South Dublin Swans are born
Sunday, April 16 2006 @ 01:11 am ACST
Contributed by: Brett Northey
The new Irish Aussie Rules season starts soon and amongst the six teams competing for glory will be the South Dublin Swans. Alas this isn't quite a boost in the number of clubs in Ireland, as South Dublin is really a fresh start for the Dublin Eagles, a solid team but which carried some baggage from seasons past. Thanks to some help from the Sydney Swans the new club is kitted out and ready to go for round 1.
The Eagles were a strong club, winning the premiership in 2004. But a few dramas on and off the field began to take their toll. Over the northern winter key people who had helped keep the club going through 2005 decided that a fresh start was needed. A committee was formed with former Eagles player Michael Oakes as President. Leaving their run a bit late and with plenty to do, the new side wasn't ready in time for the pre-season competition, the Super 10s, but have been included in the draw for the regular season.
Choosing the moniker "Swans" came through a contact at the AFL club being able to secure old training jumpers from Sydney, as well as some footballs. It was just a happy coincidence that they are reigning premiers and home to Irish champion Tadhg Kennelly. With Sydney's generous support the guys will be ready to go when the season starts on April 22nd against the West Dublin Saints.
Michael Oakes is pleased with the off field result so far, with most of the former Eagles joining the new South Dublin team. They've got plenty of Aussies and encouragingly 10 Irish on their playing list, plus 1 Slovakian. Since the ARFLI season is played mostly on Rugby-sized pitches the league is 14-per-side, with four to six interchange. So with around 22 players at the Swans they should face selection headaches - something apparently uncommon at the Eagles recently.
At this stage their home ground will be Terenure Rugby Club, the same as the defunct Eagles. Michael notes that the ground is a tad small but "the facilities are fantastic, good rooms, hot showers and a great bar."
It's pleasing to see that ARFLI has managed to maintain six teams in 2006, though there are some concerns about the Clare Crows and Midland Tigers. There is a trend of the Irish league suffering from loss of enthusiasm in post-International Cup years. Other issues which face the fledgling competition are Ireland's relatively small population (under 6 million) and the distances some of the non-Dublin sides have to regularly travel. On the up-side is that the small country can manage a national competition without the cost of airfares, and Aussie Rules has a reasonable profile thanks to stars like Kennelly and former champ Jim Stynes. Along with the International Rules series and similarity to Gaelic football, one might think that Ireland is best placed of all countries to embrace the game. However, with the similarity comes the down-side. In many countries players have nothing else like Australian Football to take their fancy, whereas on the Emerald Isle Gaelic football is everywhere. Plus that sport is very much a part of the culture of the people and fiercely defended, so you begin to see the obstacles to Aussie Rules growing. Still, ARFLI has only been running for around six years, so if it can keep 5 to 7 clubs going for a few more years as they put down roots, they will have a good base from which to slowly grow the game.