BY CHRIS MCNULTY
IT was long-awaited and while the result mightn’t have been the romantic opening win they dreamed of, but the Donegal-Derry Vipers are finally off and running.
On Sunday, the Vipers – the brainchild of Newtowncunningam’s Cathal Curran and Moville’s James Fox – played their first-ever game in IAFL 2. They lost 72-0 against the Belfast Trojans at Drumahoe, but it was still a day to behold for those who’ve put in the long hours and miles since late last year when the possible became a reality.
“The one thing we did gain from the experience was vital, the knowledge that this is not just an amateur league, this is not a little throw about with your mates in the park on a Sunday – this is a high octane, hard hitting, no holds barred sport, a sport in which you must leave everything on the field,” says Vipers Chairman Shaun McGrory.
“We have identified the areas were we need to improve and we are now very aware that our improvement will not be done overnight but with the passion and resilience we have in our squad we believe we are more prepared than ever for our next game, that just happens to be on the17th May, against, you guessed it, The Belfast Trojans again.”
Initially almost 100 prospective players expressed an interest in turning out. Organisers were stunned when just shy of 50 turned up for the first training session in January in Burnfoot. ‘Uplifting’ was how Curran described the sight of the streams of cars snaking the path into Aileach FC’s grounds that morning.
That was four months of work in the making – and now they’re finally in the thick of competitive action.
Chairman McGrory says: “In the days and weeks leading up to the game there were delays with the protective equipment, with the club uniforms and trousers, due to weather conditions and also logistical issues.
“Everything wasn’t going to plan. This was the first time any of us had gone on this adventure but The Vipers relished it.
“With all that in mind, there was a massive excitement amongst the players especially in the days counting down to the game. Each and every person associated with the club wanted to represent The Vipers and take our first baby steps into life in the IAFL2 division.
“The build-up to the game, was an exciting one, from arriving at the YMCA on Sunday, looking at the fantastic job of lining the pitch the guys did and also watching our fans slowly but surely line up around the field, even recalling it now gives me goose-bumps.
“The game itself was, no doubt, a baptism of fire. The Belfast Trojans have won the top division three times on the bounce and are reigning champions, the fact that it was their seconds side we played seemed to make no difference at all. They approached the game with such ferocity that I think it took our group of rookies by complete surprise, these men meant business.”
The IAFL – which uses the NCAA rules, those used in college football in America – includes teams like the Belfast Trojans, Carrickfergus Knights, Cork Admirals, Craigavon Cowboys, Dublin Rebels, Trinity College, UCD, UL Vikings, West Dublin Rhinos, Dublin Dragons, Drogheda Lightning, Meath Bulldogs, Mullingar Minotaurs, North Kildare Reapers, Waterford Wolves, Tyrone Titans, Dundalk Mavericks, Galway Warriors and the South Kildare Soliders – as well as the Vipers, who are undeterred by their opening day beating.
They are led by head coach Jason Brock, while Johnny Loughrey and Ryan McKinley are on board as physio and the strength and conditioning coach respectively. The ferocity of their opening day game can’t be underestimated, though.
McGrory says; “While The Vipers made their first few yards on the field, tentatively feeling our way into the sport The Trojans machine was ticking like clockwork, they understood their job. Their second team had been training with their first team and these boys knew exactly what needed to be done. The Trojans ran out 72-0 winners, both dominating in offence and defence.
“Although their team was peppered by rookies there were more than a few players in their team that no doubt will be stepping up and ripping the Shamrock Bowl league to bits very soon.”
The Vipers have wished a speedy recovery to Rhys Lewis and Richard Meehan who were hospitalised with knee injuries.
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