Well that’s it; full contact football is done for another season In Ireland.
By Dermot Brown. Pictures by Dean Cullen
The NFL season is just around the corner and for the players who have bled and hurt for their teammates this season can now spend some quality time with their loved ones and get a few cold ones on a Saturday night instead of running sprints and doing Burpies at 10am on Sundays.
This however was the last thing on the minds of the players from the Donegal/Derry Vipers and the Wexford Eagles yesterday, those thoughts could wait.
Both teams came into this game after putting in unbeaten seasons, the Vipers in their sophomore year and the Eagles, a brand new outfit, what an achievement it was getting to the bowl game unbeaten in their first year.
In stifling heat the game began with furious ardour, both teams having got their fans riled up for a battle that was one for the ages and billed as the most tightly contested ever.
The Vipers received the ball from the kickoff and landed the ball on their own forty yard line. Having Fullback Derm Brown back from an ankle injury paid dividends in the starting moments as he took the ball twenty yards on the ground, Running Back Cathal Curran also made forty yards on two plays to put the Vipers within striking distance. Quarterback Danny Mullan hit the red hot receiving hands of Receiver Ryan Brolly for a touchdown that silenced the Wexford fan base that eclipsed that of the Vipers, the extra point was no good however.
Next up was the Viper defence that had only given up twelve points all season, however that was to change very quickly. The Wexford Quarterback proved difficult to nail down in the opening exchanges and after two counter runs around the outside of the defensive line, ran in a long touchdown to a rapturous cheer from their fans the extra point was added making the score 7-6 Eagles.
A quick three and out from the Viper offense after the touchback gained the Wexford men great field position for the next drive, again the Viper Linebackers struggled to contain the outside and the Eagles were able to make quick yards on the ground punching in another score and leaving the men in Red and Gold behind for the first time since August 2015, score 14-6 at the end of the first quarter.[adrotate group=”37″]
After a rousing speech from captains on the sideline the Vipers took the field again and kept doing what they’d done all season, play hard and physical until the whistle went. The next score of the game was a Viper touchdown, unfortunately along the way the men lost starting Running Back Cathal Curran to a leg injury, he wasn’t to return in the game, he did however get the boys into the Wexford Redzone where Brolly was hit for this second touchdown of the game. Exceptional 0-Line work on the Vipers part was to be the biggest factor in the first half, this season has seen this group get more ferocious each game they played and they unloaded everything in the first half to fight their way back into the game.
The score was now 14-13 to the Eagles and both teams settled into what can only be described as all out war in the trenches. Massive hits were laid out on both sides as the Vipers came up against the most physical side they had played all season.
After some questionable refereeing calls landed the Wexford men deep in Viper territory the next score came when an Eagle Tight End stretched out to gather in a pass for a deserved score. The Viper defence was unlucky not to get a holding penalty called after the score but this was not to be the only controversial call on the Donegal/Derry men in the game. To make matters worse Brown was injured just before the half, aggravating the injury he had just returned from. The Vipers were now without their starting backfield for the remainder of the game, a true challenge in the face of adversity but the men were far from beaten, Mullan ran in the games next score after great outside running from backup Running Back and team Kicker Gary Melly left the Score at the half was 21-19 Eagles.
The atmosphere on the sideline at the half was electric. Injured players were seen giving speeches and picking up guys whose heads had fallen. A gallant and emotional dialect delivered by team founder and injured Running Back Curran left the men chomping at the bit to get started again. The Vipers did not travel down to take part; they were there to take over and to use Curran’s own words, “Not lose this game”.[adrotate group=”46″]
It was now time for the Viper Defence to stand up and be counted, the outside runs of the Eagles had all but dried up and the lads started doing what they do best, get to the QB and ball carriers. Linemen Dave Holden and Darren Quinn made some big hits on the line stopping a Wexford offence that was all but figured out at this point of the game. The Offense took over and after some great running from Tight End Chris Tinney, Mullan was able to smash his way over the line, outstanding blocking from Melly was the key in this play to retake the lead. Melly would add the extra point making the score 26-21 Vipers.
The rest of the third quarter would be played at a seemingly slower pace, the Viper Defence had repeated stops but the Offense had seemed to be running out of ideas, the run game was faltering and the passes over the top were being broken up as receiver Brolly was now triple covered. The Eagles had taken away the Vipers biggest offensive weapon. A fumble recovery by Wexford added to the pain going into the fourth quarter.[adrotate group=”76″]
Again questionable decisions from the refereeing corps left the Wexford men knocking on the door, the defence stood up and delivered some great stops inside their own five yard line, Dave Holden fell on a Wexford fumble to relieve the pressure that was now coming from all sides. Wexford were throwing everything at the Vipers, fighting for every yard and were rewarded deep into the fourth quarter with another touchdown and two point conversions to make the finale of this game an absolute nail biter. The referees accounted for over one hundred and thirty yards of penalties against the Vipers on the day also; this has to be taken into account. Thus far the Vipers had played the better game but there wasn’t much between the two teams.
The score was now 29-26 in favour of the Eagles but not for one minute did the Viper men let the heads go down, after receiving the kick off and chipping away with some short yardage throws and runs up the gut the men were poised for an all or nothing first down on the Wexford forty yard line inside the two minute warning. Mullan tried a throw on first down to Receiver Eugene Mc Laughlin who couldn’t pull in the pass, one and out.[adrotate group=”38″]
Next Mullan threw it away as no one was open, two and out with thirty seconds to go on the clock. Next the Quarterback ran it outside and out of bounds bringing the men into field goal range and stopping the clock at 26 seconds, third down and three yards to go for the first down, normally a team would kick the field goal to take the game into overtime but Mullan had other thoughts, one more chance to throw for the win or the next down would be kicking for extra time.
The scenes on the sideline where beyond tense, the crowd on both sides had silenced and not even the wind could be felt as the Viper Offense broke up the huddle for the final play of the game. Mullan took the snap and seemed to hang in the pocket for forever; he slung the ball into the air for a sprinting Brolly in the End Zone.
Brolly who was in triple coverage seemed to dangle in the air and bullied his way in front to make an unbelievable catch that was straight out of the movie Any Given Sunday. He was immediately swamped by his teammates and by those on the sideline, emotions spilled over completely. The men had done it; against all the odds they had beaten another unbeaten team to claim the title.
Head Coach Brock was showered in the teams sponsored drink, Football Special, in true NFL fashion, but respect has to be given to the Wexford men, who fought right to the bitter end. The respect shown by both teams was tantamount to the way this sport is played in Ireland and a group photo was shared with the trophy afterward.
Another season has ended and it’s been agreed that both teams will move up into the IAFL 1 next season, so a grudge match could be on the cards for the Red and Gold Army as the Eagles look for some revenge. All in all this was a great spectacle and everyone involved were the greatest ambassadors for this sport in Ireland, that this game came from a “Developmental” league speaks volumes for the growth of this sport on the Emerald Isle.
The Vipers now have a few months off before plans are drawn up and set in motion for playing more games, travelling bigger distances and put down some serious roots and becoming the most established team in the North West of Ireland. See you next season Vipers and stay frosty.[adrotate group=”70″] Tags: