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Friday, February 28 2020 @ 04:16 am ACDT

Belfast Redbacks return to ARFLI

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The Australian Rules Football League of Ireland has expanded from five teams to eight this season, and as a result the league is enjoying its most competitive season yet.

The Belfast Redbacks and the Clare Crows have returned, having previously been in the league, while the Galway-based Midwest Magpies are a brand new club.

Worldfootynews.com will be profiling all three new clubs in the coming days, beginning with Belfast.

The Belfast Redbacks are the oldest Aussie rules club in Ireland, and after a few years in the wilderness are back with a bang in the 16-a-side premiership proper and have started the season in fine form.

Three wins from four matches sees them right in the mix to qualify for the semi-finals. The Redbacks opened the year with a brilliant victory 84-21 over defending champions the Dublin Demons. Despite a loss to the red hot South Dublin Swans the Redbacks bounced back with a narrow victory over the Dublin Saints. The inter-conference round saw them travel to Mullingar and beat the Magpies to see Belfast well placed in second place in the eastern conference.

Worldfootynews spoke with Redbacks president Neil McFlynn about how the past, present and future of the club and their aims for the rest of the season.

WFN: How did you get involved in the Club/sport?

Neil McFlynn: I lived in Australia when I was younger so I grew up watching and playing Aussie Rules Football. I moved to Ireland in my early teens and really missed the Aussie Rules and hoped that it would one day be played here in Ireland. I was introduced to Darren Nutt and Iain Bracken who founded the Belfast Redbacks back in 1999 and I played in the first Aussie Rules game ever played in Ireland against the North London Lions in that same year.

I travelled back to Australia with work commitments during 2000 and missed the inaugural season of the Redbacks but got involved with the team in 2002 when I returned to Ireland. We played for 2 or 3 seasons in the ARFLI with moderate success. The club then folded due to a lack of numbers / resources / finances etc. I continued playing a few games with the Mullingar Tigers and these past 2 seasons with the Dublin Demons whilst some of the other Redbacks players played last season with the Dublin Saints. We finally got together back in February this year and decided we would try and get the team back together and here we are.

WFN: Are you happy with how the season has started?

Neil: Yes, very much. There has always been a big interest in Aussie Rules in the north of Ireland but we have struggled to attract players who have been fully committed to playing a full season as it clashes with their other commitments like Gaelic football, however this season we have managed to get a good response, our numbers are good and the season has started very promising so far.

WFN: How did you go about recruitment and what are the squad numbers?

Neil: Recruitment has largely just been through word of mouth and through the internet, both through the ARFLI website and our facebook page (Belfast Redbacks ARFC, we currently have 130 members on this page). We also have a lot of guys who have played in the past and who have come back for another crack at it as they too have missed it. Currently we have 18 – 20 core players and another 20 floating players. We have 40 registered players on the ARFLI website. I believe we will get another 5-10 players to come along before the end of the season as I have talked to several players keen to come down to give it a try.

WFN: How did most of your players get interested in Aussie Rules?

Neil: A lot of the players have either been to Australia on a gap year ,or have seen the game played on TV, but a lot of the guys initially come along because they know someone on the team and they invite them down and once they are there they really enjoy it.

WFN: How often do you train and where and who owns the ground?

Neil:We normally only train once a fortnight, every Monday that doesn’t fall on a game week. Most guys don’t want to train 2 days after a game that’s why we don’t train every week and the reason we train Monday is it’s the only night it doesn’t clash with players Gaelic training with their clubs which helps us get better numbers down to training. We train at the back on Queens PEC (Physical Education Centre on the playing fields).

Some nights we get 12-15 at training, some nights only 7-8. This is because we have players from all around Ulster (Tyrone, Antrim, Down, Derry). Some of the guys would have to travel 70 miles to make it to training, so it is not feasible for all of the guys to train together, but they have no problems making the commitment to travel long distances for the games.

WFN: How many Australians are in the side?

Neil: This season we have 3 Australians in the side. We had 4, but one of the guys just returned to Australia last week.

WFN: How have you found the standard so far?

Neil: The standard has been very good so far this season. We had a good win against the Dublin Demons in Round 1 but the score did not reflect how the game was played and the Demons had put us under pressure for large periods of the game and played some good football. In round 2 we were well defeated in the end by the Dublin Swans who are quickly becoming the team to beat this season, however I think we will take a lot out of that game and can hopefully use it to our advantage in the rest of games this season. Even within our own team I can see guys getting better week by week by putting in the effort at training.

I thought it would difficult for the new teams coming into the league this season trying to compete with the teams who have been established for years. It can be very demoralising if you are beaten by 80-100 points to keep guys interested and coming back but I think if the new teams can compete and remain competitive with the established teams they can learn a lot from this season and can only become stronger for it.

So far this season, I have been very impressed with the Redbacks and believe we are more than holding our own against the rest of the teams in the competition. That said, I believe there is also a lot of room for improvement.

WFN: What are your aims for the rest of the season?

Neil: I think we have a good chance of finishing in the top 2 in the eastern division and claiming a semi final spot, however we are just going to focus on every game as it comes and trying to win that game. I think our main aim this season is to build on what we have established so far this season in terms of player numbers, finances etc so that next year we can really grow as a club and cement our position as a permanent ARFLI club.

The high qualiy of the Redbacks players has been acknowledged with five players being originally selected for the Irish Warriors squad for the European championships. David McElhone and Gerard Walls have been selected for the first time while Shaun McElhone was in the Irish squad for the International cup in 2005. Daire O’Haodhagain and Mark Killgallon were also picked for the squad but had to pull out due to work commitments.

The Belfast side have surpassed expectations and are already a force in this years comp. Finishing ahead of the Demons would be a major shock but they have proved that they have the ability to give any team a run for their money.

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