As the countdown continues to next month’s AFL International Cup, we turn our attention to two sides from the Northern Hemisphere that will be making their IC debuts.
The European Crusaders and Great Britain Swans come to the tournament as two vastly different squads. One is a mixture of players from different countries playing together for the first time, while the other is a finely-honed combination building for this moment over the last two European summers.
One team will be looking for their first win in the 18-a-side format, while the other is looking ahead much further: a spot in the Grand Final at Etihad Stadium.
The best way to describe the Crusaders is that they are like the 50 cent bag of mixed lollies that you used to get at the corner milk bar: an eclectic mix of everything and you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get.
For the Crusaders squad, they’ll be including players from eight different countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Sweden.
As team manager Fanny Maillet told Girls Play Footy, it’s been a difficult task trying to pull together enough players to make a squad to play in the International Cup.
“As we are a team of players from all over Europe, we didn’t do any try outs. It was a matter of who was eligible to play,” Maillet said.
“We started with 30 players but only 25 were eligible to play and then two joined the Irish Banshees.
“We are now 23 [and] it took us about eight months to put the team together.”
Unlike Canada, Ireland, or even fellow debutantes Great Britain, who have been training and planning as a squad since the middle of last year, the Crusaders have yet to even meet as a team.
Only three days out from their first match will they finally train together and figure out each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
“The team hasn’t trained together yet as we are living in different cities all over Europe.
“We’ll train for the first time on August 3, and we have been in contact with Melbourne Uni and South Melbourne District [in regards to a training venue/assistance].”
Although it will be very much a guessing game on who should star for the Crusaders in August, Maillet did make mention in particular of two players – one French and one Boston-based Swede – in her squad.
“Coline Duquet first started footy when she studied in Sydney in 2013,” Maillet said.
“When she came back to France she started playing for the French women’s national team and the Paris Cockerelles.
“She has been showing very good skills and amazing leadership.
“Amanda King is a strong and dominant ruck, [who] has set a name for herself in the USA.
“[She’s] one to watch at IC17, as she creates a strong midfield with her slick tap outs and great communication to drive the ball forward.”
The European Crusaders have only played four matches in the 18-a-side format so far, all of them being at the AFL European Championships in London last year, where they were unable to break through for a win.
However, with this squad featuring at least half-a-dozen female footballers who’ve played Aussie rules in Sydney or Melbourne, any team taking them lightly could end up having their finals aspirations spoiled.
Still, the Crusaders are seeing their first International Cup appearance as development, paving the way for future, stronger sides from the European continent.
When asked who would square off in the women’s Grand Final, Maillet saw either one of two possibilities.
“I think it will be Canada vs USA, or Canada vs Ireland.”
Coach: Graham Andrews
Captains: Berengere Portal and Rachel Urquhart
Squad: Isabella Rositano, Mathilde Coombes, Joanne Mouradian, Coline Doquet, Naima Ait El Mouden, Marine Assemat, Bérengère Portal, Catherine Giles, Linn Gardell, Rachel Fox, Amanda King, Emilie Giancarlie, Rachel Uruqhart, Dagmara Rabinski, Leila Morgenroth, Charline Wood, Helene Pittet, Ana Barisic, Anne Pille, Denise Heckmann, Lara Gauss, Camille Portal, Frances Finn, Claire Perez
Fixture [Pool B]
Round 1: vs PNG Flames – Sunday, August 6, 12:15pm at Ransford Oval, Royal Park
Round 2: vs Irish Banshees – Wednesday, August 9, 10:45am, at St Patrick’s College, Ballarat
Round 3: vs USA Freedom – Sunday, August 13, 12:00pm at Main Oval, Melbourne University
Great Britain Swans
Like The Beatles in the 1960s, Australia is faced with yet another British Invasion, this time it’s the Great Britain Swans and their coming for the AFL International Cup silverware.
Tournament newcomers rarely get mentioned in the conversation of who will take out the title, but as Swans vice-captain Caroline Sellar told Girls Play Footy, the success of their local women’s competitions has caught the attention of the rest of the Aussie rules world.
“The AFL London Women’s League was introduced in 2015 with four of the eight men’s clubs putting teams into the competition,” Sellar said.
“The league attracted more interest than was predicted and every game was played with an average of 12 or 14-a-side with the Grand Final that year being 16-a-side.
