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'Absolutely huge' - Ireland crowned European AFL champions after remarkable showing in London
Mike Currane’s Irish Banshees won five games from five, and didn’t concede a single score.

CHAMPIONS OF EUROPE after a five-game unbeaten tournament in which they kept their opponents scoreless on each and every occasion.

You could say it was a successful few days for the Irish Banshees at the 2019 Australian Football League [AFL] Europe European Championships in Wimbledon, London. 

72281130_2148448181950732_8007943313388732416_n AFL Ireland Women's. Currane and the Irish Banshees after winning on Saturday. AFL Ireland Women's.

With four stars signed to AFLW sides for 2020 in their ranks, Ireland beat Germany in Saturday’s Grand Final on a scoreline of 13-24-102 to 0-0-0 to end a fantastic week that saw the team impress and go undefeated.

Captained by back-to-back winning Euro Cup skipper Mella Morey, Louth star Kate Flood, Leitrim’s Áine Tighe — both signed by Fremantle earlier this year — Galway and North Melbourne’s Mairead Seoighe and Fermanagh and Carlton Blues’ Joanne Doonan were all on form for Mike Currane’s side through meetings with the Great Britain Swans and the German Eagles on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Flood was named Player of the Tournament after kicking 15 goals in five matches and finishing as the leading goal-kicker — “a phenomenal display from her,” as Currane, who landed the Coach of the Tournament honour, told The42 today.

The recent All-Ireland winner was one of 11 Irish players included on the Team of the Tournament. Back Maria Quirke, midfielders Mairead Coyne, Dervla Higgins, Michelle Farrell and Tighe, half forwards Maria Byrne and Seoighe, and interchanges Marie Keating and Doonan were also recognised.

Overall, Tighe scored seven goals, Seoighe hit six, Farrell bagged three and Doonan, Keating and Fiona Morrissey finished with three each.

But it was about much more than that for this brilliant team, and for AFL Ireland Women’s — the league on these shores that promotes the growth of Aussie Rules — which launched in November 2017. 

“A brilliant few days,” AFL Ireland’s Currane told The42 this afternoon, explaining how it was a first real stab at 18-a-side footie, and one everyone took in their stride.

Fantastic. The girls really laid down a marker in the first game on Wednesday against Great Britain. Great Britain probably would have been slight favourites coming into the tournament as defending champions from 2016, having beaten Ireland in the final then.

“Then, playing the competition on home ground in London, and they’re the only team and league that has an established 18-a-side competition regularly throughout the season. So that was a real marker from our side.

“It was the first time a lot of our girls played 18-a-side for Ireland, 27 of our 28 players were making their full 18-a-side debut at that game. We came out of the blocks storming, the final score there was 10-10-70 to keep Great Britain scoreless. 

“We were confident that we could get a good start so I think it was more of a shock to everybody else present than ourselves. You couldn’t have dreamed of a better start in terms of laying down a marker for the tournament and keeping a team scoreless, it was a fantastic effort from all the girls.”

mike-currane Tommy Dickson / INPHO Currane at a CrosCoders AFLW camp in May. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

The Banshees built from there, their first meeting against Germany that same day another convincing win with the scoreline reading 8-9-57 to 0-0-0.

Two opening wins more or less sealed their spot in the Grand Final, which in turn, allowed for rotation within the squad on Thursday as they got more of a feel for 18-a-side and the various different positions.

“Two wins the first day and then we backed it up on Thursday again with two more wins against Great Britain and Germany,” Currane smiles, telling how it was 8-10-58 to 0-0-0 against the hosts the second time around, and 4-10-34 to 0-0-0 against Germany.

“As a result of those wins and the percentages of scores that we had against the various teams in the carnival games, that effectively meant that Germany went through to the Grand Final, in lieu of losing to us by a little bit less, effectively.

It was probably a surprise to a lot of people that Germany were in the Grand Final ahead of Great Britain, it wasn’t as much of a surprise to myself and the team as we had played Germany in the Euro Cup competition in Norrtälje in Sweden earlier in the year, albeit at nine-a-side but they definitely were a strong, skilful and well-structured team.

“We knew it was going to be tough.”

Tough, it was, but they prevailed. And did so in style.

Not only did they win the tournament outright, not only were they unbeaten in making it five from five, but they also kept their opponents scoreless in every game. That’s huge.

“Yes, absolutely huge,” Kilmihil native Currane enthues. “To do it in the first game, I would have been happy with that but to keep it going through the second, third, fourth games, it got to a point that it kind of became a target for us as a team.

“In fairness, our midfields and defence were literally veracious across the four games and again in the final. It wasn’t the be all and end all if a team scored against us but it got to the point that we were setting ourselves a target to keep the scores to a minimum or scoreless, where possible, and definitely not allow a goal.

“It was important to keep some key targets for our defence as well. The girls really stepped up.

The scoreline from a distance, you think these games look easy but I tell you, in full contact Aussie Rules, there were a lot of bruises, people coming off with broken fingers, black eyes, bumps on heads, ankles, elbows, lots and lots and lots of bruises across all the games, particularly against Germany who are a very physically strong and big side.”

