The Cork Admirals were crowned IAFL 1 Champions on Sunday last in CIT when they comfortably defeated the Belfast Trojans 38-7 in the CAB Motors IAFL 1 Bowl Game. In glorious weather the two sides squared off on the pristine CIT Stadium Field in front of a raucous home support. The Admirals were dominant on both sides of the ball scoring four touchdowns on offence and one on defence while limiting the Trojans to a late consolation score.
The game started off with the Admirals hyped up but the offence a little nervy in the opening exchanges. A string of flags including one which nullified a big passing play and a couple of first downs were all the Admirals had to show for their first few possessions. The Cork defence was totally dominant from the go however. The Admirals linebacking corps of Chris Allen, Harris Monagan, John Madden and John O'Sullivan came out of the blocks quicker than Usain Bolt and Allen in particular was everywhere in the opening quarter. A promising opening drive from the Trojans was halted when cornerback Liam O'Leary wrestled a deep pass away from the intended receiver for the first turnover of the day. The following Trojans drive resulted in another turnover when Allen shot into the backfield forcing a fumble and veteran lineman Brian Leonard was quickest to react and gobble up the ball. The Trojans were forced to punt on their following possession but not before Allen and lineman Rob Fitton had pushed the Belfast outfit back. The defence went one step better the next time they took the field. With the Trojans backed up on their own goalline they were put under more pressure from a relentless Admirals unit. A fumbled exchange between the running back and quarterback under pressure from Leonard resulted in a live ball bobbling around in the end zone. Chris Allen was quickest to react and recover the ball for the first score of the game. The Admirals offence converted the two point try with quarterback Stephen Hayes connecting with tight end Paul O'Driscoll and the scoreboard read 8-0 Admirals.
The defence wasn't willing to take the foot off the pedal and secured another turnover almost immediately. O'Leary turned provider this time breaking up a pass and safety Ayo Mumuni got his hands on the ball before it hit the ground. This time the offence got into gear. Running back Vladimir "Vlady" La Greca broke off a pair of big runs before Hayes connected with O'Driscoll down the seam. O'Driscoll powered through an attempted tackle and ran in for a forty five yard score. Hayes followed up by finding Nic Coffi to convert the two point try and the Admirals were looking good at 16-0 with seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Admirals had a frustrating start to the second quarter when two drives ended in interceptions. The first set the Trojans up in good field position but a missed field goal attempt was all they could come up with. The second came on a fourth and long well inside the Trojans half and was worth a gamble. All the while La Greca was grinding out the yards and had one fantastic run for over thirty yards finishing with the Italian wrecking ball hurdling a defender in front of the Admirals bench.
The game turned a bit sloppy before the half with again two big Cork gains being called back on successive downs. The Trojans couldn't get anything going on offence and another drive was stuffed by Fitton in the backfield before Leonard who was a real handful all day got home for a sack on fourth down. With just a minute left in the second quarter the Admirals offence went to work in an effort to secure one more score before the halftime break. La Greca had a big run again on first down then receiver Cillian McGillycuddy was bundled over by a pair of Trojan defenders for a pass interference call. On the next play from scrimmage McGillycuddy picked up the ball on a short completion before spinning inside his man and sprinting across the field behind a huge block from right guard Séan Tynan all the way to the end zone for a twenty yard touchdown. Hayes found an open McGillycuddy again on the two point try and the Admirals took a 24-0 lead to the locker room at half time. Despite a few miscues and a hat full of penalties the offence had put a pair of scoring drives together while the Admirals defence had been dominant throughout turning the ball over four times and scoring once.
The Admirals had been in a similar position at the half twelve months previously but were in no mood to give up the lead on this occasion. The first possession after the break put the game beyond doubt. Simon "Kit" O'Keeffe got the Admirals off to a good start with a nice return on the kickoff to set up good field position. The offence hit the ground running and worked the ball down the field. The offensive line of James O'Brien, Séan Tynan, Rob Hennessy, Eoin Spillane and Eoin Lynch were opening up gaps and La Greca continued his hard running including one memorable play with two strong stiff arms and a whole host of would be tacklers shaken off. Hayes connected with McGillicuddy and O'Driscoll before a ball to Coffi on the sideline was taken all the way by the fleet footed Frenchman. On a play he had no right to score on Coffi ducked the first tackler before cutting inside another and sprinting past the cover for a thirty five yard score. Hayes connected with O'Driscoll again for the two point score and at 32-0 the Admirals were looking comfortable.
