The Irish Banshees and Warriors had starts to the AFL International Cup 2017 they would have dreamed of for three years. After Grand Finals defeats for both teams in 2014 maybe they was some more hope for the opposition when facing the men and women in green. However in the Warriors defeat of reigning champions Papua New Guinea and the Banshees comprehensive victory over USA Freedom they let the competition know they are still top teams.
The Warriors opening game against PNG was a tough one, considering the long journey compared their opponents, the fact they were playing their toughest opponents of recent tournaments and that the Warriors squad are still getting to know each other. Also the weather got nasty in the second half with wind and heavy rain. You might think that would suit the Irish who are familiar with “weather” however it made clean marking difficult and negated our clear height advantage across the oval.
The win was a fine victory and a very important one considering this year’s tournament format with only the top two teams making the Grand Final, based on results after all Division 1 teams have played four rounds of games. This format means even one pool defeat could end Grand Final hopes as then you are at the mercy of other results. PNG are in that boat now, immediately under pressure for a team that has contested every Grand Final since the tournament started in 2002. The Warriors are in much better shape with France to come on Wednesday, which on all known form is expected to be an easier encounter.
Sunday’s Warriors victory was a battle throughout as it always has been against the fine footballers of PNG. We got the good start with the wind on our backs and the ball dry. Padraig Lucey looked assured at full forward having come off two seasons of professional life at Geelong Cats and kicked two first quarter goals. Another giant, Paul O’Halloran from South Dublin Swans put in a dominant display playing in the ruck. As the weather turned nasty PNG took the lead and going into the final quarter the Warriors were behind but only by two points. It was the Warriors soccer skills that delivered the final quarter goals, first a tap in from close range by Robert McElhone and then a strike from 30 metres by Ronan Cull. That win sealing goal was unorthodox but Cull’s clean strike saw the ball sail through the goal posts to the delight of every Irish supporter at the ground and watching online. I think Ronan has more of a sailing background than soccer, but it was a perfectly executed kick that guaranteed the win.
The Banshees looked lively in their first game that wasn’t quite as nail biting. The opposition was the USA Freedom and it was expected the Americans would be solid opposition. Women’s footy is on the rise and in both this tournament and in 2014 the USA have brought two teams to Australia. This time the reserves aren’t in the International Cup but are playing club teams in Victoria. The Banshees have prepared well for this tournament under the diligent eyes of Brendan Kelly and Pat Leavy. Experienced Australian Tom Madigan who spent many years involved with ARFLI is joint coach for this tournament. Tom is a determined and energetic type of bloke and the Banshees replicated this in their style of play.
The Banshees must be delighted to have current women’s AFL player Laura Corrigan-Duryea in their ranks and any scout out there can easily benchmark other Banshees to Laura. One player that really caught the eye on Saturday was ruck women Clara Fitzpatrick, the former Co Down ladies Gaelic footballer was dominant in winning the hit outs and was generally influential around the middle of the ground. Clara has been playing at the highest level of women’s club footy this year alongside Laura at Diamond Creek and at 186cm tall she definitely has the height to be a top level ruck.
Next up for the Banshees is the European Crusaders on Wednesday, this is expected to be an easier game for the Irish as the European team are relatively inexperienced at this level. But with games coming up so quickly and little time for recovery it is good to have an easier game. In contrast looking at footage from the other women’s pool, Canada the reigning women’s title holders had the toughest of tough encounters against Fiji. They scraped out of that game with a one pint win in a game that went into overtime to separate the sides. The Fijian tackling was impressive, the Canadians definitely felt it. Fiji play Great Britain next and that would be a game well worth seeing.
Best of luck to our teams on Wednesday, I’m looking forward to the return of the live streaming for the round 4 men’s games and the women’s semi-final round. To keep up to date, search #AFLIC17 on Twitter and Facebook and check out Australian Rules Football League of Ireland, Irish Warriors and Irish Banshees on Facebook.