Irish Banshees vs European Crusaders – St Patrick’s College, Ballarat – August 9th, 10:45am
BY RILEY BRETTELL AND TARA COSOLETO
The Alfa Irish Banshees continued their strong start to the AFL International Cup with a 61-point victory over the European Crusaders in Ballarat today.
Magnificent sunshine covered the ground at one of Australia’s most famous football schools, and while spectators were rugged up, the temperature was not a concern for either side.
If anyone in the Irish camp expected an easy time against a European side coming off a 55-point loss to PNG, they copped a rude awakening, with the Crusaders putting the pressure on early.
With full-back Amanda King a late out with a hand injury, the Crusaders needed some assurance in defence. But their new recruit Sandra “Jet” Janjetovic was able to come in and was extremely impressive in her first outing for the side.
Janjetovic’s intercept marking and defensive spoils across the backline, alongside star teammate Coline Duquet, was a large reason why the Irish remained scoreless for most of the first term. The Banshees overuse of the football also cost them some golden opportunities in front of goal.
But Ireland’s Aine Higgins was eventually able to break the deadlock, with a classy snap for goal bringing a huge roar from the crowd of students lining the boundary. With the play predominantly between the arcs, the underdog Crusaders really matched the challenge and it took only a late goal from Molly Cullen to give the Irish a 14-point lead at the first change.
The Crusaders continued to frustrate the Irish throughout the second term, defending the corridor and keeping the Banshees within touching distance. It took Ireland’s Fiona Roarty to pinch the solitary goal for the quarter, winning a free kick in the final second of the half and kicking truly after the siren.
But the Irish were able to click into gear in the third team, opening up the ground to kick three goals for the quarter, stretching their lead to 47 at the final change.
The Europeans fought hard throughout the fourth quarter and prevented Ireland from blowing the game out, with Linda Connolly and Marie Keating slotting the only goals of the last term.
Molly Cullen was a dominant performer for Ireland and Banshees’ coach Tom Madigan was happy to sing her praises post-game.
“I saw a few things from her on Sunday and she went up on that today,” Madigan said. “She’s going to go a long way in this tournament.”
The final scoreboard failed to show the true competitiveness of the Crusaders on the day, who in just their second competitive hit-out pushed one of the tournament favourites right to the final siren, sentiments shared by Madigan.
“It’s tough for them coming from all parts of the world and they only get an opportunity to meet each other last minute,” he said. “It was a good effort from them and it was harder than it looked for us.”
Crusaders’ captain Rachel Urquhart also praised the efforts of her team despite another scoreless account.
“It was a very tough game for the girls, but I’m proud of the way we came out strong from the first quarter,” she said. “It was really great to have the team start to gel and work as hard as they could.”
Ireland’s next game against Papua New Guinea in Hallam is set to provide a huge test for their tournament credentials, while the Europeans face the United States back in Melbourne, a contest that looks within reach.
“I think it’s going to be a really interesting match,” Crusaders’ coach Graham Andrews said. “The USA’s result against Ireland was similar to our result today, so I think it will be a really close game on Sunday.”
Irish Banshees: 8.13. (61) European Crusaders: 0.0. (0)
Irish Banshees: A. Higgins 2, L. Connolly, C. McCutcheon, M. Cullen, M. Keating, E. Kelly, F. Roarty European Crusaders: Nil
Irish Banshees: M. Cullen, E. Kelly, C. Fitzpatrick, L. Flannery, C. Breen, A. Higgins European Crusaders – C. Duquet, S. Janjetovic, A. Barisic, L. Gardell, C. Perez, R. Urquhart