Contributed by: Brett Northey Tuesday, August 03 2004 @ 07:06 am ACST
The news from Ireland is not promising. A distant observer could be forgiven for thinking that everything is on the up in the Emerald Isle. The Irish burst onto the scene when the Australian Rules Football League Ireland was formed in 2000, building on the development started by the Dublin Demons and Belfast Redbacks. In 2002 the "Green Machine" crushed all before them, winning the inaugural International Cup in Melbourne, defeating favourites Papua New Guinea. With a similar game from which to draw players, in Gaelic football, and the relatively high profile of Australian football in Ireland, along with the AFL successes of Jim Stynes (recruited to Melbourne and winning the 1991 Brownlow medal), Tadhg Kennelly (recruited from Kerry and now a Sydney Swans star) and the hurling star and now up-and-coming Carlton player Setanta O'hAilpin, one might expect the ARFLI to be enjoying a boom.
Whilst annecdotal evidence suggests that there is plenty of interest in the game, converting that into regular numbers willing to learn and travel is proving more difficult. Several clubs in the 6 team league have expressed difficulties and there has been talk of several clubs folding, including Belfast (not confirmed). An emergency ARFLI meeting was scheduled for July 17th, but there has been no further news on their website.[*1] On the upside there have been reports of attempts to establish a new side in the city of Galway.
Let us hope that if necessary, the Irish season can be restructured in 2005 to allow more local competition and keep all the clubs involved. And whilst we do not want to see small developing leagues run into financial difficulties, we are very keen to see the Green Machine, undefeated in international competition, return to Australia in 2005 to defend their trophy. One can only hope that the AFL can find sponsorship for the tournament and in some way subsidise the large travel costs that all countries are facing.