence reliant on momentum the Rhinos need to build some here. Offence hasn’t exactly flowed the last few years for them and this will be an opportunity to get it going. Cork are flying and running up scores, defence alone won’t win this division and the Rhinos have to fancy their chances after such a strong start.
For the Titans, focus has to be on themselves. There is little to be gained treating a game vs the Rhinos different from the Trojans or any other team in this division. Football teams don’t work when they turn the ball over and be it play calling or decision making that needs to be eradicated. When building a house you start from the ground up and so it is with football. 1. Stop the run. 2 establish the run. Priority 1 and 2 for the Northmen. There are 10 Sundays for the Titans to get these two things right and realistically be in a position to challenge next year.

Westmeath Minotaurs @ Waterford Wolves

These teams played two weeks ago and it came down to a failed 2point attempt. This is going to be a statement of who has used the intervening week the best. A win for the Wolves will have given confidence to a team sorely in need of it and for the Minotaurs, a team that didn’t win last year, getting the whiff of victory will have seen their hunger reignite in the hunt for the elusive W.
This series is going to be huge in the make up of the final positions. In all likelihood, neither of these teams are going to the bowl but a playoff spot is possible. The Rhinos, Admirals, Bulldogs & Trojans have set the pace but if any of those teams slip, one of these has to be the one to step up. The Wolves have experience of this as it almost perfectly describes their IAFL1 campaign last year and that ended with a championship. Before focusing on what’s ahead this series has to be dealt with, with so few games the tiebreakers are key and Waterford need put this one in their pocket and attack the rest of the division.
The Minotaurs can lay equal claim to this series, chances are if they win, it will be by more than 2 points. That’s just a statistical reality. So a win, in most forms, puts the Minotaurs in the best position to pick off which ever the weakest link in the leading four teams happens to be. Niall Folan is one of the more prolific receivers in the country, keep throwing him the ball and find ways to make gains on the ground off it, the ingredients are there in Westmeath but can they bake this pie and earn a playoff spot. We’ll find out.

Trinity @ North Kildare Reapers

Trinity are slowly looking like they’re pulling it together. They looked at sea on the opening day but dealing with a tough Craigavon team followed by a close run game with Bowl Contenders UL, will be encouragement for this young side. The Reapers have yet to score on offence in two division games and they’ve allowed 75 points. There is no way to paint that as a positive. Likely the other three teams in this division are headed for the playoffs and the Reapers need to have a different set of goals this year.
The partnership between Stephen Alexander and Conor O’Dwyer is starting to blossom and we’ve said before the students now need to focus on their new strengths rather than try to replicate the strength of old. This combo is that new strength. Kildare have struggled to defend the pass and Trinity should look to exploit that with this new identity. They’re reigning division champions and although they’re behind in the early going they won’t want to relinquish that title without a fight. They can ill afford slips here.
The Reapers need to establish their offence and like we mentioned earlier, that starts on the ground. Losing their OC with just weeks to go to the season is playing out in the worst way possible for the Reapers and it will be a battle all year to overcome that. That said, they’ve shown moments in the run game. The Reapers defensively have to stop the rot here and now. It’s tough if you’re constantly up against short fields but that’s their lot this season and the defence will have to start absorbing the slack as their offence tries to regain it’s feet.

South Dublin Panthers @ Belfast Trojans

The last two games combined for these teams adds up to 128 points. That’s 60% of the points scored in the SBC North. The Trojans stomped all over the Cowboys and the Panthers have had to wash out some Rebels footprints in the last two weeks. These two teams will have very different ambitions this season and this is likely the only time they’ll have to consider each other.
The Trojans opened up in fine fashion vs the Cowboys. Rather than being exceptional in their biggest ever win, they were just themselves and their neighbours paid for every special teams mistake, every turnover and every ill advised 4th down attempt with 7 points on the score board. The Green Machine had to start maybe 3 drives in their own half all day. The Trojans were exceptional in their unspectacular play. If the Trojans managed 62 points without playing extremely well (by their standards) what does that mean for the rest of the conference? What does it mean for the Panthers who are next in the firing line?
There is more to be learned from the Cowboys performance vs the Trojans than there is from the Trojans. Likewise, more to be learned from their own performance vs the Rebels than from anything the Rebels did. Mistakes will end any hope of a competitive game; fast! Realistically there is no plan for beating the Trojans, that starts with anything the Trojans do, focus for the Panthers must be on not turning the ball over on offence, granting McKelvey and co short fields to attack, and special teams play that keeps two of the more explosive Trojan weapons sheathed, Messrs Armstrong and Siri. The Trojans can be better than they were vs the Cowboys, it will be a bad day indeed for the Panthers if they present them any extra opportunities to show it.