You could see that from the videos and photographs afterwards, each and every player covered in muck from head to toe and sporting various different battle wounds.

conor Conor Martin Twitter. The team celebrate. Conor Martin Twitter.

“You could barely make out the shamrocks on the front of the kit at the end of the final,” Currane laughs, before sharing the sheer delight in the set-up.

“We’re probably two years into a three-year cycle since we started with AFL Ireland Women’s almost exactly two years ago. This would have been a step up. Previously, we would have only been playing nine-a-side tournaments.

“Obviously the Banshees had won back-to-back Euro Cups in Cork and Sweden in 2018 and 2019 which was fantastic progress, but this would have been a step up again to 18-a-side, a lot more going on on the pitch, a bigger squad and obviously in camp effectively for a week, where normally we’d be going for a weekend.

These are all trials and tribulations of how a squad is coming together, it’s really good for morale and team bonding to get through a week like that and come out victorious at the end of it.

The men’s national team, the Irish Warriors, also competed well at the tournament in London. With a depleted squad they were narrowly defeated by defending champions Great Britain in the semi-final, though they bounced back with an impressive third-place play-off showing.

“They would have been bitterly disappointed not to make the Grand final,” Currane says. “But on reflection they performed very well, having lost a number of key players literally in the days and hours running up to the competition due to various clashes with county finals and inter-provincial games at home which was a bit unfortunate.

“A big win over Croatia and was probably their best performance of the tournament. Again, no more than ourselves, they were getting better game on game and day on day. The more these guys and girls play together, and the more games they have, the better they’re going to become.”

The Banshees are defending champions of the AFL International Cup following their win in 2017, and have now secured qualification for next year’s competition after this weekend’s European Championships.

“The seeding was heavily weighted towards this competition as well,” Currane explains. “We definitely wanted to make sure we didn’t slip up or make any mistakes and go to Australia next year.

“The venue hasn’t been confirmed yet which is a little frustrating, but we go to Australia in prime position and with a good seed to get us in a good position in the group.

From that front, it’s job done and for the girls themselves, a few of them are heading to Oz anyway but for the rest of them, their next primary target now is to get on that Irish Banshee squad for what is effectively the World Cup of Aussie Rules, the AFL International Cup next July/August.

The strength and depth of the talent coming through in Ireland, he concedes, is phenomenal.

“The squad across the board, there’s huge talent there,” he nods. “We have 18 AFLW players already for next year with a few potentially to come in in the draft the week after next, we had four of those girls there this weekend.

“If you look down the rest of the list, every one of those girls, there’s some very accomplished players there. We have Gaelic footballers who are in the AFLW Draft coming up in Noelle Connolly, Shelly Farrell, Kate Keaney from Donegal, we have some great rugby players in there; Aimee Clarke and Ali Coleman from Leinster, Edel McMahon from the Irish team, Maria Quirke, Kerry footballer, Maria Byrne, Wexford footballer… you could go through everyone on the list.

“Some great students have come up from our Irish Universities team which player the first-ever universities in April against Great Britain and won that. A huge range with huge talent across the board effectively. It’s a very strong squad.

That’s a fortunate position that I’m in at the moment in that the point where we started from two years ago, we had literally 15 girls in a position to play Aussie Rules in Ireland, and over the two seasons now we’ve had over 250 girls come through our competitions.

“There’s literally fierce competition for spaces and positions on these squads. That’s fantastic from my point of view, to have that level of competition.”

So everything is well and truly on the up.

Indeed, Currane grins.

“The girls now that are heading to various parts of Australia in the next few days, for the other players to be playing on the same team as those and to experience that is great. Even for the opposition to be honest, for spectators and everybody across the tournament…

“It’s huge in terms of the profile of the sport, of women’s Australian Rules football and Australian Rules football in general, to have these players involved and to see that there’s now pathways right from club to uni to national team to an elite pathway in getting signed in Australia.

“It’s really encouraging, it’s really great, the numbers just keep on growing which is fantastic.”

flood AFL Ireland Women. Flood and Tighe with AFL Ireland's Mike Currane. AFL Ireland Women.

Irish Banshees Squad

  • Maria Byrne
  • Aimee Clarke
  • Ali Coleman
  • Sinead Comerford
  • Noelle Connolly
  • Mairead Coyne
  • Heather Cullen
  • Joanne Doonan
  • Laura Egan
  • Michelle Farrell
  • Kate Flood
  • Dervla Higgins
  • Kate Keaney
  • Marie Keating
  • Shauna Kendrick
  • Niamh Lister
  • Becky Mahon
  • Edel McMahon
  • Mella Morey (Captain )
  • Ellie O’Gorman
  • Katie Power
  • Maria Quirke
  • Louise Scully
  • Mairead Seoighe
  • Aine Tighe
  • Kim White
  • Emergency: Fiona Morrissey
  • Emergency: Lauren Manning

- Updated 22.00 to clarify that AFL is Australian Football League

Ryan Bailey steps into the presenter’s chair where he’s joined by Murray Kinsella and Eoin Toolan on the line for Japan to tee up one of the biggest, if not the biggest week in Irish rugby: a World Cup quarter-final against back-to-back champions New Zealand.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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