Cork players on Irish Aussie Rules side aiming for Euro glory

European Championships take place in Zagreb with members of the Cork Vikings and Leeside Lions on board
Cork players on Irish Aussie Rules side aiming for Euro glory

Members of the Irish Banshees, Sarah O'Donovan, Shannon Stevenson, Annie Walsh, Maria Quirke, CJ Murphy, Shauna Buckley and Sorcha Herlihy, training at Tramore Valley Park. Picture: Jim Coughlan

THEY have enjoyed considerable success in recent years and now Ireland’s Aussie Rules football teams have set their sights on the European Championships in Zagreb next month.

They will head to the tournament in confident mood as both sides have recently returned from the European Cup in Edinburgh where The Banshees (women’s side) won and men’s side, the IrishWarriors were third.

Twenty-four teams from across Europe took part, so both Irish sides were delighted with their performances as the men bid to return to the top like the Banshees.

Cork was well represented on both sides, with members of the Cork Vikings (women) and Leeside Lions (men) prominent players with the Irish teams. The Cork sides train at Tramore Valley Park, while the international players also train in Dublin at the weekends.

Some of the players would have been well-known footballers, such as Annie Walsh who won All-Ireland medals with Cork and her club, Inch Rovers, in recent years.

While they may not be well-known, The Banshees are one of the most successful squads in European competitions and currently hold several titles, including the International Cup, European Cup, and the Euro 9s Cup.

The European Championships is an AFL Europe-run event that takes place every three years. This is a full 18-a-side tournament run over four days.

Coach of the Irish side, Eoin O’Sullivan said: “It’s a great privilege to work with such talent from all over Ireland. The players and management are fully focused on the European Championships. I’ve coached the men’s and women’s club teams in Cork, as well as university AFL teams, and as the popularity of the game has risen, the standard of the AFL and AFLW has risen significantly too.

“But with that, other countries across Europe have improved massively, so international competitions are always difficult and interesting.

 Members of the Irish Warriors, Andrew O'Neill, Paul Murphy, Liam Dineen and James O'Shea, at at Tramore Valley Park. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Members of the Irish Warriors, Andrew O'Neill, Paul Murphy, Liam Dineen and James O'Shea, at at Tramore Valley Park. Picture: Jim Coughlan

“I suppose one of our biggest challenges at national team level is funding. Despite being ranked No.1 (women) and No.3 respectively in Europe, we haven’t got a major sponsor on our kit. 

The players and management have to cover their own flights and accommodation, as well as source all gear and equipment, which is challenging and often the stumbling block in getting the best players out to competitions.

“This is why we have set up a GoFundMe page to assist with the players’ costs and lighten the financial burden on them. If there are any companies or organisations interested in being associated with AFL Ireland, and supporting these highly motivated and successful teams with their brand in pride of place on our national kit, we’d love to have a conversation and see if we can work together,” O’Sullivan said.

INTENSE

One of the players who will be hoping to make his mark at Zagreb is Liam Dineen, who has played GAA with Douglas.

Commentating on the upcoming championships, Dineen said: “Right now it’s an exciting time for the Warriors. We are building nicely for our main focus of the year, the European Championship in Zagreb in October. The trial period to make the current squad of 38 players was very intense and contested by a huge number of players who all put themselves forward in hope of being selected. This lead to brilliant games and sharp sessions had by everyone.

“We currently have a squad of 38 which will be cut down to 28 for the competition in Zagreb. The competition for selection is huge and there is a huge amount of work being done by all players in the squad. The group chat is buzzing with messages of players putting in the extra sessions they are doing themselves driving each and every player on to be better and to get the work done.

“This effort from everyone is not just translating to the national team set up but is also driving the club players to perform better as they know they are an integral part of the Warriors going forward for future tournaments.

“We’re gearing up nicely with squad sessions along with hitting the business end of the Premiership season pushing players to perform their best to make the 28 while also driving to win the Premiership with their clubs.”

KERRY CONNECTION

Also lining out with the Cork Vikings and the Banshees is former Kerry footballer Maria Quirke.

Speaking about how she got involved in Aussie rules football Maria said: “I moved to Cork for work and being a strong Kerry woman I didn’t want to transfer clubs and I was searching for something else that was similar but different at the same time and I saw some of my friends who had gone to Australia posting about Aussie Rules on social media.

“So I did a bit of research here and found a club and I started playing with the Cork Vikings in 2019.”

This led to Quirke getting involved with the Irish set-up and she has been part of the Banshees squad now for the last few years.

“I was asked to get involved with the Irish side and we went over the London to play in the European Championships and managed to win that and that sealed it for me and I have been involved ever since. It’s great to be involved.”

Speaking on the differences between Aussie Rules and Gaelic football she said: “I think a lot of people think that the ball is the biggest difference. But a lot of things are different, how you kick, how you handpass and tackle. They are much bigger components than just kicking a ball.

“The ball is going to fall how it’s going to fall at the end of the day when you are being tackled, but a tackle is quite specific and so is a handpass, so those things are a lot harder to adjust to and you have to break them down into smaller pieces before stitching them together.

“The first time you get hit and the first time you tackle are two totally different things and I think I ended up tackling someone first so it got me a good side of it before I got the other side of it. Once you do it right you can’t go wrong but it is different to Gaelic football.

I enjoy the tackling aspect and everything about the game and our club here in Cork is growing all the time and hopefully someday getting more clubs down this way in the future.”

Looking to the European Championships Quirke said: “There will always be pressure because of our record and we need to build on that and not get overconfident and practicing the basics. There is no team you can take for granted and you need to perform to our levels to have a chance of winning.

“Because it’s self-funding it shows that the players really want to be there. Obviously it’s fantastic when we get sponsorship and fund-raising is ongoing as well, but it’s just part and parcel of it.”

COSTLY

Bill Agelidis, Operations Manager, AFL Ireland Warriors added: “As AFL Ireland is currently self-funded, getting to Zagreb for both teams and coaching staff (approximately 65 people) is a costly exercise. These are two committed, very high-performing and hardworking teams, competing at the pinnacle of their sport with little or no financial support, having to fund much of their essential travel and accommodation expenses themselves. As such, any and all support is hugely appreciated.”

They have set up a GoFundMe page (gofund.me/41466c02) also accessible via aflireland.ie as well as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and would welcome all the support.

They are also hoping to attract corporate sponsorship to help offset the considerable cost of the trip.

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