Irish Banshees rule the Aussie rules roost
Squad backboned by players from Belfast and Dublin clubs win International Cup again
Irish Banshees joint captains Laura Corrigan Duryea and Onóra Mulcahy celebrate the win with team coach Brendan Kelly. Photograph: Scott Barbour/AFL Media
When she started out playing Gaelic football as a young girl for Galbally Pearses back in Tyrone the prospect of one day scoring the winning goal for Ireland in an Aussie rules world final in Melbourne would have seemed, well, a touch outlandish. But Colleen Quinn managed just that last weekend when the Irish Banshees beat Canada in the AFL International Cup. And she’s still pinching herself.
“Aye, just a wee bit,” she laughs, “it was a good feeling, pretty special. I don’t think I’ll forget it for a while.”
The tournament, designed to promote the game internationally, is held every three years in Melbourne, the men’s inaugural competition taking place in 2002 when Ireland beat Papua New Guinea in the final. Ireland also won the first women’s International Cup back in 2011. They have squared up to Canada in all three finals so far; Canada triumphed in 2014, Ireland regaining their crown last Saturday.
The Irish, sponsored by finance software company Alfa, beat the United States, a European selection and Papua New Guinea in their pool; Canada getting the better of Fiji, Pakistan and Britain in theirs; Ireland seeing off the British in the semi-finals.
Quinn was one of 10 Ulster Kookaburras players in the squad, managed by Pat Leavy of Westmeath. The Belfast-based club draws its recruits from all over the province, the majority hailing from Donegal, five of them from Gweedore. The Dublin Angels, UCC Crusaders and Galway Magpies were also represented, as were London’s Wandsworth Demons. The remainder were made up of Australian-based players including Laura Corrigan Duryea, the first Irish woman to play in the Australian Football League.
Quinn first tried the sport when her travels took her to Adelaide in 2013. “I decided rather than joining a Gaelic club I’d try something different, so I looked up a local footie club and started playing with them. When I came home I found out about the Irish Banshees, so I caught up with them last year.
“We don’t get to play many games back home – the boys have a better set-up, they have around eight teams. With the girls there are just the two main ones, the Ulster Kookaburras and the Dublin Angels, and then a couple of university teams. But we meet up every few weeks and play a game. We come from all sorts of places and we’re always trying to get more girls involved and to try to sell the sport.
“It’s hard to compete against Gaelic football, it’s the bread and butter sport in Ireland, but with the professional women’s league starting last year in Australia there’s that attraction. Definitely more people know about it now than previously. A lot of people would have heard about Laura playing in the AFL, so it’s a huge attraction to play at a professional level in sport. And there are so many similarities between Gaelic and Aussie rules, it’s an easy transition.”
In her 30s now, Quinn, who works as a development officer with a housing association in Belfast, wouldn’t have minded a chance to play professionally, but reckons that ship has sailed. “I think I’m a wee bit too old for that now, maybe if I was 10 years younger I would have been over here, not a bother, but I think at this stage of my life I’ll let the younger ones go for it. I have my career now at home, I’m well ‘chatteled’,” she laughs.
She found the freedom, though, to score that winning goal against the Canadians who had led by nine points at half-time. “I was just in the right place at the right time, I think if anybody had picked it up they’d have scored it. I definitely didn’t think it would win it, there were still 10 minutes left, so it was a nervous 10 minutes, but we held on pretty well, dragged ourselves through it, we worked together as a team. Won by four points in the end. It’s unbelievable, I really can’t get my head around it.”
Sore from the pinching?