The women’s Irish Aussie Rules team, the Alfa Irish Banshees take on the Canada Northern Lights in the 2017 AFL International Cup Grand Final this coming Saturday in the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne at 4:30pm local time, 7:30am GMT. The tournament is the showpiece event of international Aussie Rules calendar with nations from all over the globe competing. The women’s final in the 50,000+ capacity Etihad Stadium will be played before the men’s AFL game between Carlton and Hawthorn, that may also feature some Irish players. This is the Banshees third consecutive Grand Final appearance and the Canadians have been the opposition each time. At the inaugural women’s competition in 2011 it was the Banshees that won the silverware, winning on a score line of 5.9 39 to 1.2 8. However it was a different story in the 2014 repeat with the well drilled Canadians winning 5.8 38 to 2.0 12.
So far in this year’s competition the sides appear to be much more closely matched although Saturday will be their first meeting. The Canadians got a major scare in their first game against the hard tackling Fiji Vonu, a game they could have lost before just getting over the line by one point in golden score extra time. This game definitely shook Canada physically, and mentally also, but they bounced back with further pool wins over Pakistan and Great Britain Swans before having a relatively comfortable win over USA Freedom in Tuesday’s semi-final.
The Irish Banshees have had an easier time in their pool games defeating USA Freedom, the European Crusaders and Papua New Guinea Flames before a tough and very close encounter with nearest neighbours Great Britain Swans in the semi-final, a game the Banshees won by a slim margin 3.5 23 to 2.3 15. Based on both teams winning margin over USA Freedom 46 to 8 for the Banshees in pool round 1 and 44 to 8 for Canada in the semi-final, we can expect a very close Grand Final that could be in the balance right up to the final hooter.
The Banshees are in a positive and confident mood heading into the final with a team made up of a mixture of Irish based and Australian based players. Amongst the Irish based players are very experienced athletes such as former Limerick camoige player Marie Keating. In a previous spell in Australia, Marie was named on the Sydney women’s AFL team of the decade and has represented New South Wales at interstate level in Australia. Another vastly experienced Banshee is Antrim ladies GAA full back Emma Kelly. Emma will be playing in her third International Cup Grand Final on Saturday.
Of the Australian based players Laura Duryea (nee Corrigan) is the most famous. The Cavan native became the first non-Australian women to debut in the new semi-professional women’s AFL competition earlier this year for Melbourne Demons. Another player that moved to Australia this year to experience elite level women’s AFL is former Co Down ladies GAA midfielder Clara Fitzpatrick. Clara has impressed for the Banshees in the crucial ruck role and her ability to run hard is outstanding.
The Canadians are accomplished footy players and have a combination of toughness and good skills that is essential to win at the highest level. Their captain Aimee Legault from the Quebec province is one of their most important players, playing in midfield she will have plenty of possessions and the Banshees will need to watch her closely. Joint head coach Tom Madigan acknowledges that the Canadians are strong but he believes the Irish girls can win on Saturday. Madigan who successfully guided the Irish men to Grand Final glory in 2011 thinks the wide open spaces of the Etihad Stadium may suit the Irish who are most comfortable with a fast running Gaelic Football style of play.
The game will be streamed live on the AFL website www.afl.com.au/internationalcup (7:30am Irish time). Keep up to date using #AFLIC17 and on www.arfli.com