Last month’s Super Bowl may have marked the end of the NFL season but the 2012 Irish American Football League is just getting started and, as Steven O’Rourke reports, Tullamore Phoenix are hoping the town gets behind their bid for glory.
After winning back to back IAFL DV8s national titles, Tullamore Phoenix embark on their first season in the top flight of Irish American football when they host the Dublin Dragons in Tullamore Rugby Club on Sunday, March 4 at 1pm.
Phoenix beat the Dragons late last year to claim their second IAFL DV8s title so the Dublin team will travel to Tullamore looking for revenge.
This season represents a big step up in class for the Offaly outfit who become the first Midlands based team to play in the IAFL proper, following two seasons in which they dominated the sport’s development league.
A new divisional structure, changes to the playoffs and a record number of teams are just some of the challenges Phoenix will have to overcome this year.
To alleviate the scheduling difficulties of recent seasons, the IAFL has changed from a three regional division format to just two divisions.
The other significant change will see the third place team in both divisions travel to the second place team for a divisional wildcard game for the first time to decide the Shamrock Bowl semi-final line-ups.
Tullamore Phoenix take their place in the IAFL South alongside the three teams that have contested the last six Shamrock Bowls – Dublin Rebels, University of Limerick Vikings and Cork Admirals – as well as both Trinity College and University College Dublin.
The IAFL North will be contested by the three Northern teams – Belfast Trojans, Craigavon Cowboys and Carrickfergus Knights – as well as the Dublin Dragons and West Dublin Rhinos.
After taking on the Dragons this weekend, Phoenix travel to the capital the following weekend to take on the Rhinos before their next home game, against perennial contenders Craigavon Cowboys, on April 1.
April will also see Tullamore return to school with back to back away games against Trinity College and UCD on April 15 and 22 respectively.
It doesn’t get any easier the following month with an away game in Belfast on May 6 before hosting the defending Shamrock Bowl champions Dublin Rebels on May 27 and finishing the season with a home game against the University of Limerick Vikings.
Speaking ahead of the season Head Coach John Judge said “There’s no denying this will be a tough season for Phoenix but we’ve put in four month’s of training ahead of this game and I expect to see a huge performance so it would be great if we could get a big crowd down to show the team, comprised mostly of local lads, that the town is behind them.”
He continued: “It’s free in, and should provide plenty of entertainment for those new to the sport as well as those who are missing their American football fix since the NFL ended.”
Full details of the Tullamore Phoenix schedule and information on how you can get involved with the club can be found on www.phoenixafc.com.