From AFL Europe By Riley Brettell
The Irish Banshees have claimed the sweetest revenge imaginable to take out the 2017 International Cup, coming out on top of the Canadian Northern Lights in as thrilling a sporting contest as you would see anywhere in the world.
In a match fitting of top billing at the MCG on the last Saturday in September, the two sides played out an awe-inspiring contest that culminated in a heart stopping final quarter that saw Colleen Quinn’s late goal snatch victory for the Banshees.
With both sides entering the final game of the tournament undefeated, the tension around Etihad Stadium was palpable leading up to the first bounce and carried right through the contest.
After the scrappy and visibly nervy opening stages of the match, the effects of the big build-up were quickly shaken off and replaced by a brutal tenacity and attack on the ball that saw several bone crunching contests in the opening minutes.
Canada were the quickest to settle and managed to put the first goal on the board inside four minutes, but the Banshees responded with some strong tackling that arrested the momentum back in their favour as the quarter wore on.
Maebh Moriarty settled the Irish by producing one of the plays of the tournament, with a blind turn and goal in the ilk of Leon Bakers effort in the 1984 AFL Grand Final that would make the man himself blush, with the roar of the crowd to match the effort.
Neither side were able to grasp the momentum after the first break, with the ball pinging back and forth through the middle of the ground as Fields of Athenry was bellowed out by the large Irish contingent at the City End.
The resolute defence of the Banshees that had been a hallmark of their play throughout the tournament stood up gamely again amidst growing Northern Lights pressure, though after five minutes of repelling Canadian attacks the dam wall inevitably broke and the Northern Lights pinched two quick goals despite some huge last ditch defensive efforts from Carol Breen to create a 14-point buffer.
Just as it looked as though the Canadians would break the game open, momentum swung back the Banshees way in the blink of an eye. Donegal woman Aisling Gillespie snapped a goal to reduce the deficit before Carol Breen narrowly missed the chance to get on the end of a golden opportunity minutes after that would have had the Irish firmly on top.
With the 9-point margin favouring the Canadians at the main break, the second half began with ten hard fought minutes with the game on a knifes edge, before Linda Connolly finally made the big breakthrough ten minutes in with her running right foot check-side goal bringing the Banshees back within 3-points.
Ireland were inspired and Banshees star Gillian Behan from the UTS Shamrocks club once again showed why she had been one of the players of the tournament, producing some trademark dash off half-forward and almost replicating her stunning goal from the semi-final, only to fall agonisingly short.
The tables had turned and the Canadians were under immense Irish pressure when the siren went, setting up a thrilling final term that shaped as a fitting climax for the tournaments two dominant sides.
A pulsating final fifteen minutes’ saw Ireland once again see off the early Canadian onslaughts, before Linda Connolly again almost lifted the roof off the stadium, narrowly missing her shot after getting on the end of a stirring counter attack down the wing.
With nothing to lose the Irish pushed numbers forward in search for the goal that would put them in front, and with a ball up fifteen metres out from goal provided the perfect platform for Colleen Quinn from Tyrone to be a hero. Sharking the loose ball, she calmly slotted her chance to ensure pandemonium ensued in the stands.
The Northern Lights responded by throwing everything they had at the Banshees, dominating a final five minutes where all thirty-six players filled the sixty-metre radius around the Canadian goals, but a heroic team defensive effort from Ireland kept their rivals at bay.
In the dying stages with Ireland clinging to a 4-point lead, the umpire threw the ball up directly in front of goal, with a swarm of green jumpers throwing themselves in to negate the contest before the siren bellowed and euphoria set in.
As the players celebrated in the crowd with the throng of Irish supporters, Sydney based Waterford girl, Carol Breen, was named best on ground to cap off her magnificent tournament.
The title is Ireland’s second in the women’s division of the International Cup, having also beaten Canada back in 2011.
Irish Banshees 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.1 (25)
Canada Northern Lights 1.1 3.2 3.3 3.3 (21)
Irish Banshees: L. Connolly, A. Gillespie, M. Moriarty, C. Quinn
Canada Northern Lights : T. Rolfe, C. Willis, N. Robertson
Irish Banshees: C. Breen, C. Quinn, C. Fitzpatrick, G. Behan, M. Keating , L. Corrigan Duryea
Canada Northern Lights : A. Legault, V. Moreau, N. Robertson, L. Hilmi, S. Ennor