2022 will see a grand return of the Fitzpatrick Cup after a year on the sidelines and a fresh crop of formidable European University AFL teams is ready to clash in Cardiff on February 5. Joining the fray for the first time will be Queens University Belfast, fresh off Northern Ireland becoming its own AFL Europe affiliate. QUB will bring with it just the one men’s team and coach, Gerard Walls, offers his thoughts ahead of his sides inaugural Fitz Cup trip below.
What has the last year looked like for QUB?
The Queens University Belfast (QUB) AFL club is in its inaugural year. The club came about as a couple of the students, most namely Ultan Clancy, had started playing footy with an Ulster based club – Belfast Redbacks – and took it upon themselves to bring Aussie Rules to the university.
The first year really was more about seeking ratification from the Students Union to be officially recognised as one of the university’s Sports and Social Clubs, all that has been ratified and the Students Union has been great in supporting the club so far.
Alongside that it has been about player recruitment, setting up regular trainings and looking to put games in place. We were lucky enough that in 2021, AFL Northern Ireland gained affiliated status with AFL Europe and established a Northern Ireland based AFL League with QUB invited to partake.
As with any first- year club, we are still trying to establish ourselves and grow the sport within the uni. With regular competition, regular training and the support of the uni we hope to keep developing and hopefully, this time next year, we will be in a position to field both a men’s and women’s team and looking to compete for and win the AFL Northern Ireland Premiership and Fitzpatrick Cup.
What’s the aim of the team for this year’s tournament?
As a new, developing team, we aren’t in a position to field a full 16- player travelling man squad, so have invited some Irish students from Manchester Metropolitan University and UCC to play with us in the Fitz Cup. From that perspective it’s great for the team and university to build those connections and friendships and hopefully we can make some good footy memories together.
From a players perspective, I think every player likes winning and this current playing group will be no different, so we will have a good crack at it and see how far we can go.
The tournament is in Wales this year, much closer to home, will that help?
There’s still a bit of travelling for the Northern Irish and Irish based lads, but logistics have worked out ok so far, it does make a difference though, to have the competition close to a large airport and a city with good transport links.
Any young stars to keep our eye on?
To be honest there’s talent right across the squad, from a QUB student perspective we have a couple of first year players in Robin Cunningham and Jason Brown who had never touched a footy until a couple of months ago. We have another two stand out players in Kevin McDonnell and Ultan Clancy. Kevin, although in his early twentiess, has been on the footy scene in Ireland for some 5 years-plus now with the Galway Magpies and Ultan just completed his first full season with the Belfast Redbacks. Both men got selected and played for the Ulster Wolfhounds that won the Clover Cup in Belfast in October 2021.
Overall, we have some great talent right across the team and we approach the tournament with a team first mentality.
What’s the key strength of the team?
Knowing the lads, a strength of the team will be a willingness to compete and win and work hard for each other, we do have some key players who can play in key positions, and we also have leaders all over the field – expect some fast-paced pressure footy from us.
Who’s the coach in charge for this tournament?
I have been coaching the team this year for our regular Thursday night sessions at QUB, on the day however, one of our QUB alumni members, Declan McClements, will be taking up a player-coach role. We also have Kevin McDonnell who can take up the role alongside Declan; both bring years of footy experience with them and will be great to play for.
The 2022 Fitzpatrick Cup will take place on Saturday February 5 at St Peter’s Rugby Club – The Harlequins Playing Fields, Minister Road, Cardiff, CF23 5AS.