Ireland finished 4th in the 2008 International Cup.

Irish favoritism for European Championships

By Nick Townsend

Initially Ireland seems the most logical place in Europe for the game of Aussie Rules to flourish. After all, the similarities between it and Ireland’s Gaelic football are close enough for Irish recruits, most notably Jim Stynes and Tadhg Kennelly, to pursue successful careers with Australian clubs, and for the two countries to play one another in a game of composite rules.

Not surprisingly, when the European Championships kick off this August in Denmark and Sweden, the Ireland Warriors will be strong favourites. They have one of the best track records of all the European sides, having won the International Cup in 2002, and finishing fourth in 2005 and 2008, as well one of the strongest domestic leagues on the continent.

“We now have an Eastern and a Western Conference with over 250 registered senior players,” says Ciaran O'Hara, team manager for the Warriors, “In addition we have a Junior Auskick program in the schools which sees in excess of 150 children playing the sport each year, and we have plans to start Women’s Football and Rec Footy soon.” 

The growth of the sport is even more significant given that the history of Aussie Rules in Ireland only dates back to 1999 with the formation of the Dublin Demons and Belfast Redbacks. It has been a turbulent ten years, which has seen the founding and folding of a number of clubs all over Ireland, but today the country can boast a healthy league of eight clubs. “We’ve nearly doubled our player base in the last three years and we’re sure that we can grow by at least another four clubs in the years ahead.”

The similarities with Gaelic make it easier to convert eager recruits, however the fact that their seasons coincide also means the two sports are often in direct competition. Most of the Irish squad continue to play Gaelic and often Aussie Rules comes second. “It [Gaelic] is tied to the movement that gained our independence. In the North, it is the sport of nationalists, and it evokes passion,” says O’Hara, “…the biggest problem will always be that we both have summer seasons and Gaelic will for the most part be the first call of most players.”

Yet Aussie Rules still maintains some pulling power. Warriors captain Cian Quigley continues to play Gaelic and Hurling, and used to play Rugby. “I think Aussie Rules combines a lot of the great things about all those sports,” says Quigley, “It's quick and skilful with a good degree of physicality added to it.”

Ireland has also been able to benefit from the famous Irish diaspora. “We select our National team not only from our own league, but also from overseas,” says Ciaran O’Hara “To the best of our knowledge there are Irish players in most of the world’s overseas Aussie Rules leagues and indeed quite a few in Australia too.” This year’s squad will include players based in Holland, Sweden and the UK, while one squad member, Vince Manning, discovered the game while living in Japan.

But despite the expectations of success, the Irish remain level headed and looking to enjoy themselves as much as anything else.  As O’Hara says, “We hope we’re good winners, gracious losers and good guests to our Danish and Swedish friends.”

Visit the website for the European Championships in Australian Football 2010.

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