The Airdrie Irish competitive men’s football team’s 2021 season has come to a close, following a 45-6 defeat at the hands of the Central Alberta Buccaneers on Aug. 21.
Playing in Red Deer for the second time this year after a heavy-handed loss began their 2021 season, the Irish started strong defensively in the Alberta Football League (AFL) semi-final, according to Airdrie head coach Anton Bellot, but could not withstand the Buccaneers’ strong offensive push as the game wore on.
The former linebacker for the Irish, who took over head coaching duties this year, said the team was lacking a bit in terms of its execution against the top-ranked Bucanneers, who came into the contest with an unbeaten 4-0 record.
“We had a great start on defence and were moving the ball on offence, but it comes down to us executing,” said Bellot, a former five-season player with the University of Calgary Dinos. “We do about 99 per cent of the work, but it’s that one per cent to make sure we finish that this team needs to learn.”
The Irish qualified for the AFL playoffs on the back of a regular season that saw the team finish in fourth place with a 1-3 record. After winning their first game of 2021 with a dominant 77-32 win over the Calgary Wolfpack on Aug. 7, the Irish finished off the regular-season calendar with a 35-28 loss on the road to the Cold Lake Fighter Jets on Aug. 14.
According to Bellot, the game against Cold Lake was close, with a muffed punt and critical interception by the Irish being all that separated the two teams.
While the team only finished the season with a 1-4 record, Bellot said the Irish players are full of optimism and in high spirits as they look toward the 2022 season.
“Right now, we’re a young team with a lot of first-year players,” he said. “Not in terms of age, but in terms of their first time playing football and running the schemes and systems this year, especially on offence.”
“Moving forward, I’m very optimistic and everyone is optimistic about how far we’ve come. I don’t think we took a step forward an organization, I think we took a huge leap forward, and now it’s about carrying that momentum into the off-season.”
This summer marked the Irish’s first season since 2019, as public health restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic last year resulted in the cancellation of the AFL’s 2020 season.
Bellot noted most of the players on the Irish roster are already buzzing about the prospect of playing for the team again next summer.
“We did a good job as an organization to get people motivated and excited about football,” he said, adding he is already looking forward to preparing for 2022.
“I’ve already reviewed all our film from this year. I see a lot of areas we can correct a lot of things, but they’re just little things. If we’re able to shore those up, it will make a huge difference.”
The AFL final will be contested on Aug. 28 in Red Deer, with the Buccaneers (5-0) taking on the Edmonton Elite (3-2) for the league championship.