“In the 2016 season, no new teams entered but the existing four teams were greatly strengthened, increasing the quality of the games and most weeks 18 aside games were played.
“That year, two Australian players from the Wimbledon Hawks were drafted to the AFLW, one to the Bulldogs (Lauren Spark) and one to Carlton (Kate Shierlaw).
“With the AFLW attracting a whole heap of attention to women’s AFL, the 2017 London League season saw four new women’s teams starting, producing a second league and making a total of eight women’s teams playing footy on a weekly basis, with most teams fielding 18 each week.
“Although there aren’t any other leagues in the UK, the game is rapidly developing in Wales, Northern England and Scotland, with teams holding taster sessions and attracting more and more girls to training.
“Nine-a-side tournaments, such as the Haggis Cup and the Tyne Tees Cup, give girls an opportunity to get game experience, but the goal is start a nine-a-side league for these teams in the future.”
The key reason behind the big upswing in women’s footy in the UK over the last twelve months is the emergence of the AFL Women’s competition.
Although most of the British women have not been able to watch the matches in person, the free live streaming via the AFL Global Pass site has allowed the UK-based players to study more closely how the game is currently being played down under.
“One of the things that we have learned from the AFLW has been the importance of second, third and fourth efforts, and we have been impressed by the physicality and incredible work rate of the players.
“This has inspired us to get fitter and stronger in preparation for the International Cup.
“We can also learn from the different structures and styles of play displayed during the competition and incorporate them into our own game plan.”
Great Britain’s squad first came together around and a year and a half ago
In that time, they’ve claimed the title of European Champions, put a few rivals to the sword in various tournaments, and finally whittled their list down to the all-important 30 who will play in Melbourne.
“The first full GB squad was selected from 50 girls in 2016 in order to play in the European Championships in London, where we played against Ireland and the European Crusaders,” Sellar said.
“This year, our squad is very similar, but we have some exciting new talent joining us, including four players based in Australia, making the team stronger than ever.
“We had skills and fitness testing in January 2017 and final selections were made in February and April.
“The squad arrives in Melbourne on August 5, and we are excited to be taking part in a training session at Carlton, Western Bulldogs, Caufield Bears, Waverley Blues and not to mention our assistant coach’s (Lauren Spark’s) team, Melbourne Uni.
“It will be an invaluable experience for all of us.”
With all the hype around the Great Britain Swans as a team, the question is, who are the individuals in their side that are expected to star?
Sellar mentioned the following three.
“Nottingham’s Alex Saulter, she’s very quick, efficient in possession and can turn defence into attack very quickly.
“Lucy Jones from the University of Birmingham, she’s tough tackling, strong kicking and a line breaking midfielder.
“Wimbledon’s Lisa Wilson is a ‘student of the game’; she lives and breathes everything about it, moves well and has excellent positional play.”
When pushed for her prediction on who would make the women’s Grand Final, Sellar said it was simply too close to call.
“It looks to be an exciting group stage for both pools so it is hard to say who will come out on top.
“We don’t mind, as long as we are there in the Etihad Stadium!”
Coach: Garth Nevin
Assistant coaches: Ian Mitchell and Lauren Spark
Captain: Laura Turner
Squad: Laura Turner, Rania Ramadan, Caroline Sellar, Beth Bailey, Carolyn Baker, Jennifer Bennett, Alannah Blount, Freya Blount, Lara Creber, Louise Darby, Charlotte-Ellen Eales, Rachel Gouldingay, Kirsty Gray, Frankie Hocking, Stacey Hughes, Rachel Hunt, Lucy Jones, Lucy Kilheeney, Melanie McDevitt, Jessica Milford, Rosie Morison, Laura Park, Alexandra Peill, Danni Saulter, Alex Saulter, Lauren Short, Louise Smith, Ellie Sutherland, Lynsey Torrance, Lisa Wilson.
Fixture [Pool A]
Round 1: vs Pakistan– Sunday, August 6, 8:45am at Ransford Oval, Royal Park
Round 2: vs Fiji Vonu – Wednesday, August 9, 11:45am, at Peninsular Grammar, Mt Eliza
Round 3: vs Canada Northern Lights – Sunday, August 13, 12:00pm at Plenty War Memorial Park, Plenty