Things didn't improve for a Trojans offence who were under pressure to reply on the scoreboard. The defensive line of Fitton, Buckley , Murphy, Bryan O'Brien and Leonard continued to control the line of scrimmage. Allen and defensive end Kieran Murphy combined for a sack before Leonard again got home this time blocking a punt which was recovered by Cathal Buckley. With a short field to work with the Admirals pounced. Running back Brian McCarthy took the ball round the edge and walked into the corner of the end zone behind a pair of blocks from linemen Eoin Spillane and Séan Tynan. The two point try fell incomplete but the Admirals looked home and dry at 38-0.
The Trojans then had their best spell of the game. A long run on the first play set up an opportunity. More flags than the Olympic Games opening ceremony got the Trojans down to the one yard line and after an Admirals stop another flag for good measure handed them another first down. A nice play got the ball into the end zone. The Trojans quarterback who had been hounded all day avoided the rush and slipped the ball to an open back for a score. The PAT was good at the second attempt and the Trojans were on the board at 38-7.
The Admirals had time for one more clock churning drive. La Greca again had a few big carries and Hayes found Andrew Lyons, O'Driscoll and La Greca before connecting with Coffi on a beautifully thrown deep ball down the sideline. Yet another wave of flags cut the legs from the drive once the ball got inside the ten and a pass into the end zone on fourth down was just off the fingertips of a Cork receiver.
The Trojans had one last roll of the dice but veteran defensive back and linebacker John O'Sullivan picked off a pass attempt and took the ball deep down the field before being tackled by the last man. There was just enough time for injured Admirals quarterback Barry Rafferty to come in and kneel out the game while head coach Alan Lomasney was getting the Gatorade shower on the sideline for the second time this season.
The final whistle was greeted with great celebrations on the field and in the stands. Friends, family and spectators poured onto the playing area to congratulate the squad of players and coaches. Fourteen years after the club was formed and at the fourth attempt the club finally won a bowl game and got its hands on some silverware. Head coach Alan Lomasney and long time veteran and players Captain Rob Hennessey were the last to climb the steps and receive their medals before lifting the trophy. There was still time for speeches and for Chris Allen and Stephen Hayes to be named defensive and offensive MVPs.
Credit has to be given to the Trojans who were playing in this division with their second squad. They played a tough hard hitting game but came up against a team who were extremely motivated and focused on the day. The Trojans have been fantastic champions in recent years and have been humble in victory while on Sunday they were gracious in defeat remaining on the field until well after the final whistle.
So the Admirals finish the season undefeated at 10-0 for the first time in their history. This is a fantastic accomplishment as a long season with a number of potential stumbling blocks was navigated successfully. The reward for winning the IAFL 1 title for 2016 is promotion back to the Shamrock Bowl Conference for 2017 and the prospect of facing off against the top teams in American Football in Ireland. Plans for next year will have to start soon but the squad will take a little time to enjoy the win first.
From everyone at the club a big thanks has to go out to everyone who supports the club in any way.
To the players thank you for your blood, sweat, tears and the huge parts of your heart and soul you put into every minute of every training session and game.
To the coaches, thank you for your time, your selflessness and the commitment you have shown to improving the players, the team and the whole organisation.
To the supporters who come to the games, thank you for your support. We love the sport of american football but to see the numbers and hear the volume of the support on Sunday in particular was phenomenal for the players and coaches.
Thanks to our main club sponsors Stagparty.ie, we cannot thank you enough. Your generosity is a huge reason we are able to enjoy the sport in Cork.
Thank you to Dolphin RFC for accommodating us and allowing us to share your home.
Thanks also to Red FM and the Evening Echo for helping us promote our games and increase the exposure our club gets.
Thanks also to the event sponsors on Sunday. Thanks to CAB Motor Group, Rochestown Park Hotel, Acorn Insurance, Reardens and Ballymaloe Relish.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the event on Sunday, from event security, to all the food vendors, to Active Leisure for providing the children's entertainment, to Wolfe Stage School for providing half time entertainment, to Premier Facepainting Ireland for the wonderful job you did, to Red Bull for sending the Wiings Team, to Philip Bourke our MC, to the Red Patrollers, to Kal, Cian and Shane who worked the chains. A big thanks also to CIT for allowing access to your amazing facilities and in particular to Clive for all of your help.
2016 was a special year on the field in so many ways for the Cork Admirals. We hope to see you all at the next game in 2017 in the Shamrock Bowl Conference.