Some call it the luck of the Irish, others say they were born to play but whatever your opinion, Irish footballers are becoming a solid fixture within the AFL for good reason. As well as being naturally adept to the game, the Irish have proven to be fierce competitors. The likes of the late and great Jim Stynes, Tadhg Kennely and current players such as Collingwood Magpies’ Marty Clarke and Brisbane Lions’ Pearce Hanley have all played big roles in their respective AFL teams as well as in building the game’s popularity in Ireland.
Back in their homeland, the Irish AFL league, the ARFLI, has attracted players from all over the country who are inspired by the success of their countrymen in Australia. Surprisingly the official history of AFL in Ireland only stretches back to 1999 when the league began, however the success of the local leagues and the national team in such a short time span speaks volumes for the advantage the Irish have growing up with sports such as gaelic football.
Over the years the game has developed however and according to national team half back flanker, Kevin McSorley, the Irish guys are now “playing footy the way footy should be played.” McSorley himself began playing gaelic and rugby before Australian football and admits that the success of the Irish teams has come from most of the players having a grounding in these traditional sports.
McSorley, who is part of an elite back line explained that the Irish national team, the Warriors, have a hard time with selection as there are so many players that could get picked. Managers from each region in Ireland select a core team of around forty players including older stalwarts and new talent. Players are picked and mixed from this initial group based on injuries, form and commitment to the team. McSorley went on to state that the team is blessed with a “good blend of youth and experience” and when asked if there were any players in particular to keep an eye on, he named over half the team as potential AFL prospects.
The Irish are known for their speed, agility, strength and skills. They are also renowned for their fearlessness when attacking the ball. These attributes all make for the complete AFL footballer, however loyalty to sports in their homeland such as gaelic keep a lot of potential AFL superstars at bay. This hasn’t stopped the game growing in popularity over the past ten years however and it is now at a point where it has begun to be introduced in colleges and even some primary schools. McSorley, a College Lecturer in his off time from the game, has developed a college team called the NRC Eagles which he believes to have great potential to produce the next wave of world class Irish Australian footballers.
Regardless of the hype surrounding the home team, not to mention the strong competition, the Irish still uphold the title as the team to beat. And being the number one team in Europe with a history of competitiveness at both European and International competitions, the Warriors rightly carry high hopes and plenty of confidence heading into the 2013 AFL Europe Championships.Michael McCormick