|Photo: Dave Bradshaw Photography|
As the saying goes, ‘Defense wins Championships’ and there is no shortage of people who would agree with such a statement.
Great teams are built on a productive offence and a solid defense; with these two ingredients coming together, you have the makings of a team capable of challenging for a championship. This is certainly the case with the Belfast Trojans.
The Trojans have established themselves as being the most dominant team in recent Irish football. The reigning Shamrock Bowl champions consist of a team made of up quality and quantity, often dispatching teams with a flurry of running and aerial assaults on offence, complemented by an organised and well disciplined defense that opposing teams struggle to cope with. The Belfast side once again find themselves attacking the summit SBC North Conference with a 4-0 record this season and show no intentions of letting up anytime soon.
Having firstly defeated the Carrickfergus Knights, the Trojans followed that up by securing victory in both clashes with the Craigavon Cowboys and on the road at the West Dublin Rhinos. The likes of QB James McKelvey, RB Dave Colvin and WR David Richardson can be found sitting atop of the scoring charts on a weekly basis and when a team is consistently able to put points on the board, it’s no surprise that the offence will be in the limelight.
However, what about the defense? So often overshadowed by an offence’s performance it is easy to forget the contribution made from a defensive perspective. When an offence is struggling, they must know they can rely on their defense to step up and rally the team. That kind of trust in your teammates ability has flourished throughout the Trojans squad this year. So, as the offence continues to make waves, what kind of impact is the defense making on the other side of the ball?
The Trojans have conceded only 19 points from their opening four games this year, including two shutouts against fierce rivals, Craigavon Cowboys. Linebacker trio Neil Graham, Connor Whitla and Chris Weir have racked up in excess of 70 tackles between them, an impressive total in just four outings. The defense have also found the end zone on two occasions this term, courtesy of touchdowns from Rick Duffield and Jon-Erik Talvio. On top of that, the pressure caused to opposition quarterbacks has lead to multiple sacks this season, so it’s no surprise that this defense is to reckoned with.
So what is it that makes the Trojan’s defense one of the most complete and dominant units in the league? Linebacker, Connor Whitla shares his views.
“I would say that, while on paper our defence has performed well, recording two shut-outs in three games, we are never content with our performance. The emphasis week in, week out is always on improvement, both personally and as a team. I think it has been this mentality that has allowed our defence to really step up.” – Connor Whitla.
As Whitla explains, the team’s mentality is to perform to the maximum of ones own ability and to not rest on their laurels. A defense striving on being the best and recognizing there is always room to improve.
“Absolutely we can improve. There is no such thing as a “perfect” team and we are far from that. We aim to be better every single week and put in work in the gym and on the training field in order to achieve that. Evaluating game film and regular player assessments go hand in hand with training in order for everyone to improve as players.”
The Trojans are at the half way mark of their season; but with games against Trinity College and last years finalists the Dublin Rebels on the horizon, the defense will be expecting each individual player to make a significant contribution.
“Each unit on the defense is fiercely competitive and every single player wants to do their utmost to help the team. Going into games this means everyone plays with 100% intensity, and there is a strong sense of responsibility. Everyone relies on and trusts one another to do their job which allows us to play as a much more cohesive defense.”
The unit has performed well thus far, but maintain there is another level that they can reach. The team has benefited from increased competition over the years, spurring the growth of players for the future. As the Trojans prepare for their game against the equally undefeated Trinity College this weekend, Whitla gives us his views on his own personal goals for this season.
“My main goal for this season is to be better than I was last year. To be stronger and faster. To know the playbook inside out and do everything that is expected of me by my teammates.”
The Trojans are once again showing that they have the strength and quality within their squad, capable of extending their recent run of success. The Belfast side will be aiming to prove they are a team to be reckoned with as they strive towards another Shamrock Bowl triumph. The Trojans welcome Trinity College to Deramore Park this weekend, hoping to continue their good run of form; the kind of form that this defence will have no intentions of relinquishing.
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