Hosts Oxford University determined on Fitzpatrick Cup return

After a one-year absence from the Fitzpatrick Cup, the hosts for this year, Oxford University, are determined to make sure that once the Cup arrives in the historic English city, they won’t be leaving.

With their last appearance in the tournament back in 2017, Oxford will be looking to make the most of their home ground advantage and with two sides in the men’s draw as well as a team in the women’s they will give themselves every chance.

Back in 2017, the two men’s sides’ could only record one win between them from a total of six games. The women, unfortunately, couldn’t record a win either, but they are a different team this time around. “We aren’t here for the show – we want to go the whole hog!” said Romy Minko, the president of the Oxford University Australian Rules Football Club.

The club missed playing in last years edition of the cup, and are keen to make themselves noticed this year. “Absence certainly has made this heart grow fonder. We really missed playing last year, and it’s good to play more games,” said Romy.

With hosting the competition comes the opportunity for numbers to grow, as it’s easier for players, coaches and staff to work around other commitments. This has certainly been the case for Oxford, as they have plenty of numbers to pick from for their squads and they will be able to show how strong they are.

Tim Lefroy will be leading the way for the three Oxford teams as the coach, while Natasha Jacobs is captain for the Women’s team and Jasper Fried the captain for the Men’s.

“All our teams are in red hot form – we’ve bought the newer players up to speed and have been working hard on skills and fitness,” Romy said, showing that the Oxford team is developing well heading into the tournament.

The form of any team will be key, as that can create momentum, which is important in carrying teams through a busy schedule of football in the Fitzpatrick Cup.

Focus on speed in training appears to be paying off, as Oxford’s “ball movement is looking really good,” according to their President, particularly when transitioning with the ball “out of defence”.

The Oxford squad are confident of making sure the Cup stays in the city at the conclusion of the tournament, but most teams are confident of taking out the titles, so there will be plenty of quality competition.

They may not have played in last years competition but that will have developed their desire and competitiveness to show what they are capable of. Home ground advantage helps, but Romy believes they are capable regardless, “We think we’re excellent everywhere. In the words of Ross Lyon, Fremantle Senior Coach (2013): “anywhere, anytime”.

Oxford is certainly determined and has the right attitude heading into the tournament. “We want to go the whole hog!” is certainly a fitting quote for the hosts to live by on this upcoming Saturday.

Angus Boyle – AFL Europe

UCC aiming to win Fitzpatrick Cup again

Looking to win the Fitzpatrick Cup again, UCC knows they will be facing tough competition with this years edition of the tournament being played on English soil.

Both the UCC men’s squad and the women’s squad, the UCC Crusaders, are aiming for the three-peat of Fitzpatrick Cup’s.

In recent times, the UCC men’s squad have been strong enough to field two teams, and this year will be no different with a UCC1 and UCC2 showing their strength in depth at the tournament.

“The preparation for this tournament has been coming along nicely with new coach Dean Johnson proving to be a breath of fresh air… With high numbers at each training, the standard hasn’t slipped since we got back to the grind this year,” James O’Callaghan said, the Club President of the UCC Australian Rules Football Club.

For the women’s side, they remain well balanced according to coach Marie Keating, a former Sydney University and New South Wales AFL player from Ireland.

Her knowledge and experience in the game will be a massive asset to the UCC Crusaders team.

“UCC Crusaders have had some very good players graduate and move away from Cork over the last 2 years so they will be a big loss but we are lucky that the vast majority of players we have this year have managed to stay relatively injury free and available to travel to the Fitzpatrick Cup,” Marie said.

The women’s team have dominated in their competition since the inaugural women’s tournament in 2016, and they will look to continue that form this year. However, they know that playing in Oxford offers a different challenge, with Marie saying they are expecting the English universities, in particular, to be stronger this year with home advantage.

Build up for the women’s team has been going well for many players, thanks to the first edition of the AFL Ireland Women’s Premiership. Cork reached the final, which meant giving some valuable game time and match day exposure to a few of the newer faces within the squad.

As a whole, the women’s side is a balanced line-up. “There is great strength down the spine of the team, with established players like co-captains Siobhan O’Donnell and Claire Stephenson, as well as Mary Hurley, having played fantastically in the AFL Ireland Women’s Premiership”, Marie said.

The men also have a strong team that will consider themselves as favourites to win the Cup again but will face stiff opposition in English conditions.

When asked about their chances this weekend, James said, “Having won the last two tournaments on our own grounds, both teams are eyeing up Oxford as an opportunity to show that we can perform regardless of where we are in the world.”

As is the case with reigning premiers though, there is normally a target on their backs. “I feel this year’s tournament could be our most competitive one yet for both teams, as the standard always seems to be rising,” James said.

Everyone wants to beat the best so both men’s and women’s squads will have to be at their best once again against impressive competition, but both teams will back themselves in defending their titles in what is sure to be an exciting Fitzpatrick Cup.

