This coming Sunday the Craigavon Cowboys kick off their 2017 season with a road game to the 1-0 Westmeath Minotaurs. A long pre-season of recruitment and training will come to a head as the 'Boys look to get off to a winning start against a Minotaurs team that won their opening game against the Wexford Eagles 19-7. The teams haven't met in a senior competitive fixture before but still know each other well through the Junior League campaigns, both sides having a strong nucleus of young players that they are looking towards to shape their senior squad for years to come. The two senior teams have met before in friendly tournaments with the Cowboys coming out on top both times but in closely contested games, the Cowboys have no doubt this one will be no different with a close fought game expected at Mullingar RFC.
The Minotaurs had a strong running game on display against the Eagles so the Cowboys will be hoping their Defence, led by D Co-Ordinator Jo Buchanan, has enough to stop the them in their tracks, but with Andy Herron at Running Back performing well in Pre-Season the Cowboys will be confident they will have enough of a ground game to worry their hosts. For both sides there will be potential debuts at arguably the most important position in Football, Quarterback. A potential home debut for Minotaurs QB, Joseph Kinahan as he makes the step up from Junior football but there is no doubt the Team Ireland u20 has the talent to be a star at Senior Level. Another debut at QB, this time for the Cowboys, as new signing Josh Marchbanks looks to stamp his mark. The Oregon born signal caller will be hoping he can lead the Cowboys offense with the ground game and passing.
A lot of rookies are set to make their debuts for the Cowboys this Sunday, some really promising players but their first competitive game is always a steep learning curve. Getting that first bit of contact, that first play out of the way will be the first test for rookies and then the confidence can grow from there. Guys like Shayne Mone, Thomas Pollock, Ben Fallon and Carmine Fictola have jumped over every hurdle placed in their way, but their next one will be their biggest one yet.
Sunday marks a big day for the Cowboys, phase 1 in the rebuild. All eyes have been looking on this fixture since they first gained knowledge of Game 1 - Purple v Orange - Minotaurs v Cowboys. #bleedorange
With the Senior Team is set to kickoff their 2017 season this Sunday, we speak with new recruit Josh Marchbanks to find out about more about him and how he has settled into the team.
Who is your favourite NFL & College team and player?
"I don't really care too much for the NFL but I like Oakland, Seattle, Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami. I mostly follow for fantasy football. College team, die hard Oregon State Beavers! Home town team. I also follow the Miami Hurricanes closely as well as Washington Huskies. Favourite NFL player ever would be Maurice Jones-Drew who has now retired."
If you could compare your own playing style to any NFL star, who would it be and why?
"I don't compare myself to NFL players, they are that 1% elite athlete so it doesn't make sense to me. But I like watching highlights of Mike Vick, Sean Taylor, Ed Reed, and Randy Moss. 'The U' part 2 on 30/30 gets me going."
You have played in Brazil most recently, how did you find the language barrier?
"Brazil was very hard for me as far as language went. I started at QB, we were 3-1 with the 2nd highest scoring offense at that point but I couldn't call audibles or communicate simple changes in the huddle so I switched to OLB/S which worked out better. Easy to see the plays before they develop over there."
What is your favourite memory from your Football career so far?
"3 favourite memories. Playing in the ICFL vs RMFL game in Salt Lake City Utah. Taking a few ICFL guys and playing against the central Oregon blizzard team in Idaho. Winning the LIFFA championship last year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil."
There has been quite a few rookies on board at the Cowboys this season, how do you find training up guys who are completely new to the sport compared to back home where the sport is so much more mainstream?
"Brazil and Ireland have a lot of new guys. One thing in common is the physical part. Outside of the US it seems people don't have that killer instinct to smack someone. They don't like the physical part of the game. But I prefer working with the new guys, they seem more eager to learn, most of them absorb the information and I like teaching."
Obviously in Craigavon the weather quite a lot different to Brazil, do you think overcoming the conditions will be a factor when playing here?
"HUGE difference. Brazil you are playing in 90-95F weather with a mid-day kick off. Fields are dry, ground is hard, you have to force water down 2-3 days before game day. Here, it is hard to get warm, field is always wet, slick, gripping the ball is hard when throwing, WRs dropping balls, fumbles. Weather will be difficult to play in for sure."
