The 2017 ARFLI men’s Grand Final takes place on Saturday at 2pm at the Mardyke Arena, Cork City between the hosts Leeside Lions and South Dublin Swans. After the Lions topped the ladder they gained the right to have a home final and the Swans joined them last week after defeating both Belfast Redbacks and Galway Magpies in the semi-final round.
This is the Lions second Grand Final in succession after victory in last year’s decider against Belfast Redbacks. Prior to that it was a nine year gap to the previous win. In contrast the Swans have been very frequent Premiers this decade winning every Grand Final contested since 2010. In total they have won five Premierships, in 2006, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015. Prior to be the Swans they were the Eagles and with that identity they also won the granny in 2004. The Lions role of honour includes Premierships in 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2016.
The most recent finals meeting between the winning most clubs in ARFLI was the 2013 semi-final where the Swans came out on top and prior to that was the 2011 Grand Final when the Swans again won. However the Lions have invested heavily in new player development and their ranks have been swelled by many players that started playing at University College Cork. At the recent AFL International Cup where the Irish Warriors cruelly missed the Grand Final with a controversial after the siren goal, the Lions had seven players in the Warriors squad and many more talented players did not travel to Australia this year. The Swans had five AFL International Cup players this year including the only Irish based player selected on the team of the tournament, Carlow native Paul O’Halloran.
The Lions have a good mix of experience and youth with old timers such Dominic Joyce, Ian O’Sullivan, Cian Quigley, Eoin O’Sullivan and Vincent Manning to name a few. From the younger brigade there are players such as Muiris Bartley and Conor Halloran who have represented Ireland on many occasions. However one player the Lions don’t have this year is 2016 Grand Final best on ground, Mattie Moore. Last year his seven goals were very important in winning the John “Locke” O’Sullivan Cup and he will be hard to replace.
The Swans have had an inconsistent season in comparison to the Lions, however they have come together well when the wins were really needed, something that is a pattern in many of their Grand Final winning years. Again they have plenty of experience and some significant tall options including the already mentioned ruckman Paul O’Halloran and also Irish Warriors forward Gavin Murray who previously played with UTS Bats in Sydney after his first season with the Swans. Liam Burns was another player that represented Ireland in Australia this year and he has become an important player since his debut season in 2015. A new recruit this year is Ronan Cull, who made the headlines in Australia kicking a crucial last quarter goal against PNG to seal the win.
The umpires for the Grand Final will be the experienced pair of John Enright and Brent Morrison and a clean, fair game is expected with both sides respecting their opponents and the officials. It should be an exciting encounter on Saturday on the immaculate Mardyke Arena Oval on the banks of the river Lee very close to the centre of Cork City. One team will have won their sixth ARFLI Premiership on Saturday (assuming a draw doesn’t occur), we’ll have to wait and see will it be the Lions or the Swans.