Angus Boyle – AFL Europe

Challenge of Fitzpatrick Cup excites CIT

Last year was CIT’s first endeavour in the Fitzpatrick Cup but they took the competition by storm as CIT finished runners-up after an entertaining final against rivals UCC. The university have strength in numbers, with another team, CIT 2, taking part this year.

This strength in numbers, shown by the squads high number of players attending training sessions, shows how important recruitment is for the University teams.

“With the Euro Cup being held in CIT last year, it helped promote the game here and our recruitment was boosted because of that,” said CIT coach Eoin O Sullivan.

Having the local AFL Ireland Premiership side The Leeside Lions has also helped the university, as plenty of new players have gained experience through another competitive pathway, which can only be positive for CIT.

Managing to get Eoin on board as coach is a big statement from CIT, as Eoin had been with rivals UCC for five years, which included three Fitzpatrick Cup victories as coach. It will be interesting to see UCC’s response if both sides play each other, but Eoin’s knowledge and understanding of football at both University and international level will be invaluable.

He has already outlined high expectations for the two CIT sides, saying, “it’s simple really, we want to win… We want to go all the way.”

The team is excited for the tournament, and CIT are keen to show their opposition that last seasons performance wasn’t a one-off.

“It’s upbeat, full of excitement and promise. Our boys are itching to test themselves against the best Europe has to offer – and a footy trip has it’s own benefits too! But, first and foremost, the footy is the main draw”, said Eoin. It certainly sounds like CIT are up for the challenge.

Last years Fitzpatrick Cup was hosted in Cork, at UCC, which helped CIT in terms of planning and less travel. However, with this years tournament being hosted in Oxford, it has a different kind of impact on the squad.

“We thought it might hamper us a bit with the competition being so early in February, CIT don’t return until the week,” said Eoin.

“But, credit to the boys, they’ve been working hard and travelled to Cork for training since early January, such is their commitment. I think the idea of playing in such a great venue has it’s own draw too.”

Having the two squads allows for CIT to chop and change with potential line-ups, as well as testing various tactics. Regardless, there will be plenty of competition if the two face off against each other.

For CIT 1, Conor White and Olan Murphy will be key transitioning out of defence with the ball, while Oisin Fitzpatrick and James O Shea offer plenty through the middle. Up front, talls Ian O Callaghan and Paul Geary will be the main targets.

On the CIT 2 side, Jack O Grady will be important off the half back line, Chris McEnry will be important playing in the midfield and Connor Tobin up forward.

Another big tournament is in-store for CIT, with both teams aiming to go far and they will certainly fancy their chances under coach Eoin O Sullivan.

Angus Boyle – AFL Europe

Form and togetherness key for Birmingham at Fitzpatrick Cup

The first major AFL Europe tournament for 2019 will see five universities from Ireland and England battle it out on Saturday 2nd of February for the Fitzpatrick Cup. Premiers in the mens divison back in 2015 and 2016, Birmingham University are looking to take both the men’s and women’s Cup back to the Midlands.

Both sides have been in impressive form recently, with the men still unbeaten and both teams on top of their respective National Universities League competions.

The men’s side currently have a big percentage, showing their attacking prowess and they are confident of maintaining that 100% win record.

For the women, they have recorded impressive victory’s over Cambridge and the London Swans in recent times, while also giving the Nottingham Scorpions a good contest back in November as Birmingham were defeated at the Movember Cup.

This year the Fitzpatrick Cup is taking place in Oxford, England after it was previously held in Cork, Ireland for the last two years.

University of Birmingham Aussie Rules President Matt Darowski said having the Cup closer to home will help. “Even though we’re not playing at home, it will definitely help us as we can take our strongest team,” Darowski said.

With some of the distances teams have to travel, not all the players are available, but this year, Birmingham are looking particularly strong.

“In previous years some of our key players were unable to travel due to various reasons, but this year we’ve had to leave out some very good players!” Darowski said.

With four Great Britain players in their ranks, this Birmingham men’s side is full of experience and will be expecting Toby Webster, Sam Walon, James Williams and Ciaran Jeanes to guide their team through the cup.

Also having numerous players still in the men’s squad from their Cup winning teams in 2015 and 2016 will help this Birmingham team battle it out for the trophy.

This is the first time that Birmingham have had a women’s team in the competition, but there are still valuable players with experience in the form of GB players Meg Davies, Lila Wielemans and Ciara Duffy.

Up front, they will have key targets in Margot Roberson and Joely Crichard, and also have some young stars in Kate Franklin and Neave Dent.

There has been more focus this season on the tactical side of the game, with plenty of practise based on specific game situations, but Darowski said, “undoubtedly the togetherness and chemistry of this group is vital to our success.”

“Both the guys and girls really get behind each other and there’s a great atmosphere at the club because of it,” said Darowski.

All of this offers a chance for Birmingham to battle for both the men’s and women’s titles this year. Combine that with the form of both sides, and the close-knit nature of the group, Birmingham have high expectations this tournament.

With experienced third-year and GB international James Williams taking charge, there is no reason why Birmingham can’t be a factor at the pointy end of this years Fitzpatrick Cup.

Angus Boyle – AFL Europe