Footy ‘World Champions’ Canada eying off title defence

It’s a phrase that might make many Australians do a double-take, but it’s true – there is a ‘World Champions of Women’s Footy’ and they aren’t wearing the green and gold.

Canada was crowned the title after their Northern Lights downed then defending champions, the Irish Banshees, by 26 points at Punt Road Oval on Saturday, August 23, 2014.

The Canadian national squad completed training camp back in September. Image: AFL Canada

Fast-forward two and a half years, and it’s now the Canadians turn to become the hunted, with more than half-a-dozen teams looking to take their crown at IC17.

Coach of the Canada Northern Lights, Jason Arnold, told Girls Play Footy that although his team has enjoyed holding the title of ‘World Champions’, they are just as keen to run out onto the ground and defend their position as number one.

“The girls are pretty excited that it’s just gone so quick in some respects [the last few years], as it was such an amazing three weeks for them [IC14],” Arnold said.

“They’re certainly aware things will be different this time, as some players might have gone a little bit under the radar last time.

“There’s some new countries coming along; from what I read, Papua New Guinea, Great Britain and even a European side.

“Plus I know the Pacific Island sides, Fiji and Tonga, are working really hard on development… so it’s going to be a huge challenge to go back-to-back.”

The title defence for the Canadians really swung into gear back in early September when some of the country’s best female footballers attended a national team camp in Toronto.

“We had fifty players attend the camp over a Saturday and Sunday.

“The Saturday was around testing, so some 3k agility testing, and also some skills testing – in line with the AFL combine testing.

“Then in addition to that, we did some skill development, we also did a few hours on theory and game plan, because a lot of these players are new to our national program – so bringing them up to speed with the way we want to play.

“On the Sunday we broke [the squad] into three teams, had three really competitive teams and the skill level was fantastic.”

Two national squads were selected out of that training camp: the Northern Lights, who would be responsible for defending the title at IC17, and a development team, the Midnight Suns.

However, unlike in 2014, the Midnight Suns will not be heading to the International Cup, but instead will head to the UK in mid-May to participate in the London Footy Carnival.

There, the Midnight Suns will play a round-robin tournament against the GB Swans, Irish Banshees and a London All-Stars team.

Not only will it be a valuable experience for the development team, but should also provide the Canadian coaching staff with some vital intel on their opponents ahead of IC17 in Melbourne.

For the Northern Lights squad, a camp awaits them around the same time, which is possibly the last moment they’ll all be together before they arrive in Australia.

“We’ll come together in May for a camp in the east and a camp in the west,” Arnold said.

“We’ll do some re-testing then, some more theory, and games.

“We arrive [in Melbourne] a week before the tournament starts, and that was a really valuable week in 2014 for the players just to focus on the group and get to know each other a bit better.

“[That week] we just purely train leading up to the first game.”

What awaits the Canadians this tournament is at least five matches, with Wednesday, August 9 set aside as ‘school round’ where they’ll play one match against another country at a yet to be chosen school in Victoria, and then ‘community round’ at a local footy ground in Melbourne on Saturday, August 12.

However, the date they most want locked in the diary is Saturday, August 19, reserved for the top two teams at the end of the tournament to face off, and only one will walk away crowned ‘World Champions of Women’s Footy’.

The 2017 AFL International Cup runs from August 5 to 19 in Melbourne.

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