Match of the Round
Rebel Shield – 1st Leg – Leeside Lions v UCC Bombers
Leeside Lions hoping students don’t rebel, for the second year in a row…
Article by Richard MacSweeney
You ask some in Cork, Ireland about “Football” and for the most part they will refer to Gaelic Football, a game that’s over 100 years old, rich in local tradition, passion and identity. It’s a game that see’s best friends becomes bitter rivals come championship season. Then there are others who refer to “Football” predominantly as supporters of the English premiership or the odd few that support the domestic league.
Nowadays “Football” or “Footy” has a new meaning in Cork. The growth of Australian Rules football in the city and county has steadily increased year on year. This is primarily due to the growth of the University College Cork AFL team, the UCC Bombers. Founded from humble beginnings in 2013, backboned by Leeside Lions player Eoin O’Sullivan and UCC student Danny O’Brien, the club garnered some interest and the willing new faces could see and kick a Sherrin for the first time. Thankfully there was enough interest to build on and guys kept coming back week after week, with that the Bombers were formed.
Picture: The very first Rebel Shield game in 2013, a very inexperienced bombers team suffered at the hands of the established Leeside Lions
Nowadays, the UCC Bombers club attire is a common site around the college campus, the session are well run, focusing on the cores skills and rules of Aussie Rules , tailoring the innate established Gaelic Football and Rugby skills, primarily where most new participants come from, those that try it tend to buy into the ethos of Aussie Rules. No politics, no tradition no pre disposition, just pure and raw exposure to an exciting new game. There can be as many as thirty new faces turning up to training sessions at the moment.
In 2013, it was unknown territory for teams beyond those already established in the Irish league, there was no Fitzpatrick Cup, like there is now for University teams. The Bombers had to make do with the pinnacle of their year being a one-off game against Cork based ARFLI team the Leeside Lions, both teams coming up with a perpetual competition that’s aptly named the “Rebel Shield”. Cork people and sports teams are affectionately known as “The Rebels”, there is something rebellious about thirty or forty guys, the majority of whom have never been to Australia, and playing their indigenous game thousands of miles away .
Picture: Eoin O’Sullivan taking the combined Leeside Lions & UCC Bombers training session, this allows younger players to learn from experienced players and perhaps future teammates.
The first ever Rebel Shield game left a lot to be desired from a spectators’ perspective, but from humble beginnings, a team of 12 or so wearing colours inspired by the Essendon Bombers jumper included Rob & Phil, two American exchange students took on the might of the vastly established Leeside Lions, who were awesome on the day and showed the students how to play the game. An ever constant since day one, was Eoin O’Sullivan, the work he has put in and still does is nothing short of remarkable. A winner at the IC11 as well as many more 9’s & EC medals, Eoin still has the enthusiasm to grow the game and drives the club each cold and wet October, when new students could take the easy option and go to the college bar for a beer.
Fast forward three years since that first Rebel Shield, the UCC Bombers have grown from strength to strength winning the inaugural Fitzpatrick Cup in 2014 in Dublin and a testament to the club’s growth that two separate Bomber’s teams took part in last year’s competition in Birmingham. On the back of a successful year the Bombers came into the Rebel Shield and beat the Lions over two legs for the first time in their history, so this year the Lions will want payback as the students outplayed the teachers.
Picture: UCC Bombers Aussie Rules Club – 2014 Fitzpatrick Cup Winners
Every year at the beginning of the academic season, the Bombers training’s and Lions training’s are mixed so all new guys get to know and learn from the experienced players who may even become their future Lions teammates, but for the next couple of weeks they’re the opposition. Experienced Irish Internationals like Eoin O’Sullivan and Padraic O’Connell take the drills and are joined in the coaching ranks by Lions stalwart and head coach, Chris O’Brien. The emphasis is on skills, skills, skills as these early year sessions move towards a platform to be used on, namely the Rebel Shield first leg and preparation for the Fitzpatrick cup, which is held in UCC in 2017.
November 18th next will see this year’s installment, which has been extended to two legs since 2015. The first leg of the “Rebel Shield” will take place in Cork’s Mardyke Arena with ball up at 6.30pm. Reigning ARFLI premiers, the Leeside Lions, will return to the same venue which saw a demolition of the Belfast Redbacks in the grand final last August, the Lions will hope that history will repeat itself, pride and reputation are on the line.
On the night, the Bombers will be looking to experienced players like Oisin Collins, Peter Traynor, who have tasted international experience with the Irish Warriors with club players like Evan O’Connor, James Duffy, Kevin Sullivan and James O’Callaghan driving the team onward against their more experienced counterparts. The Lions will be looking towards Irish Warriors Luke Hickey, Padraic O’Connell, Colin Lordan, Paul Murphy, Dom Joyce, Conor O’Halloran as well as club stalwarts Mike Scanlan and Ian O’Sullivan to put one over on the students. The game bodes well as they prepare for their participation at the AFL Europe Champions League in April as Ireland’s representatives.
Picture: Leeside Lions 2016 squad which included 17 past/current UCC Bomber’s players
The UCC Bombers players who are interested in playing footy beyond the academic year actually transition to join the Leeside Lions in the summer months. It is no coincidence that the onslaught of Bombers into the Lions squad helped the Leeside Lions win the ARFLI Flag for the first time in 11 years this year, and even more impressive is they were the first team in history to go through an unbeaten season.
Current and former Bombers have gone on to receive great team and personal accolades, there have been more than 10 players play for the national team over the last couple of years with Bombers origins. Then there are the likes of Paul Murphy (Team of the tournament EC 16) Luke Hickey (Team of the tournament Euro Cup 16), Oisin Collins , Rory O’Donnell, Matt Bell gaining international experience this year on the back of their ARFLI winning campaign with the Lions. A key member of last year’s Bombers set up who has transitioned to a fully-fledged Lion and Irish Warrior is Luke Hickey who in his first full year as a Lion, was in fact named Leeside Lions Best & Fairest.
The skill and passion of youth could compliment the experience of the Lions stalwarts, who needed that injection. IC winning captain, Cian Quigley, Ian O’Sullivan, Jason Hingston and Vincent Manning as well as many more who kept the club going through lean times are now enjoying the fruits of a large squad. The Lions win huge testament to the number of years invested in the bombers that eventually yielded the crossover of players the ranks last year
Picture: Some of the 2016 UCC Bombers team that beat a Galway Magpies selection last week, as warm up for the Rebel Shield on Nov. 18th.
It’s a testament to the hard work by the Lions and UCC coaching staff to the hard work they have put in over the years that these games are not solely for exhibition purposes but they’re extremely competitive and a great brand of footy has been played in the past and hopefully it will do so again. There is that rivalry that needs to be present on the oval but there is that camaraderie off the field that is a testament to AFL ethos and culture.
So if you’re in the Cork area pop down to the Mardyke for what promises to be a great exhibition of footy, can the Lions avenge last year’s defeat? Will the Bombers make it two in a row?
If you can’t make it, it would be great as an AFL Europe community for other clubs and college teams to wish both teams all the best on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Rebel Shield (First leg)
Leeside Lions vs UCC Bombers
Friday 18th November, Ball up 6.30pm
All Welcome, Free Entry