UCD @ UL Vikings

Too early in the year for a decider? This game is huge! Both of these teams have already beaten Trinity so chances are one of them is going to be the SBC South Champion. UL are only getting going, whereas UCD are in full flow.
Tom Donovan has scored 10 touchdowns thus far. UL have scored 6. Something UL do excel at is containing your star and forcing the other 10 guys to win the game. The importance of this game cannot be underestimated for UL. It’s been too long since their last bowl appearance and part of that is because they haven’t won the SBC South and keep running into the Trojans in the Semis. A win here puts them in the driving seat in the division. They’d have liked to be clearer winners vs Trinity considering how efficiently UCD handled them but it’s as an encouraging a sign to dig out wins as it is to run up scores. Digging deep is something built into the fabric of this UL side.
UCD have looked good in all phases of the game so far and that’s usually a recipe for success. They’ve only allowed 9 points in 3 games and rather than running up huge scores, have consistently scored 3 or more touchdowns. Why does that matter? Scoring and successfully adding a PAT three times a game wins you 90% of games in this country. Games against UL are a hard hitting slog, especially on a field that ins’t the best around. Without the Trojans on their schedule this is likely to be the toughest game of the regular season for UCD. Win here and a bowl appearance wouldn’t not only be a realistic, it would be the minimum expectation.

Week 4 IAFA Previews!

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IAFA Week 4

This Weekends Fixtures

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PSNI Razorbacks @ Donegal/Derry Vipers

IAFL 2! Finally! The hugely successful development league is back and with a new team or three in tow. The Vipers will still be feeling those beatings at the hands of the Trojans last year but showed some real spark as the season closed. It takes time to get your feet under you on a football field when you’ve joined an experienced team. When near everyone is a rookie it’s all the more impressive that they have established themselves they way they have. The Vipers need to get themselves IAFL1 ready this year. So getting the essentials right is the name of the game. The essentials will win this division.
The Razorbacks are an interesting prospect. A little like a college team, in that they have closed base to recruit from, a closed base that requires a fitness test to enter in the first place! They’ve brought in some coaches with experience and we’re really interested to see the standard they can achieve right from the off! The popularity of football is still on the rise and the Razorbacks are the 3rd new team in as many years to make it to the regular season from Ulster. Still, football is unforgiving and after being on the receiving end of hidings last year, the Vipers will look to dish some out this season. The Razorbacks opening will be telling in terms of the shape this division will take this season.

Waterford Wolves @ Westmeath Minotaurs

The Wolves didn’t get off to a great start vs Cork and the Minotaurs haven’t started at all! With perhaps some of the cobwebs shaken loose the Wolves will see this as a chance to get themselves back to the kind of form they closed 2015 with. They’re weaker, no doubt, but the Minotaurs are undergoing a rebirth of their own and the Wolves shouldn’t be shy about attacking them while they’re still figuring it out. They might not get another chance. A bad season could spell disaster for the Wolves, confidence and momentum can often be as important as results. The Wolves will need some of all three this year to begin their rebuild.
The Midlanders, like we said last week, have to draw a line under 2015 and move on. All external signs seem to point they have. They have ability and athleticism, anyone who has seen them play can attest to that, but at times they just blow it and nothing works. Getting the simple stuff right will lead to success for the Minotaurs, not winning the division success just yet but winning games. The Wolves might fancy this one but there’s no reason Westmeath shouldn’t for the same reasons. A team that may be reeling and just trying to keep the show on the road. We’re prepared to be slated by the purists for this but the Minotaurs flag team is one of the best around, throw the ball! Cork proved if you can do that consistently teams will really struggle to stop you.

