After a long hiatus from competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Airdrie Irish football team finally returned to the turf on July 24 to open the 2021 Alberta Football League (AFL) season.
Unfortunately for the Irish, the season-opening game, which took place in Red Deer, didn’t heed the result the club was looking for, as the Airdrie squad fell by a score of 43-6 to the Central Alberta Buccaneers.
“There is a lot of rust that needs to come off,” said head coach Anton Bellot. “What we need to continue to focus on is execution.
“Guys were in the right positions, we just weren’t executing to the fullest of our capacity, which has been a huge focal point this week.”
The nearly-two-year gap since the last time the Irish have played football showed, according to the head coach.
“[We need to] reintroduce the little things and wake up that football sense,” he said. “I am very confident in the effort of our team, we want to focus and continue to grow with the little things and take it day by day.”
Looking back at the seasoner opener, Bellot said he was impressed by newcoming cornerback Jamal Bacchus – a 2019 graduate of W.H. Croxford High School, who also played for the Vancouver Island Raiders junior team in 2019 and 2020.
“He played outstanding for us against probably the best receiver in the league right now,” Bellot said. “I was proud of his effort and his courage to play bump and run against the best receiver in the league.”
Bellot also noted safety and cornerback Tim “Maui” Larson had a notable performance.
“He did an awesome job in regard to his coverage, along with coming in and hitting hard,” Bellot said.
While the season is still young, Bellot said he is looking forward to the rest of the Irish's games, and added he feels the parity in the AFL makes for great competition.
“It’s disappointing we have two teams that will sit this season out, but it’s understandable due to the pandemic,” he said. “It’s good to see the same core group of people across central Alberta.”
The season opener comes after the AFL announced on June 1 an abbreviated season would be able to operate this summer, as long as Alberta was able to stick to the reopening plan outlined by Premier Jason Kenney in May.
“After a league-wide conference call, the AFL council voted heavily in favour of returning to play in 2021,” read a statement on the league’s Facebook page.
The AFL season will include five teams this year – the Irish, the Calgary Wolfpack, the Buccaneers, the Edmonton Elite and the Cold Lake Fighter Jets. The Fort McMurray Monarchs and Peace Country Cowboys each opted not to field a team in the 2021 season.
After every team has played each other once, a four-team playoff will be held toward the end of August, with a semi-final round on Aug. 21 and AFL championship game on Aug. 28.
Irish supporters can cheer on the team at their home opener, slated to take place on July 31 as they square off against the Edmonton Elite. The game will take place at 2:30 p.m. at Ed Eggerer Athletic Park.
For more information, visit airdrieirish.com