The Airdrie Irish's otherwise stellar 2022 season came to a crushing end on Aug. 20, as they were shut out 55-0 by the Cold Lake Fighter Jets in the Alberta Football League (AFL) championship game.
Making the long trip northeast to take on the unbeaten Fighter Jets on Saturday, Airdrie's competitive men's football team came up against a resolute defence and dominant offence in their first ever title tilt. Cold Lake took a 37-0 lead in the first half and didn't look back en route to securing the AFL championship on their home turf.
"There's always disappointment – you get to the championship game, you obviously want to win it," said Irish head coach Anton Bellot, who acknowledged on Tuesday the Irish players were "still reeling" from the defeat.
Even so, the second-year head coach said he couldn't be prouder of the Irish, who rallied together after losing a few of the team's most important players in the later stages of the 2022 season.
"The guys rallied together and played as a unit," he said.
The heavy-handed win marked the second time the Fighter Jets inflicted defeat on the Irish this summer, following a 41-15 decision during the regular season. Cold Lake was the only team to beat Airdrie this year.
Bellot said he wants to congratulate the Fighter Jets, who as a result of their AFL title will be hosting the GTA All-Stars – the winning team in Ontario's men's football league – in a national championship game in September.
Even though the season ended on a sour note, the 2022 campaign was easily the Irish's best season since joining the AFL seven years ago. The team finished the regular season with a 4-1-1 regular season record and then booked their spot in the final with playoff victories over the Central Alberta Bucanneers and Edmonton Elite.
After Airdrie did not win a game in 2019 and only won a single game in 2021, the team's performances this season showcased a complete turnaround of the Irish program.
According to Bellot, the 2022 turnaround is just the beginning.
"It's been a historic season overall, but I will say – and I told the guys – even though I'm super proud of them, just because the season is over doesn't mean it's the end," he said.
Bellot added he wants to thank Airdronians for supporting the Irish's run this season.
"It's been truly a pleasure to see and we want to continue extending the relationship," he said. "It's been a huge community effort to really support this organization, so I can't thank them enough."