We have a lot of rookies this season, what advice would you give to the new guys that have just came on board?
"Get involved and stay involved. You won't get on the field very much so when you do, make a statement. Light someone up, throw a key block, get an INT, and score a TD. Coach can't sit a hitter or playmaker. STAY POSITIVE."
The Cowboys will take on the Westmeath Minotaurs this Sunday at Mullingar RFC, kickoff scheduled for 2pm. There are a limited amount of seats left on the bus, if you want to come and support the 'Boys, drop us a message here or on Facebook.
As the season draws closer, we talk with Cowboys President Jo Buchanan to get his thoughts on the team’s preparation for this season, work going on off the field as well as his objectives for this season and beyond.
You took over the Presidency of the Cowboys in August last year, what has been your primary focus coming into the role? Any long term goals?
“The primary focus is to have a successful 2017, not just with the senior team but across all three teams. There are many different projects being worked on at the minute to get us back to winning ways. An extensive rookie recruitment over 7 weeks at 6 different locations at the end of 2016 was key to kick starting this, of which we have picked up a number of enthusiastic rookies. Our preseason training started earlier than usual to allow more time for the rookies to learn the sport and settle into the team. Long term, we want to be back in the SBC and be consistently competitive, whilst improving our junior and flag programmes and increasing participation numbers.”
This season will see some change for the Cowboys now competing at IAFL1 Level - has there been much adapting to do off the field or is it business as usual?
“A change in division does not mean any match will be easier. Our preseason training is even more intense than it has ever been. If anything, IAFL 1 allows us to rebuild, go back to our fundamentals and create a foundation to build on. Our coaching staff, led by head coach Greg Loughran, have been very busy preparing for this season and ensuring the players are ready for the challenge that IAFL 1 will bring. What happened last year has given our players real determination to be successful this year. The Executive Committee has been working harder than ever before to work out issues and provide a platform for the senior team to excel.”
The Cowboys are always looking for volunteers, be it as players, coaches, referees or game day volunteers. Why should someone come on board with the Cowboys and what makes being a Cowboy special?
“Our club is rather unique, in that we are the only team in Northern Ireland to consistently compete in the senior, junior and flag leagues, and one of only 3 teams to do so in all of Ireland. We have one of the longest histories in American football in Ireland, with our initial creation back in 1986, of which have been very successful: 3 Shamrock Bowls, 2 Junior Championships, a DV8 title and 2016 Flag Emerald Bowl champions. A club we may be but we are very much a family. We have many opportunities for anyone looking to come on board with the Cowboys – whether it’s for experience for a CV or a hobby, there’s a place for everyone at the Cowboys.”
The club has been one of the fore runners for Youth Football in Ireland and have twice been crowned Irish Youth Champions in the three years of youth football, do the Cowboys see that as a key part of the club and if so why?
“Very much so, we will hopefully see a real benefit of it this year as there are a number of juniors stepping up to seniors. Juniors gives our guys an opportunity to learn the sport and improve their abilities without having to play veterans with 10+ years’ experience. Hopefully the 2017 season will see even more clubs start junior teams and provide a wider range of opposition. We have a number of the junior team currently training with Team Ireland U20s, and who are up for selection for Team Ireland U20s first ever fixture scheduled in April. Everyone at the Cowboys would like to wish our guys the best of luck with selection and to Team Ireland U20s in this historic occasion.”
Before the regular season starts, the ‘Boys are hosting a preseason doubleheader on Sunday at Lurgan RFC, what is the key aim of this game and this seasons overall objective?
“This will be a great opportunity for all 4 teams involved to assess how their preseason training has gone and areas that need further improvement. For us, this game is very much about getting the fundamentals right, giving our rookies valuable game time and our seniors the chance to play with the new schemes. We have our first regular season game on the 19th March so getting the basics right at this stage is key, then we can begin to build on that through the season. This season, we will be expecting to make the playoffs at the very least. We have made vast improvements in the offseason and preseason, to a point where we are in the best shape we have been for quite some time. Exciting times ahead!”
The NI Razorbacks take on the Antrim Jets in the first game on Sunday at 11am followed by the Cowboys taking on the South Kildare Soldiers straight after, scheduled for 2pm. These games will be hosted at Lurgan RFC, where a full bar will be open from 1pm and food available from the club house. Entry is free!
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