Unfortunately for the Trojans, I arrived at the Shamrock Bowl knowing a little more about the sport of American Football than previous years. I brought with me a small kiwi contingency including my Aunty Bev and my friend Brigette. And our honorary kiwi – Tiernan. I acquired a curry chips and settled in to watch the 30th Shamrock Bowl sandwiched between a young family and a group of Rebels fans that notably included a girl with blue hair.
Teams ran out on to the immaculately presented Tallaght Stadium, which shone brighter in the wake of last years’ Shakespearian tragedy. This year the Belfast Trojans were facing off against the Dublin Rebels – looking for five in a row. The ‘strive for five’ some have said. Sadly, I don’t think the Trojans will find this write up quite as hilarious as last year.
From the very beginning it was clear that the Rebels were here to play some extremely competitive football. They came with a sharp offensive line up and although they only have a couple of key players, they found the ball every time, ultimately scoring the first touchdown of the game.
The veteran Trojans were not prepared to acknowledge the inconsistencies which had plagued them all season. Ineptitude was clear, communication a thing of the past. Players passed the ball back and forth like rugby (or perhaps piggy-in-the-middle) before inevitable fumbles and interceptions. Set plays were lost with key players not being where they were supposed to be and the team was left to scramble to make something from nothing. How they managed to respond with a touchdown before the end of the first half, I have no idea.
By the second half I was on my feet and screaming random things (I like doughnuts, etc). Somewhere about this time Tiernan figured out the game as well. The dawn of understanding was reflected in his face as he realised that the Rebels were about to launch a final offensive campaign which would ultimately win them the game. He started screaming too.
The game had been played overwhelmingly in Trojan’s territory and it is a huge credit to the Belfast defense that the Rebels were denied again and again for 23 minutes and 30 seconds. You see where I am going with this.
With 6-7 in the Trojan’s favour on the scored board, a couple of things happened which plagued me all Sunday night. First, Belfast were playing their only strong offensive of the game. They had gained over 30 yards of territory when they were overcome by what I can only imagine was overconfidence. In trying to keep the ball running they flopped the ball backwards and forwards between themselves on a second and ten rather than allowing the tackle, accepting a little loss of yards and having another go. The Rebels were there and ready to make something as a fumble was intercepted and the ball turned over to give the Rebels their last chance to get winning numbers on the board.
The Rebels made their way slowly but surely back up the field. With a little over 20 yards to the goal line, they were looking to make 10 yards and go back to first down. This is where things get… well just a bit dodgy in my opinion. Fourth down needed to land right in front of me to get the Rebels that chance at another 10 yards. And it didn’t. It wasn’t even a little bit there. In fact, the stretching out the player did to ground that ball was a little dubious in itself in relation to where his knees hit the ground – but I’ll spare you the detail. There may or may not (except there totally was) a certain sideline ref who took a massive step to the left that was not exactly (or at all) appropriate (do I sound bitter?).
Alas, the decision was made to walk the chains out. You know how I don’t like to blame the ref, but if this line ref were competing on the beam in the Olympics she would have been the one to snap her leg. Like a drunken sailor, she listed that chain to the right and when it was ultimately laid down – surprise! – the ball was exactly at the marker.
This was absolutely crucial to the game because the Rebels went on to touchdown from the next set of plays – building the score to 12-7 with only 10 seconds to go. The Trojans reformed admirably and did what they could with their final ball, fumbling it into full time.
So it was a massively heart-poundingly disappointing game to watch as a Trojan’s supporter. I can only imagine the Rebels heartbreak had they lost after playing so confidently all game. Fortunately for them, that is not something they have to think about now they are carrying their Gold medals back to Cabinteely and Sea Point Rugby Club (which is, ironically, nowhere near the sea).
Photos to come – my expanded hosting has expired.