West Dublin Rhinos @ Meath Bulldogs

Are the Bulldogs favourites for this division? They’ve been there abouts for a few years now but never outright favourites from the get go. They’ve beaten the Trojans, Trojan rookies or not, thats not something a lot can lay claim to. If they win tomorrow vs a Rhinos team with a lot of SBC experience, favourites, clear favourites, would be the only description that could be fair. The Bulldogs have never been the sort to run up huge scores but play a brand of hard nosed defence combined with a smash mouth run game that grinds teams down and lends itself to winning late, like they did last time out. If they can score early against a Rhinos team that hans’t been prolific on offence for a number of years they could control this game, the division and invite the rest begin the chase.
Rhinos football finally! The ambulance isn’t really a thing that should be happening to a team that have been around and organised as long as the Rhinos have but it’s done now and football is finally on the agenda. IAFL 1 for the Rhinos is like starting over again, and that’s not such a bad thing. The SBC can be very cruel if the wrong things don’t work out for you and it’s very hard to steady a ship mid season. The Rhinos have a great opportunity to attack this division with a new focus and simpler way of doing things. As tough as the Bulldogs will be this might be just the game to get started with. We used the words ‘hard nosed’ and ‘smash mouth’ to describe the Bulldogs, the very same identity claimed by the Rhinos for years. This is the kind of football they want to play. They’re going to get it and you won’t find anyone in Rhinoland unhappy with that.

North Kildare Reapers @ UL Vikings

Early in the year judging this kind of game can be a lot of guess work. UCD battered Trinity and demolished the Reapers but haven’t played UL. Trinity did well against UL, so are UCD just really strong and Trinity improved vs UL or are UL not as strong as UCD. Our Guess is UL are UL and they’re entire plan is to steam roll everything they meet. The Reapers need to be careful here. They can’t let their season spiral out of control and as we saw last week when the Rebels demolished the Panthers in the second half, control is a hard thing to keep a grip of in the SBC. The Vikings have no interest in playing the Trojans for a 3rd year in a row in the Semi Final. They need to win the division and do it convincingly and this is a division game.
For the Reapers it’s going to be a big ask. This game was 18-0 last year which on the face of it isn’t terrible but that was the game Adrian Garvey went down in and it took time for the UL offence to recover, not only in that game but through the season. UL aren’t in the habit of passing the ball a whole lot so getting after that back field will have to be the name of the game and that includes QB Ian Cahill in the run game. Focus too much on Shane Gleeson and others, Cahill will be gliding past your backside contain and up the sideline before you know what’s happened. Limerick are going to get behind that line and Shane Gleeson and aim to blast everyone they meet off the ball. The Reapers must throw everything into the battle in the trenches to get anything from this game.

Belfast Trojans @ Craigavon Cowboys

The Cowboys really put it up to Trinity and much has been made of what Trinity have lost but they have the joint leading passer in the SBC and one of the more exciting running backs around. The Cowboys ran them very very close. The Cowboys have been building quietly for a number of years now, doubling down no the talent they already have in house and recruiting well. The development of some of the younger guys in Craigavon will be particularly pleasing and a core of players that have been together for some years now is usually the recipe for success. Opening your season vs both of last years Shamrock Bowl teams is a cruel twist of scheduling but the Cowboys will be eager to show that even if they don’t pick up any points they will be ready to take on the rest of their schedule without fear of anyone left on it.
Much like all great teams, it’s getting to the point that a lot of teams are beaten before ever going on the field vs the Trojans. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope here for the Cowboys, David Richardson is still serving his suspension and due to playing last week for the #2s Neil Montgomery won’t be playing. Those are two linchpins of the Trojan offence. Keeping this game close for a stretch could lead the Cowboys to grow in confidence and feel there is something to be had here. But the Trojans have battered the Cowboys at every outing in recent times. 98 net points in favour of the Trojans last season. The Trojan defence will need to keep the Peter Loughran/Conrad Smith combo in check to stop the Cowboys growing in confidence; especially if the offence is taking time to right itself missing their weapons.

