Following on from the success of the recent ‘Leeside League’ series in Cork, Ireland, this weekend saw the launch of another winter league emerging from the AFL Ireland domestic competition.
This time round, winter footy was embraced in Ulster, where the North Down Hawks took on the Mid Ulster Suns during the traditional off-season of the AFL Ireland fixture.
The AFL Ulster Winter Series has been created by the Belfast Redbacks, a true powerhouse of Irish football and current premiers of AFL Ireland. The Redbacks have tapped into their expansive membership base to create two new feeder clubs within Ulster, and the Winter Series presents a fantastic opportunity to keep up the off-season fitness whilst developing new talent within the squads.
The league is set to be a 5-match series, and will be played as a 9-a-side format. The aim of these matches is to maximise match time for both new and old players, while capitalising on the traditional off-season of GAA to attract potential new recruits during their down time.
Round 1 was played on Sunday, December 1st, and saw the North Down Hawks host the Mid Ulster Suns in the crisp conditions. With Belfast Redbacks regulars taking charge of managing both sides as well as the whistle, the teams themselves boasted a mix of experienced campaigners and some shining new talent.
Gerard Walls of the Belfast Redbacks said that the highlights of the match “Had to be the impact the new players had on the match. Annie McCole and Fern Wilson had sized each other up all game in a very evenly matched contest, with both players looking very comfortable on the field… Finn Collins, a 17 year old local lad from North Down, making his footy debut and kicking 4 goals in the process!”
After four 15-minute quarters of top quality Irish footy, it was the Mid Ulster Suns who came away with the win in the inaugural match of the league.
It was Conor Mallon of Mid Ulster who sealed the win for the suns, coming up with “a touch of brilliance in the last quarter at a crucial time for Mid Ulster, selling Sean McGrath from North Down some candy before side stepping and splitting the posts from 30 out, putting the nail in the coffin for the Suns” said Walls.
Round 2 of the series is set to be hosted by the Belfast Redbacks on Saturday, December 7th. With some new players lined up for the next match, North Down will be looking to even up the score while the Suns will be eager to defend their lead.
Sunday 1st of December 2019 @ Spafield Rugby Pitch, Holywood, Co.Down
North Down Hawks (78) vs (93) Mid Ulster Suns
Round 1 teams:
North Down Hawks: Gerard Walls, Declan Alder, Daniel Eastwood, Conor McPeake, Ultan Clancy, Rodney, Ferne Wilson, Finn Collins, Sean McGrath
Mid Ulster Suns: Dean Skinner, Tom McKenna, Oliver Monaghan, Annie McCole, Sean Lynch, Daniel Padget Padgett, Conor Mallon, Michael McGarry, Conor Cronin