Shamrock Bowl Semi-Final Previews

(cover photo by Media 401 Productions)

Belfast Trojans vs. University of Limerick Vikings

Well these two are building up quite the post season rivalry aren’t they? A rematch of last year’s semi-final and the previous year’s Shamrock Bowl game itself, this game has all the makings of a classic.

The Vikings will be itching for revenge, having lost out on those two occasions but it’s not going to be easy, as they’ll be going up against a hungry Belfast Trojans looking to make a threepeat on the Championship.

The Northerners have wrapped up the Bowl for the last two years, unbeaten on both occasions, but this year is a little different. They no longer stand upon a pedestal and above everybody else in the League. They tasted defeat, to Trinity, for the first time since the playoffs in 2011, and they’ll be sure to want another crack at the students for revenge and to show they’re still the big boys to beat in Ireland.

The Vikings have been lurking in the long grass for much of the year. They have a lot of first year players and tasted disappointing defeat to TCD on their first game of the season before having their hearts broken by the Rebels in the dying seconds of their second game. But from there on in it’s been plain sailing for UL. The team has bowled over their seven opponents since and remain unbeaten since March, mixing a dynamic offence with a powerful defence. They truly are dark horses in this final 4, and could certainly cause an upset not only here in the semi-final, but also in the Bowl game.

Players to watch – 

Belfast:  Everybody. Seriously. This team has unreal talent from quarterback James McKelvey who is dangerous with his passing arm and his feet, running backs David Colvin, Neil Montgomery and Alex Newton, who can all be incredibly dangerous in their own ways and receivers David Richardson, Fu Faapito and Andrew Wright. Their offensive line only adds to their prowess whilst on defence the line is menacing, with Patrick McElkerney and Teddy Canty causing all kinds of problems to O-lines this year.

In the middle of the park the linebacking corps is full of talent, with Neil Graham and Connor Whitla racking up tackles this year, whilst Rob Lyttle will be eager to impress after missing much of the year.

In the secondary, Jon-Erik Talvio has been impressive, scoring two pick sixes in his debut IAFL year, whilst Chris Mikhael has continued to dominate from the defensive back position.

UL: The Vikings have had a few players come and go this year but the core group of talent remains and is going to pose a danger to the Trojans. Long-standing quarterback Marc Ashworth is gone, but in his place is the experienced Glen Carr, who has performed admirably by passing for four TDs and rushing for another during the remainder of the regular season. His hurdle on the run over a player during the year earned him the nickname “Air”, an impressive feat for a 285lb former lineman!

Carr’s weapons on offence remain much the same as the past few years with Sean Goldrick and Adrian Garvey continuing to wreak havoc. Sean Sheehy’s work on offence and on special teams also makes him a dangerous player whilst the emerging talent of rookie tight end Jake Kelly has been a feather in the cap of a high octane UL offence.

On defence the Vikings’ front 7 is probably the most feared in Irish football. Featuring Eoin Whelan (back after missing the wildcard game), Shane Gleeson, John Mullen and Ian Cahill, the defensive line has piled up the sacks and tackles this campaign whilst being backed up by an impressive linebacker corps. They play as a unit and will be tough to break down. Watching the Trojan offence and the Viking defence is going to be one of the highlights of the season for sure.

Trinity College Dublin vs. Dublin Rebels

This game has been billed as the “Mackdowell Bowl” by many people around the League on social networks (you’ve no doubt seen the Gary Sommerville video by now, and if you haven’t you really need to watch it for some tongue-in-cheek fun from the Rebels’ legendary wide receiver). And sure, Simon Mackey and Rob McDowell will be two highlights of this game. But it’s so much more than those two players.

The game is another rematch from last year’s semi-finals, one which the Rebels came out as victors. This year however, Trinity come into the bout as undefeated SBC South Champions, standing tall with an 8-0 record and entering the playoffs as number 1 seeds, ahead of the Belfast Trojans, whose undefeated streak was ended by the students in an emphatic 18-0 victory at Deramore Park earlier in the year.

Last year the Rebels probably entered as slight favourites. This year they’ll go into the game as underdogs. Their 7&1 season was impressive for sure, their only loss coming against the Trojans, and they have all the talent to go all the way, but Trinity’s offence has been impossible to stop for any team thus far in 2014. Can the most successful team in IAFL history halt TCD and head to the Bowl yet again?

Players to watch-

Trinity College Dublin- of course Rob McDowell. The running back has 17 total touchdowns, 16 along the ground and one on special teams. His speed and ability to find a gap and his agility to get through it untouched makes McDowell one of the most feared players in the League.

He’ll be backed up on offence by a high powered passing game led by young quarterback Dan Finnamore. Out of the Russell Kerley school of quarterbacking at the Drogheda Lightning, Finnamore has had a fine debut Shamrock Bowl season, passing for more touchdowns than any other quarterback (18) and finding 6 different receivers for scores. Daniel Murphy, David Lunn and Stephen Alexander have stepped up extremely well as receivers, aiding their quarterback with useful yards after the catch on every reception.

The offensive line has size, agility and excellent technique, protecting Finnamore well in the pocket and making the gaps that allow McDowell to do his job.

On defence Trinity have a dominant defensive line, with Eoghan Hurley and German Velderrain both picking up points for the team this year. Meanwhile, Alex Gurnee, who plays linebacker as well as tight end on offence, often makes a menace of himself, and will be one to watch on the defensive side of the ball.

Dublin Rebels – Simon Mackey. The top scorer in the Shamrock Bowl Conference this year is not only a danger on offence but a menace from defensive end too, on the occasions he plays on defence. His ability to break tackles or to just carry would-be tacklers along with him make him a very difficult player to halt. If he wants to go to the end zone, he tends to find his way there.

Along with Mackey, the Rebels’ offence is loaded. Andrew Dennehy is one of the most experienced and gifted quarterbacks in the Irish game. He has been to the Bowl game multiple times and knows what it takes and what it means to lift that trophy.

His receiving corps includes Chris Purdy and Peter Keely along with the tight end partners, Paul Grogan and Ciaran O’Toole, all of whom are incredibly dangerous targets for Dennehy to pick out just as a defence is beginning to press on Mackey too much.

But Dennehy will be the first to talk up the offensive line. The Rebels’ OL is fearsome, and they protect their quarterback well as well as opening the lanes for Mackey to run into.

On defence Marcus Naylor, Steve Walsh and Kevin Finnegan have over 40 years experience of playing the game between them. You cannot buy that experience, and it will come in useful when they line up alongside the Rebels’ many rookies and first year defensive players. Watch out for Finnegan in particular to lead this D from the middle of the park and to attempt to contain Finnamore and McDowell.

The MackDowell Bowl indeed. There’ll be many more players to watch at Westmanstown on Sunday. But do keep an eye on those two, anything can happen when they get the ball.