IAFA Week 3 Previews: SBC & IAFL 1

IAFA

Week 3 in the IAFA and the 2 O’Clock kick offs are back and with it; 5 games! IAFL 1 tops the bill with 3 and the Rebels and UL get underway for the first time this season in the SBC.

IAFA Week 3

This Weekends Fixtures

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South Kildare Soldiers @ Cork Admirals

Both winners in Game One after the Ads dismissed the Wolves and the Soldiers got life in IAFL 1 off to a positive start. The caveat, on both of those results, the opponents weren’t at the peak of their powers. Not intending to disrespect the Titans or Wolves but both would admit they have work to do this season to get back to the level they were at last season.
For the Soldiers, this will be an interesting test in how far they have really come. Cork put Waterford to the sword and were firing in all three phases, the Titans were not. To be a winning team, rather than one that wins occasionally, you have to be able to do what Cork did and punish teams for their mistakes. The Soldiers came out well ahead in the turnover ratio vs the Titans and perhaps should have made more of their opponents weakness. Corks error won’t be as frequent so capitalising on any will be vital for the Soldiers.
Cork were hugely impressive in Game One. Winning in devastating fashion and looking every bit the outfit that seemed to be coasting to 8 wins last season. The Ads weren’t undone last season by not respecting their opponents and there is no reason to believe that they will underestimate the Soldiers here. This game can get tricky if they allow it. The Soldiers have a depth of experience their ‘new club’ status belies. We’re guiltier than most about waxing lyrical about the impressive Stephen Hayes but encouraging for Cork, the performance of the defence and the establishment of the run game. The Admirals looking more and more like the complete article every week.

Westmeath Minotaur @ Louth Mavericks

Game One for both of these teams and a big season ahead. The Mavs travelled all the way to Castleknock only to have the rug pulled by a no show (or a no book, depending who you ask) ambulance. The Minotaurs frankly had a disastrous season last year and 2016, whatever it brings, can’t start soon enough.
Zero wins, averaging 25 points allowed per game and only offering a measly 6 in return. 2015 needs to be consigned to the history books and those books burned with fire until they are gone! Every new season offers new opportunities and them Minotaurs haven’t been idle waiting for them to present themselves. They’ve spent the off season restructuring, expanding their base and (the 4th team in as many years) renaming! (Why is everyone changing their name by the way?) Hanging around and hoping things improve isn’t in the DNA of the Westmeath outfit. Born of a desire to forge their own destiny in midlands, the Minotaurs have every reason to feel they can achieve better this year. Feeling it and doing it are different things though.
The impressive work behind the scenes in Louth continues and although no off field organisation ever won a football game, they put football players in the best situation to win them, just ask the crowd a few more miles up the M1. That is a way off for the Mavericks just yet but all the signs look good. We said a few weeks ago in our preview that consistency was key now for the Mavs and that still holds true. A team that have flashed brilliance and a team that have baffled on occasion. This game will be one they will look to as they push for the play offs. Focus has to be here and now, look past the Minotaurs at your peril.

Belfast Trojans 2s @ Tyrone Titans

The Trojans 2s annihilated everyone last year and perhaps they expected the same in IAFL1 but it was not to be. Trojan teams of all descriptions have only lost 3 games in 4 years so that’s not a small deal. The Titans seem to have imploded in the off season and on their first outing the worst seems to have been realised.
The Titans turned the ball over a lot (a lot a lot) vs the Soldiers and while that is bad, the fact those turnover resulted in only 3 scores is some conciliation. That kind of defensive resilience could be vital this year to stop it turning to disaster. This could be the wrong game at the wrong time in a number of ways. The Trojans didn’t win last time out but blooding their rookies and those same rookies spend the next few weeks at practice with the best around; we could see them in the mood to do some damage vs a weakened opponent. Sometimes the job of an offence is to play smart and possess the ball keeping the defence as fresh as possible. There can’t even be a few turnovers in this game because the Trojans, rookies or not, will punish them in way the Soldiers didn’t.
Winning isn’t an accident and you don’t have streaks like the Trojans do without an appropriate response to losing. We expect to see that this weekend. The 1s haven’t played yet so we could see a few make an appearance here as the trip isn’t as far as it was to Meath. This team will be expected to win the IAFL1 and that will not be lost on them. Another small motivator here, though for which team we cannot say, the Titans former Head Coach Paul Braniff is now the roving the sidelines for the Trojans.

