The Belfast Trojans aim to make history as they look to win their fifth consecutive Shamrock Bowl title.
However the reigning champions will have to do it the hard way with a tough wildcard matchup with Carrickfergus coming up in less than a fortnight.
The Trojans finished the regular season with a 6-2 record, meaning they finished only second in the SBC North behind the Dublin Rebels; the first time in five years that the Trojans failed to top the division. It was a bright start to the season for the Trojans powering their way to a 4-0 start, highlighted by a dominant 62-7 win at home to the South Dublin Panthers and a fantastic 25-8 road victory over the division-topping Rebels.
However Belfast fell to their first defeat of the season in Limerick against the Vikings, a tough 16-13 loss at the end of May where quarterback James McKelvey was forced to miss out due to unavailability. Mark McVeigh stepped in admirably under centre and just failed to lead a fourth-quarter comeback.
A 40-6 win over Carrickfergus ensured the Trojans bounced back to winning ways quickly but it was to be a second defeat of the season two weeks later as the Rebels claimed their best victory of recent times, a narrow 8-7 win at Deramore Park in desperate conditions. In a sloppy game played in torrential rain, the Trojans turned the ball over twice on the Rebels two-yard line and couldn’t find a way back into the game, despite the defence stifling the Dublin offence the majority of the game.
A few home truths were told following the second loss of the season and with the Rebels beating the Vikings, they wrapped up top spot meaning the Trojans now must strive to win the Bowl coming from a wildcard spot. The final game of the regular season against Trinity however showed Belfast back to their very best.
Despite missing David Colvin and Neil Montgomery on offence and Connor Whitla on defence, the defending champions fired a warning shot across the league, beating the students 40-7 in a replay of the last two Shamrock Bowl finals. On offence the Trojans were back to their very best, with McKelvey finding Dave Richardson for two touchdowns through the air and rookie runner Sam Kelly getting on the scoresheet.
The defence did their part as well with Michael Kane and Alex Kusimerek each having interceptions to lead Belfast past TCD.
The Trojans now take on the Carrickfergus Knights at Deramore Park on 17 July in the Wildcard game before a potential semi-final clash with SBC South winners UCD.