The Airdrie Irish competitive men's football team started their post-season with an exclamation point.
Taking on the visiting Central Alberta Bucanneers in the Alberta Football League (AFL) quarterfinals on Aug. 6, the Irish booked their spot in the semi-finals with a dominant 53-0 victory at Ed Eggerer Athletic Park.
The one-sided shut-out marked the third time the Irish have overcome the Bucs – the AFL's defending champs – this summer. Airdrie beat Central Alberta in both the regular season and in a pre-season scrimmage.
Despite the lopsided score line, Irish head coach Anton Bellot said it was a closer game than the final score indicated on Saturday.
“Sometimes I feel the score doesn’t always reflect the tenacity of that team,” he said. “Central Alberta was the 2021 champs, they have great size in the lines, a very good young quarterback who can make plays with his legs and his arms, and a couple of veteran receivers.
“We wanted to come out and execute to our level and we played a very complete game on all three phases.”
Airdrie's semi-final opponent will be the Edmonton Elite, who had a bye through the first round of the playoffs as the league's second seed.
Now 5-1-1 on the season, the Irish's most recent victory continues what has been a historic 2022 season for the men's squad. Regardless of what happens against Edmonton, this year will be Airdrie's most successful campaign since joining the AFL in 2015.
The semifinal against the Elite will likely be a back-and-forth affair, Bellot added. The two teams ended the regular season tied on both total points accumulated and their respective points for/against differential.
Further showcasing how even the teams are, the Irish's previous fixture against the Elite ended in a 20-20 tie, thanks to a last-second field goal that tied it up.
“We’re looking forward to the match-up,” Bellot said. “I know their coaching staff quite well. When you look at our teams, they’re very similar in DNA. We both like to run the ball and have good defence and hustle on special teams. We anticipate this to be a very close game. I don’t expect this one to get out of hand – I expect it to come down to a last-second field goal again.”
If any Airdrie football fans want to continue watching the team this summer, they'll have to be willing to travel to do so, as the win over Central Alberta was the Irish's final time playing at the Ed Eggerer Athletic Park this year. Next weekend's semi-final will be in Fort Saskatchewan, while the ensuing championship game will be held in Cold Lake.
Bellot said the support of the Irish's fan base propelled the team forward this season.
“We love playing at home and we love playing in front of the community,” he said. “It feels like the crowd got bigger every single time we were out there. Something that is part of our plan as an organization is to continue engaging the community. We love to see the stands full. That’s part of the plan we have and it’s always good to play at home.”