It has been over 1000 days since the Irish Banshees and Canada Northern Lights squared off in the last AFL International Cup Grand Final, and in less than two weeks beginning on August 5, the title will again be on both sides’ minds.
This weekend, both teams will begin to arrive in Melbourne for a week of training before doing battle in IC17.
For the Banshees, time can’t fly fast enough since that day in August, 2014.
The IC14 loss was a blow to Irish pride, and as the Banshees’ team manager Pat Leavy told Girls Play Footy the plan to get their title back swung into action 13 months ago.
“The long road to the IC started in June, 2016 when the squad first gathered for the 2016 European Championships in London and the Euro Cup in Lisbon,” Leavy explained.
“The Banshees had about 50 players try out for the International Cup.
“Those competing for spots on the squad play in the local league in Ireland topped up by players in the London League and girls from various regional leagues in Australia also trying out.”
On top of Gaelic Football commitments for some, the Irish-based players have been training and playing together regularly, which Leavy believes made provide an advantage over countries like Canada and the USA where their squads are separated by great distance.
“The squad trains collectively every fortnight with the players working on their individual skills and fitness at their clubs during the intervening period.
“During the winter months, there are two University teams who train weekly and compete in the Fitzpatrick Cup which is the European Intervarsity Cup, while during the summer months we have two clubs who compete every second weekend.
“The standard of the local league is quite competitive… and we have players of all standards involved from the social player right up to those aiming to play international footy.
“Like all leagues around the world, the standard has risen significantly since the last International Cup [and introduction of AFLW].”
One major advantage the Irish will have over their competitors is having an AFLW player in their team, being Melbourne’s Laura Duryea [nee Corrigan].
As an International Cup veteran, 2014 World Team vice-captain, 2012 VWFL premiership footballer and sixth-place finisher in Melbourne’s best and fairest, Duryea’s achievements are unmatched by any other women participating in the tournament.
Leavy believes Duryea will not only bring invaluable leadership to the squad, but also inspiration for many of the sides debutantes and future Banshees in tournaments to come.
“Obviously having Laura playing for the Melbourne Demons in the Inaugural AFLW season has heightened interest in the game here in Ireland,” Leavy said.
“She has proven to be a real role model for young kids here in Ireland and we would expect to see the benefits of Laura’s stellar work pay dividends in the years to come, with young girls taking up the sport or Gaelic players transitioning into a career in AFL for a shot at playing in the AFLW.”
Besides the Demons footballer, Leavy said there are many other stars that both fans and AFLW recruiters should look out for during the August tournament.
“Carol Breen and Gillian Behan are really impressing for UTS Shamrocks in the Sydney Premier League.
“We’re really excited to have Marie Keating from IC11 back in the squad, while Carolann Cassidy has grown into a real leader for the team since playing at IC14.
“Of those making their International Cup debut, we expect big things from Onóra Mulcahy and Clara Fitzpatrick.”
The Banshees side will come together in Melbourne at the end of July, where they’ll have five days to train and bond, before facing their first challenger.
“The majority of the team arrive in Melbourne about five days before the start of the tournament and the Warriors and Banshees will be basing ourselves at Powerhouse AFC in St Kilda.
“We will have to hit the ground running on day one with an opening match against a very experienced USA team who were unlucky not to make the Grand Final at previous International Cups.
“This is followed up by the potential dark horse, the European Crusaders, but if we play to our potential, we believe this group of players can come through the challenge.
“I would expect there to be just a kick of a ball between the top five teams and all teams are dreaming of the Etihad.
“If we can make it that far, as everyone in footy knows, a Grand Final will take on a life of its own.”
Asked for his prediction on who will make the Grand Final at Etihad Stadium, the Irish team manager believes it will be a re-match of the past two International Cup Grand Finals: “Ireland and Canada.”
Coach: Brendan Kelly.
Assistant coaches: Tom Madigan, Pat Leavy, Roger Clarke
Squad: Claire Donnelly, Amanda Maginn, Rachel McGee, Sarah O’Donovan, Laura Flannery, Emma Kelly, Fiona Roarty, Carolann Cassidy, Olivia McCann, Onóra Mulcahy, Laura Duryea, Carol Breen, Niamh Hainsworth, Linda Connolly, Clara Fitzpatrick, Megan Creegan, Molly Cullen, Marie Keating, Aisling Gillespie, Rachel Fox, Sandra Ryan, Colleen Quinn, Gillian Behan, Emma Treanor, Maebh Moriarty, Leona Russell, Aine Higgins, Deborah Geraghty, Christine McCutcheon, Bronagh Sheridan.
Fixture [Pool B]
Round 1: vs USA Freedom – Sunday, August 6, 2:00pm at Ransford Oval, Royal Park
Round 2: vs European Crusaders – Wednesday, August 9, 10:45am, at St Patrick’s College, Ballarat
Round 3: vs PNG Flames – Sunday, August 13, 2:00pm at Hallam Reserve, Hallam
Canada Northern Lights
The hunter becomes the hunted.