Dublin Rebels @ South Dublin Panthers

The Rebels were beaten by a point in both their opening two games last year, they recovered from the opening wobble but ultimately never fired on all cylinders the way they know they need to to win a bowl game. The Panthers showed promise, wins against Carrickfergus and UCD coupled with close games vs Trinity, the Rebels and Cowboys suggested things could be finally moving the right direction for the rebranded Dragons.
Two bad losses at the end of 2015 seems to have had a hangover effect into 2016 as the Panthers lost their opening game to the Knights. There was positives to be seen but losing to team that you beat last year can’t help but be seen as a step backwards. After comfortably winning the last game between these two the Rebels can be forgiven for feeling the same should be on the agenda and the Panthers will need to rediscover their forward momentum early on to prevent it. Every team in the SBC should believe playoff football is a possibility and with the weather set to be rough the Panthers will have to contain the Rebels explosive run game and another duck egg just won’t cut it.
The Rebels can ill afford early slips this season. The last bowl win is a while ago now and none associated with the Rebels will think that acceptable. Trinity have proven the playoff stumbling block the last two outings and with an ultra competitive SBC South, the Rebels won’t want to arrive in the playoffs only half cooked. Starting hot and keeping the momentum all the way through could see them break down the Semi Final barrier that has scuppered them the last two seasons.

UL Vikings @ Trinity

UL were supposed to open the season with a blockbuster home game but instead are opening it with a trip to Dublin. Trinity are already a quarter way through their year!
It’s been a mixed bag for Trinity so far. It’s hard for a team with the most explosive offence in recent years to stomach a zero, regardless of the final result, and the UCD game would have been hard for them to accept. The improvement vs the Cowboys saw the offence come to life but the Craigavon unit made them earn it and the result was in doubt all the way to the 4th quarter. UL present a similar challenge to that of the Cowboys. Physicality and power is what the UL offence is based on and the Trinity defence is still finding it’s feet, allowing 3 touchdowns in both outings. It takes some time to shake the cobwebs, if you’ve got any, and Game 3 is usually where we see teams still waking up, fire into life.
UL open 2016 without excuses. They’ve run Belfast closer than most in the last few times and now a slightly more settled and expanded offence could be the push they need. They need to win the South and avoid another Semi Final against the Champions. Getting that bye week and a chance to rest at a vital time in the year could be much of the difference they need. Trinity and UCD must be conquered and as much hype as there was (and we added to) about the intended opener, this game is more important. There can be no slips, there can only be results if the 5 in a row is to prevented.

IAFL 1 Strength of Schedule

The IAFA 1 schedule is with us (see it here) so we gave it the same treatment as the SBC and ranked the schedule.

Lets referesh the rules; we assigned a number of points indicating how hard that particular team is to play. The higher the points the harder that team is to play. This number was mainly based upon where this team finished last year or indeed the Division they played in and any modifiers we think are worth adding on or taking off a point for and we’ll explain those as we go. So here is the IAFL 1 rankings

Belfast Trojans 2nds
2015 Final Rank: 10 points. Stomped all over IAFL2
Modifier less clear because the Trojans 2’s weren’t in this division so we’ll explain our choice to give them 10 points. They’re still allowed use some of their seniors and past behaviour being the best indicator of future behaviour, the IAFL1 can expect to see some very experienced very talented Trojans players this year. Also they have a pretty decent record of producing hugely effective rookies….Jonathan Siri anyone?
Total: 10 Points

West Dublin Rhinos
2015 Final Rank: 10 Points. Last in SBC
Modifier 0. Last in SBC is 1 position higher than top of IAFL 1. The Rhinos are founded on mean defences and now with former Defensive Coordinator Robbie Andrews at the helm, expect recommitment to this policy. Also, this division has been won for the last few years by teams relegated from the SBC.
Total: 10 Points

Waterford Wolves
2015 Final Rank: 10 Points. IAFL 1 Champions!
Modifier -1. The Wolves won the division but when presented with the opportunity to play SBC football once more, they sighted concerns over their ability to fulfil that schedule. IAFL1 and SBC have the same about of games so that concern has to still hold true.
Total: 9 Points

Cork Admirals 
2015 Final Rank: 9 Points. IAFL 1 Runners Up
Modifier 0. The Admirals sauntered through most of last season, with Steve Hayes racking up record numbers. When injuries hit and teams maybe spotted a weakness in Cork and upped the physicality they faltered.
Total: 9 Points

Meath Bulldogs
2015 Final Rank: 8 points. 3rd place
Modifier 0. Bulldogs missed out on the IAFL1 final they were hosting after losing to Waterford following a late season surge.
Total: 8 Points

Tyrone Titans
2015 Final Rank: 7 points. 4th Place
Modifier 0. The Titans started well last season but limped home after a number of key injuries. Definitely  have the quality to be better but they will need to stay healthy.
Total: 7 Points

Louth Mavericks
2015 Final Rank: 6 points. 5th Place
Modified 0. A new name and a new direction? Maybe. The Mavs keep showing progress but still trail the top of the division by a small margin.
Total: 6 Points

Westmeath Minotaurs
2015 Final Rank: 5 Points. Last Place
Modifier 0. The Minotaurs will be the first to tell you they regressed last year but have made some internal changes and broadened their base looking to reverse their fortunes.
Total: 5 Points

South Kildare Soldier
2015 Final Rank: 4 Points. Runner up in IAFL 2.
Modifier 0. Still some way to go to get to the performance levels of perhaps the Titans & Mavs but a step up in division will move them in the right direction.
Total: 4 Points


Notes

Remember just like the SBC we are going to add a point of difficulty for every back to back week of play and deduct a point of difficulty for every 3 week break.


 

Weakest Schedule
Belfast Trojans! Strength Score: 54.
The Trojans are one of the hardest ranked teams, can’t play themselves and only play the Rhinos once, don’t play Waterford or Cork.

2nd Weakest
Waterford Wolves. Strength Score: 56.
Don’t play the Trojans and play low ranked Minotaurs twice.

7th Ranked Schedule
Cork Admirals. Strength Score: 58
Double header with Waterford will be the toughest challenge, by the numbers, for Cork this year. Double header vs lowest Ranked Soldiers and no game vs Trojans.

6th Ranked Schedule
Westmeath Minotaurs. Strength Score: 61
Wolves and Soliders are the double headers for the Minotaurs, a Trojans game bumps up the difficulty somewhat.

5th Ranked Schedule
South Kildare Soldiers. Strength Score: 64
The back and forth between the Soldiers & Minotaurs might be one of the highlights of the season in this division. Games vs the Trojans and Cork will make it tough sledding for the Soldiers.

4th Ranked Schedule
Tyrone Titans. Strength Score: 65
Double header vs the two top teams, Trojans & Rhinos. A single game vs the Bulldogs could determine so much this year, like last year.

Tied 4th Ranked Schedule
West Dublin Rhinos. Strength Score: 65
Double headers vs the Titans & Bulldogs make this schedule a bit harder than the numbers suggest. No games vs the two lost ranked teams and an outing vs the Trojans will test the Rhinos promotion hopes.

2nd Strongest Schedule
Meath Bulldogs. Strength Score: 67
The Bulldogs get all the teams ranked above them and a double header vs the Rhinos. Winning promotion will be tough for the Bulldogs who’ve been banging on the ceiling of the IAFL 1 for a few years now.

Strongest Schedule
Louth Mavericks. Strength Score: 68
Double header vs the Trojans skyrockets your difficulty levels, but the Rhinos, Wolves & Admirals showing up in the schedule won’t help matters. The Mavs have the strongest schedule this year and will find it tough to push into the top half of the division as a result, they seem up for the fight though.