Contributed by: Aaron Richard
The Irish Warriors are coming to the 2011 International Cup with what potentially could be the most battle-hardened IC squad in the competition's history.
There have been a number of Irishmen playing Australian rules football around the globe for many years, but the global financial crisis saw a spike in the number of Irish emigrants over the past year or two. A number of these have come to Australia, where some have made the transition from Gaelic football to the Australian indigenous code.
The ARFLI earlier this year announced that it was planning to bring around 15 players from Ireland, with the other half of the squad to be sourced from Irish expats living and playing footy in Australia. Whilst the final squad won't be made public until July 22nd, we've got a preview of some of the Irish who will be suiting up for the Warriors in August, including some familiar names such as Stynes, Heslin and Finn.
The Country and Australian Football
The Irish play a special role in so many countries around the world. For such a small nation its expatriates have played a large part in the history of countries such as the United States and Australia. Currently numbering around 6 million people across the Republic and Northern Ireland, sadly it has seen a new outward wave of migration as one of the countries hit most strongly by the global financial crisis; in relatively unscathed Australia it may be difficult for younger generations to realise just what a downturn there has been in Ireland.
Historians debate the Irish influence on the creation of Australian football, with some saying it was significant, others not so, and of course the Australian indigenous Marn Grook is also a debated factor. There were all kinds of football played in the early days of Australia's colonies, in a time when even in England football came in many varieties. It seems reasonable to assume that Gaelic football had some influence when the formal rules for Australian football were created. And the impact may have gone both ways when Gaelic football was revitalised in Ireland.
Certainly in the modern era the skills of Gaelic football help allow Ireland's relatively small Aussie Rules league produce excellent footballers, no doubt in part responsible for their shock win at the first International Cup in 2002. It's also helped members of the Diaspora fit in when they travel around the world; if there's no Gaelic games they can always turn their hand to Australian football and hence we see many of this year's squad drawn from Irish that have moved Down Under.
The Australian football governing body, ARFLI, selects from across the Republic and Northern Ireland, as well as expatriates.
Players to watch
The ARFLI's Ciaran O'Hara confirms that future John Heslin, who has been identified by the Richmond FC to join their rookie list this year, has been training with the Irish national team for the last five months in tandem with his inter-county GAA commitments. He had hoped to play a few games in the ARFLI, but those games were postponed and now he's off to Punt road in the next couple of weeks.
Barring injury, the Irish squad will also include the IC08 Player of the Tournament Mick Finn, who is currently playing footy with Melbourne suburban club Heidelberg.
Also returning to the squad will be David Stynes, who competed with the Warriors at the 2002 and 2005 events, winning Player of the Tournament at the IC02. David is the brother of Brownlow Medalist and Melbourne FC president Jim Stynes, and also of Brian, who played a few games with the Demons before returning to Ireland.
David Stynes has many years of suburban club footy experience, currently coaching the Moorabbin Kangaroos in Melbourne's Southern FL. Also playing for Moorabbin is Gerard Walls, who moved to Australia for more full-field experience after playing in the European Championship for Ireland in 2010.
Futher Australian club experience comes via eight players from Sydney club the UTS Bats, including Alex Whooley, Barry Holland, Roch Hanmore, Ferghal McManus, Fearghal Purcell, Phil Bredin, David Coffey, Sean McGuinness. The Bats have provided players for Ireland at each of the last two Cups, but the current number reflects the increased immigration to Australia in the last couple of years.
Other Sydney-based players include Mick Carey with Sydney University and Niall McDonagh with Manly. Coming from elsewhere in Australia are Larry Kavanagh from St.Marys in Darwin and Kevin O'Brien from Whitfords in Perth.
2008 Captain and Vice Captain Cian Quigley and James Flavin will be back, as will James O' Byrne who was a member of the leadership group in 2008. Clifford Richardson should return, after making the IC05 Team of the Tournament, but missing most of '08 through injury
There are a number of players back for their third cup, such as John Enright who competed in both IC05 and IC08, and there are three who played in the IC02 Premiership; David Stynes (IC02, IC05), Alan Coomey (IC02, ARFLI Premiership Player of The Decade) and Joe Cunnane (IC02,IC08).
Players making their IC Debut include European Legion Captain David McElhone, Warriors Euro Cup Captain Eoin Ó Súileabháin, European Championship winners Manus Breathnach, Aidan Hickey, Darren Sheils, Joseph Rocks and Gerard Walls.
John Tierney, who was also on the EC Team, is a former Cavan inter-county Gaelic footballer, and played on the underage International Rules team on a tour to Australia some years ago. Paul Sharry, a current inter-county Gaelic-footballer with Westmeath, will also make his debut for the Warriors in the tournament.
Update 01/08/2011: Ireland's final squad also includes Aisake O'hAilpin (formerly on Carlton's list and brother of Setanta) and Conor Meredith (formerly on North Melbourne's list).
Form Guide and Bottom Line
Ireland were winners in 2002, 4th in 2005 and 2008. They are the inaugural European Championships winners (2010) and appear to have significantly strengthened their team since the last Cup. They are 4th on the WFN rankings (which includes Australia in 1st) and are ranked 4th by the AFL for this tournament.
All told, the Irish are coming to this Cup with every intention of winning and it will take a special effort to stop them.
World Footy News