That’s the reality for the Northern Lights of Canada, as they head into the 2017 AFL International Cup as reigning champions.
After putting together a perfect program to take the crown from the Irish, they have then since watched improvements in the preparations of the United States and Ireland women’s teams, as well as a new threat emerge in the Great Britain Swans.
Northern Lights coach Jason Arnold said the journey to defending their title in Melbourne began around fourteen months ago.
“Given we’re the defending champions there is obviously an expectation that comes with that,” Arnold said.
“A large group of the squad are from our IC14 winning team and there are also a number of players who will be on debut at the 2017 International Cup.
“We’ve had well over 80 players who legitimately had an opportunity to make the squad.
“We began with our National Championships back in May, 2016, then invited 60 players to our selection camp in Toronto in September, 2016.
“From there we selected the squad of 30 and held an East Camp and a West Camp in May this year.”
Geography has been a big challenge for the Canadians, meaning their full squad has not been able to get together regularly, like one of their main rivals, Ireland.
However, countering that, members of the Northern Lights have been training regularly indoors throughout the Canadian winter, and then playing in local football competitions from about May.
“We have teams across British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.
“The number of teams in each province differs from province to province, and given we don’t have access to fields due to weather for at least six months, the seasons range from 6 to 12 games.”
Not everything has been going smoothly for the Northern Lights with a number of injuries hitting the team this year, although coach Arnold is confident the squad is strong enough to cover the losses.
“Unfortunately, we have been hit hard with four of our most valuable players suffering serious injuries this season with Kendra Heil (ACL), VFLW players Jackie Halliday (wrist) and Marlena Ginocchio (ACL), and our centre half-back Rachelle Chabot (broken fibula) all missing.
“Given how much they love playing for their country, it’s devastating for them.
“Despite these setbacks, the squad we are bringing, is fitter and more skilled than the 2014 squad.”
The stars that run out for the Northern Lights in August will be difficult for any country to contain, ranging from experienced campaigners to an exciting up and coming rookie.
“Our captain Aimee Legault has worked hard to recover from her ACL injury and is in great form at the right time, while vice-captain Hilary Perry has an elite engine, is in her third IC campaign and in my opinion at her peak,” Arnold said.
“Lara Hilmi made the world team in 2014 and has improved significantly since then and we’re looking forward to seeing her play.
“Valerie Moreau relocated late last year to Melbourne to prepare for the International Cup and has been a regular in the VFLW, along with playing for St Kilda in their representative game [against the ADF].”
Arnold and his squad are also excited at the prospect of defending their title at Etihad Stadium, should they make it through to the Grand Final.
Who would the team play if they make it? The Canadian coach is unsure, considering the repaid development of women’s football outside of Australia in the last year and a half.
“The opportunity to play at Etihad Stadium has provided huge motivation for the squad since the news was released by the AFL.
“We’re grateful that league headquarters has made the opportunity available for women’s footy internationally.
“Rather than who we think will play off – it’s always hard to gauge improvement over three years’ sight unseen – we’ve developed a healthy rivalry with the Irish Banshees and would love to go at it again with them at Etihad Stadium.”
Looking beyond August’s tournament, Arnold is confident that the program AFL Canada has set up for women’s footballers, through the Northern Lights and Midnight Suns, will lead to more of their footballers being drafted into AFLW.
“We were thrilled to have two of our products Kendra Heil (Collingwood) and Hayley Trevean (Carlton) get drafted into AFLW,” Arnold said.
“We feel the biggest benefit for our girls from the AFLW is a pathway for them to follow.
“We’re big on self-assessment and self-development, and as a result, players have found watching the footage of women’s games more relevant to the men’s games.
“They have constantly pointed out things they have seen and worked on themselves over the past six months.
“We feel we have several players in this International Cup squad that will interest AFLW club scouts.”
Coach: Jason Arnold.
Assistant coaches: Greg Everett, Robert Palmer, Dave Kalinowski
Captain: Aimee Legault
Squad: Danah Arnold, Jaya Aulakh, Chantal Beaudin, Brandie Corrigan, Sarah Ennor, Rebecca Gomez, Leslie Gurba, Jaclyn Halliday, Lara Hilmi, Caroline Ireland, Amanda Irwin, Patricia Jaworski, Lise Kiefer, Nicola Kirwan, Candace Kwan, Caroline Leduc, Aimee Legault, Margo Legault, Valerie Moreau, Vivian Nguyen, Kirsti Oja, Hilary Perry, Erin Regan, Alanna Robertson, Nicole Robertson, Tricia Rolfe, Lyndsay Smith, Renee Tong, Lia Vansevenant, Charnelle Willis
Fixture [Pool A]
Round 1: vs Fiji Vonu – Sunday, August 6, 10:30am at Ransford Oval, Royal Park
Round 2: vs Pakistan – Wednesday, August 9, 10:45am, at St Francis Xavier College, Officer
Round 3: vs GB Swans – Sunday, August 13, 12:00pm at Plenty War Memorial Park, Plenty