Gallery: Tullamore Phoenix @ West Dublin Rhinos

Tullamore Phoenix suffered their first defeat of the IAFL season with a 38-0 loss to the West Dublin Rhinos in Castleknock last Sunday.

Here are Alison Byrne’s pictures of the game:

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Preview: Tullamore Phoenix @ West Dublin Rhinos

Tullamore Phoenix face their first away trip in the IAFL when they take on the Rhinos in Castleknock this Sunday. It marks a real step up in class for Phoenix as the two clubs face off in a competitive fixture for the first time.

Having opened their season with a hard fought win at home to the spirited Dublin Dragons, Tullamore Phoenix know they must improve this weekend if they’re to stand any chance on the road against a West Dublin Rhinos team with one of the stingiest defences in the country.

For the Rhinos, the game – which takes place in Castleknock College from 1pm on Sunday – provides their first opportunity to put behind a disappointing 2011 season that saw them win just two games. Their record is even more surprising when you consider they conceded just 11.25 points on defence last year, making them the third ranked defensive unit in the country.

Speaking ahead of the game, Tullamore offensive co-ordinator Steven O’Rourke had nothing but praise for the Rhinos. “We faced the Rhinos in a ‘friendly’scrimmage last year and you can see why they are so mean on defence. They hit hard and fast and just when you think you’ve made a breakthrough they find a way to stop you.”

He continued: “They remind me a lot of the Steelers if I’m honest. They play great defence and if they click on offence they are going to be a force to be reckoned with. They also have the added benefit of being able to scout us last week.”

Rhinos Head Coach Mark Lawless was equally complimentary of Tullamore. “While Tullamore are new to the 11-a-side game, they have already demonstrated their ability in a 19-0 win in week 1. Lead by John Judge, Phoenix play football the way the game was intended to be played.”

He went on to say: “You can be sure that Walter Camp and Vince Lombardi are looking down with approval at what Tullamore are doing. They run the ball well, and have some good playmakers on both offence and defence and they will continue to get better and better.”

He finished by saying “the Rhinos have been working hard to improve during the offseason and look forward to a physical battle with the Phoenix.”

With so much at stake so early, it’s sure to be a cracking encounter. Get to Castleknock if you can.

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Match Report & Gallery: Dragons @ Phoenix

Despite a slow start, Tullamore Phoenix opened their first season in the IAFL South with a 19-0 win over the Dublin Dragons on Sunday.

Receiving the opening kickoff, Tullamore benefited from great work by its kick return team, especially Cian Minnock, to secure excellent field position.

However, the offence failed to take advantage and the Dragons’ defence forced a fumble to gain possession of the ball just two plays later.

The Dublin team were unable to do anything with their possession though and quickly went three and out.

Determined to make amends on their second drive of the game, Phoenix marched the ball 70 yards to get within eight yards of the Dragons’ endzone.

Once again though, simple mistakes cost Tullamore and they fumbled the ball on third and goal, bringing an end to the first quarter.

Taking the ball at the start of the second quarter, the Dragons were once again unable to score but their ability to convert on third down meant they were chewing up a considerable portion of the clock.

In a rush to put points on the board before halftime, Phoenix turned to their passing game and, despite reaching the redzone for the second time in just four possessions, they were unable to convert on fourth down meaning the game remained scoreless at halftime.

The third quarter went much the same way as the second with the Dragons eating up huge chunks of game time while still failing to score. Indeed, a full 40 minutes elapsed between Tullamore’s last offensive possession of the first half and first possession of the second, including the 15 minute half time break.

However, far from being rusty, Phoenix took to the field with a new determination and, thanks in part to the hard yards of running back Darren Byrne and a couple of excellent catches by rookie tight end Aaron Fennally, they worked their way into the redzone once more.

This time, Phoenix weren’t to be denied. After taking advantage of a pass interference penalty on first and goal, Finbarr Glynn continued his scoring streak from last season, taking the ball in from three yards for the game’s opening score.

Now chasing the game, the Dragons had little choice but to throw the ball and the Phoenix defence took advantage with Rory O’Keeffe (74 yards) and Steve McElligott (26 yards) returning interceptions for touchdowns on the next two Dragons’ possessions to make the score 19-0.

Speaking after the game, Phoenix Head Coach John Judge said: “I’ll never be disappointed with a win but I thought there were a number of areas where we could have been better today. They’ll have to be improved on if we’re to compete with the Rhinos in Dublin next week.

“That said, there were a lot of guys out there playing their very first game and I think everyone on the team will be a better player for the experience.”

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All photos are by Alison Byrne. If you would like to use the images without the watermark, please email byrnealisonm[at]gmail[dot]com

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Four Downs with a Phoenix: Rory ‘Captain Redbeard’ O’Keeffe

Welcome to another edition of Four Downs with a Phoenix, the feature where we take a closer look at the players and staff of Tullamore Phoenix American Football Club. We’ll get their views on themselves, their colleagues and the wider footballing world.

In this edition, we talk to Rory O’Keeffe whose reading of the game makes him the obvious choice to be defensive captain of Tullamore Phoenix.

Ist Down – About me
Name: Rory ‘Captain Redbeard’ O’Keeffe
Age: 23
Hometown: Moved around a lot, but been living either in Tullamore or Dublin for the better part of the last 8 years.

2nd Down – My game
Experience: Two DV8s seasons
Position: Defensive Back
Best on-field moment: Intercepting a deep ball in the dying seconds of a scrimmage with Cork to end the game on what was looking like their comeback drive. Interceptions are always sweet.

3rd Down – Phoenix
Hardest players: Erin Kelly, Darren Byrne and Shane Carberry. They take big hits on a regular basis and keep getting up. Peter Smyth also gets a mention here for dislocating something and being back on the field one play and a painful relocation later.
Best trainers: To pick a guy who hasn’t been mentioned before, I’m going to go with Cian Minnock – he does his homework and both trains and plays hard. It’s also hard not to mention the Kelly brothers here – they always give a huge effort. Fortunately, there are lots of players I could talk about in this category.
Joker in the pack: Padraic ‘Podge’ Merlehan, plus many others.

4th Down – The Big Leagues
Favorite team: I’m currently in limbo. First got into the game about five or six seasons ago and became a Chargers fan. Once LT left, I realised he was most of what I liked about watching them and as a result my interest has waned over the last few disappointing years. I always say I’ll give them one more season… In college ball, the Oregon Ducks.
Favorite player: Eric Berry, Clay Matthews, Von Miller, Calvin Johnson, LSU’s Tyrann ‘Honey Badger’ Mathieu (not even draft-eligible, I know)… too many to just choose one (clearly).
Favorite NFL moment: This season it has to be the Tebow-Demaryius Thomas hookup on the first play of overtime against the Steelers. Talk about excitement, and I love to see an underdog defy the odds. Or anyone beat the Steelers.

Editors note: Rory will be lucky to get a starting place this year. He knows the consequences for praising Tim Tebow.

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Become Champions

Ahead of the new season, Brian Kirwan (TE, WR and QB) has put together this video using photographs of Tullamore Phoenix taken by Alison Thornton and others.

It’s quite good and you’ll find you’re singing AC/DC for the rest of the day!

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Preview: Dublin Dragons at Tullamore Phoenix

Sunday, March 4, sees Tullamore Phoenix play their first game in the IAFL proper after two years of dominating the Irish American Football League’s development competition.

Dublin Dragons @ Tullamore Phoenix 
1pm Tullamore Rugby Club, Spollanstown Road, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

It’s a little over eight months since Tullamore Phoenix pulled off a hard-fought victory over the Dublin Dragons to secure their second successive IAFL DV8s title.

Tullamore CB Peter Smyth with a key interception against the Dragons

Following the Vikings’ impressive 55-8 victory over Trinity last weekend, it’s important for Tullamore to get off to a fast start this year but, on Sunday, they face a Dragons team looking to avenge last August’s defeat.

With the weather forecast promising nothing worse than overcast conditions, Phoenix offensive coach Steven O’Rourke is hopeful the game will attract a big crowd.

“It would be nice to see the people of Tullamore come out and support the lads, most of whom are from the town,” said O’Rourke.

He continued: “This group of players have two national titles under their belts but are taking a big step up in class this year so any and all support is welcome. It’s free in and should provide a football fix for those missing the NFL and NCAA.”

When asked about Tullamore’s chances in the game, O’Rourke was quietly confident.

“I always think of Tom Coughlin when people ask me if I believe we can win. He said [of the New York Giants] that the best thing about coaching is seeing a group of young men come together, believe in themselves and the concept of the team.

“That’s what we’ve achieved in Tullamore, a group of players who play for the team and not individual honours or padding their stats. For that reason, I’m as confident as I am before any game.”

He finished by saying: “I know we’ve put the work in at practise and if we execute the fundamentals, we have what it takes to win.”

With so much at stake so early in the season, it promises to be an exciting encounter.

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Coach’s Corner #5: Making kickoffs special

Coach’s Corner sees Tullamore Phoenix coaches and players delve into their collective experience to offer snippets of advice, stories from between the tramlines and reflections on the game in general. In this edition, Offensive Coach Steven O’Rourke asks why onside kicks aren’t utilised more.

Penn State Kick Off - Image from Wikipedia

It’s fair to say that most teams only use onside kicks in desperation; usually while chasing a game late in the fourth quarter. True, there are teams that use it as a surprise tactic but they are few and far between.

The problem I think – and I should say I’m not a special teams coach – is that most special teams coaches, especially at the amatuer level, double up as the teams defensive co-ordinator. They are, therefore, defensively minded.

It’s not difficult to see why; at their most basic kickoffs and punts represent the only times in the game where you deliberately give possession to the other team.  So, as a defensive coach, your instincts are to contain the opposition and consider any kick that goes through the endzone or is returned less than 20 yards a success.

Unfortunately, when you kick deep and don’t make the endzone, you’re kicking the football directly to the player(s) that your opponents have decided have the best chance of returning the ball for a big gain or even a touchdown.

You wouldn’t throw at the other team’s ball hawk corner while on offence so why do coaches consistently target playmakers on kickoff and special teams? They do it because that’s the way they’ve always done it but there are other options.

My own personal favourite tactic was developed by Sam Nichols of South Haven High School and was featured in American Football Monthly in 2009.

Nichols had a kicker who couldn’t kick deep and needed to develop a strategy that would help his team not just adjust but actually take advantage of that perceived weakness. Indeed, Nichols is so confident in what he has schemed that he calls his kickoff team the ‘kick recovery team’.

The key to this strategy is quite similar to running a good offence; identifying the coverage and putting the ball where you have the best chance of recovering it.

It starts, as always, with personnel. Instead of using second-stringers on the kick recovery team it is important to use your defensive starters. The defensive ends and linebackers are used to break through the protection, while cornerbacks and safeties use their speed and playmaking ability to recover the kicks.

After that, it’s up to the kicker to put the ball into the right location and this can be done in one of five ways.

1. Standard onside kick
If the opposition line up in standard formation, run the traditional onside kick – left or right depending on your kicker – making sure you keep the ball in bounds. You’ll notice that the front line on most kick return teams begin dropping back before the kick is made, this is where you pounce.

2. Forget the kicker
This is one I personally love as you are usually targeting the biggest and slowest member of the kick return team. The kick is just a tap to the middle of the field, rolling ten yards and is generally recovered by the kicker himself. Even if the opposition recover the ball, there is huge potential to cause a fumble given the personnel involved and advantage in numbers to the kicking team.

3. Blindside 
If your opposition suspects you are about to try and onside kick and line up to receive that onside kick, you simply kick it to the side they have the least protection on and trust your players to make the play. This, like all onside kick types, takes repeated practise to perfect as it is an awkward kick to make.

4. Knuckleball
As with #5 this is not so much an onside kick as a kick designed to cause panic and confusion in the return team which increases your chances of forcing a fumble or making a big play. This should be a linedrive or squib kick that forces the returner to take his eyes off the pursuit and kicked at a pace that allows your corners/safeties to hit him as he takes possession, hopefully causing a fumble but, at the very least, ensuring no return is made.

5. Kick the corner
Surely that’s not an onside kick at all you say. And you’re right, it’s not, it’s a standard kick off. You don’t want to become too predictable do you?

The result of all this is that you force your opposition to spend time planning for your kickoff and not their next offensive drive as is usually the case. Do it correctly, and you could see your offence taking the field two, even three, drives in a row and nothing is more demoralising for the opposition quarterback than having to sit on the sidelines wondering when he’ll get a chance to play again.

I’m not recommending this tactic for all teams. I’m not even recommending it for Tullamore Phoenix but in all other facets of the game you avoid targeting the opposition’s playmakers, maybe you should do the same on kickoffs.

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Four Downs with a Phoenix #3: Steve ‘Coach Awesome’ O’Rourke

Welcome to the first Four Downs with a Phoenix of 2012, the feature where we take a closer look at the players and staff of Tullamore Phoenix American Football Club. We’ll get their views on themselves, their colleagues and the wider footballing world.

In this edition, we talk to offensive coach Steven O’Rourke who knows the secret to being a great coach is having great players. And studying lots of Madden.

Ist Down – About me
Name: Steve ‘Coach Awesome’ O’Rourke
Age: 29
Hometown: Originally from Kildare but Dublin based for the last decade.

2nd Down – My game
Experience: IAFL DV8s champion 2010, first season in the IAFL proper
Position: Offensive coach and team manager
Best off-field moment: We were playing Drogheda last year and lost our starting QB to injury. As the backup (Dave Maloney) was going in I knew that Lightning would be expecting a run play so I called a play action pass with both our WRs going on streaks. Drogheda played for the run and Dave threw a perfect pass for a touchdown. It was a great feeling.

3rd Down – Phoenix
Hardest player: Erin Kelly. Sometimes I wish he’d run away from hits a bit more but he almost always makes the right play.
Best trainer: Rory O’Keeffe. He’s always looking to better himself and puts in as much effort studying the game as he does in training.
Joker in the pack: In fairness, they all have their moments but none of them can match my Facebook one-liners so I’m going to say me.

4th Down – The Big Leagues
Favorite team: Oakland Raiders
Favorite player: Kellen Moore (technically not in the NFL yet but probably my favourite player entering the 2012 draft)
Favorite NFL moment: Seeing the Patriots finally shut people up about Tim Tebow in the playoffs this year.

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2012 Schedule Announced

A new divisional structure, changes to the playoffs and a record number of teams are just three of the reasons why the 2012 Irish American Football League season promises to be the most exciting yet.

Two-time IAFL DV8s champions Tullamore Phoenix will join the ten teams that contested last year’s championship to ensure a record 11 teams will fight it out to lift the Shamrock Bowl in July.

To alleviate the scheduling difficulties of recent years, the IAFL has moved from a three regional division format to just two divisions, a move that will break up some traditional rivalries but is hoped will reduce the impact of cancelled games.

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 lineups.

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 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 Dublin Dragons and West Dublin Rhinos.

The Phoenix schedule – which you can see here – will see the IAFL newboys take on the Dublin Dragons on March 4. 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.

A week later, Phoenix go to West Dublin to take on the Rhinos before a 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 TCD and UCD on April 15 and 22.

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 after the announcement of the 2012 IAFL schedule, Tullamore offensive coach Steven O’Rourke said he was looking forward to the coming season.

“I think we have to be happy with how the schedule has worked out for us,” said O’Rourke, adding “not only do we open the season at home but we get host the two best teams in the country over the past five years and that has to do wonders for the profile of American football in the Midlands.”

O’Rourke went on to say: “I expect teams will look at us and award themselves two points before a ball is touched and I know we’ll be underdogs in every game but it’s up to our players and staff to prove them wrong.”

Whatever happens, 2012 is sure to be an exciting season.

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2012 Season – Training Resumes

What time is it? TRAINING TIME

We’ve put our winter break behind us, dusted off the coaching manuals and are all set to begin preparation in earnest for the 2012 IAFL season.

This will be our first season playing in the newly configured IAFL South and we look forward to establishing some in-division rivalries over the coming years.

First off, however, we have to extend our two time IAFL DV8s National Championship winning squad and, well, this is where you come in.

Training starts this Sunday, January 8 at 12pm in Tullamore Rugby Club, Spollanstown, Tullamore, Co. Offaly.

Even if you’ve never played football before our team of dedicated and qualified coaches will guide you through everything you need to know.

Who knows, you could be the next Tom Brady or Von Miller and you don’t even know it yet.

Here are some of our recruitment posters to whet your appetite:

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