Trojans ready to battle for historic fifth Bowl in a row
The Belfast Trojans are out to make history tomorrow as they aim to secure an unparalleled fifth Shamrock Bowl in a row.
Ireland's version of the NFL's Super Bowl takes place in Tallaght Stadium this weekend with Belfast's only gridiron outfit taking on the island's most successful team, the Dublin Rebels.
The Trojans have been champions since 2012 but offensive lineman and chairman Barry Keil thinks Dublin pose a huge threat to his side's period of dominance.
"It'll be a massive challenge," he said of the 30th edition of the Irish title game. "Dublin are a great side; they're seven-time champions and they have a lot of great players.
"We've played each other twice this season already, both winning one and losing one.
"We beat them at their place and then they won in Belfast when we probably weren't at our best. We're expecting another really tight game, that's for sure."
The Trojans' playing panel -which includes former Ulster Rugby lock Neil McComb - is now 55-strong with team members travelling from as far afield as Tyrone and Drogheda to join up.
It all seems a far cry from the days before their first title, when a last-second field goal from Rick Duffield saw off the UL Vikings in 2012. Keil says the transformation has been fuelled by self-belief.
"I think the biggest difference between now and then is just the confidence," he said.
"In the years before we won, we were looking at teams like Dublin and that was what we wanted to be.
"As well as being blessed with a great group of players, now we see ourselves as right up there with them."
The island-wide competition began in 1984 - and while the Dublin Celts won five titles in a row, the Trojans would be the first to do so in the league's modern format - and Kiel thinks the sport is only set to grow and grow on these shores with events like the Shamrock Bowl helping to spread the gospel.
"It's so accessible now," he said. "You look at the television coverage, social media and then NFL games in London and college games in Dublin, you can follow it more than ever before.
"I think in Ireland we're always keen to give things a go and, while when we started we had a lot of players who had a rugby background, it's great now to see that many of our players consider American football as their first sport."