Having played host for the European Championships in August where they successfully defended their title, the Irish were flying high.
This was of course followed by a clean sweep in the two match International Rules series where Ireland demolished Australia by the biggest recorded margin in the competition’s history.
Accommodating the inaugural Fitzpatrick Cup in the last weekend of October was the icing on the cake for what has been a year of celebration for AFL in Ireland.
The cold weather in Dublin didn’t dampen the spirits of the competing university teams at this exciting tournament, which will no doubt add to the growth of the game throughout Europe.
The four competing clubs were Northern Regional College, (NRC) University College Cork (UCC), the newly formed Dublin City University (DCU) and the oldest AFL team outside Australia, Oxford University.
AFL Commission Chairman, Mike Fitzpatrick, whom the tournament is named after, kicked off proceedings at the Opening Ceremony, recalling stories from his time spent at St Johns College and his association with the Oxford University football club.
“I am very humbled that this great tournament is being held in my honour”, stated Fitzpatrick. “I look forward to seeing some potential AFL stars take the field today.”
AFL Europe Chairman, Chris Dow then addressed the special guests ahead of the knockout tournament.
“This is an historic day for AFL in Europe and each participating club”, he said.
The matches got underway just before midday, Saturday, with a fiery encounter between UCC and DCU. The newest team in the competition, DCU, didn’t want to give anything away and appeared dominant early.
UCC’s defence were able to hold off the early onslaught however, through the strength of full back and half back, who provided great run and counter attack into the forward line.
The half time scores reflected a hard fought first half of football by both clubs with UCC holding a slight advantage.
The 40-man squad of UCC had the fitness in the second half but DCU had plenty of spirit. Led by speedster, Caolite O’Baoill, the Dublin based university gave the tournament favourites a scare as they closed to within two goals just before the siren.
A stabilising goal by UCC full forward sealed his side the victory and a spot in the final.
Next up on the Islandbridge ground was the match between NRC and Oxford University.
Big man, Buckets Wolgomot dominated the ruck from the start of the match and Oxford were able to move the ball forward with purpose early on.
Fitzpatrick’s al mater capitalised on their quick movement into the forward line via a strong midfield outfit consisting of ball magnet, Tim Cole and former captain, Trav McLeod.
The game was won with a run of goals in the last quarter.
The siren to signal that the Grand Final was underway, sounded just after 2pm. University College Cork kicked away to an early lead in the opening term, winning most positions on the ground.
Oxford slowed UCC’s momentum in the second quarter through the defensive efforts of Matt McGilvray at Centre Half Back and Genie Duff who saved numerous goals on the last line of defence.
With the rain pouring down in typical Irish style UCC’s superior fitness shone as they piled on several unanswered goals in the third quarter to claim what proved to be a match-winning margin.
Oxford attempted a comeback in the last quarter but to no prevail. As the final siren sounded, the exhausted UCC players threw their hands in the air with elation, in the knowledge that they had etched their names into the history book, and claimed the title of Fitzpatrick Cup champions.
The final scorecard read, University College Cork; 7.11 (53) defeated Oxford University; 3.4 (22)
At the awards ceremony following the match, DCU Chairman and Captain, and Ireland national team midfielder, Caolite O’Baoill, took out the tournament’s Best and Fairest Award.
“It was a great tournament and I’m looking forward to playing in many more,” he stated. “[DCU] will train hard and come back next year ready to go.”
AFL Europe Chairman, Chris Dow was on hand to present the cup to UCC captain PJ O’Brien and coach, Eoin O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan, who was an instrumental player in Ireland’s 2011 International Cup and 2013 European Championships victories, was elated with his players efforts.
“This is a well deserved victory,” he stated. “The guys worked so hard on and off the field to prepare for this day and to come out and play the way they did is a testament to that endeavour.”
Competition photographs from Derek Clarke can be accessed via his Flickr page: http://www.flickr.com/people/47545877@N06/
Scores on the day:
Semi Final 1: UCC 8.6 (54) vs DCU 4.7 (31)
Semi Final 2: Oxford 8.4 (52) vs Magherafelt 4.7 (31)
3rd Place Play-off: Magherafelt 7.5 (47) vs DCU 5.3 (33)
Final: UCC 7.11 (53) vs Oxford 3.4 (22)