Australian rules football in Ireland
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There has been some awareness of Australian rules football in Ireland since the first International rules football tests took place in late 1967, however Aussie Rules was not officially played in Ireland until clubs were simultaneously formed in Dublin and Belfast in 1999.
The two clubs recruited and trained through the winter and played a number of British clubs in challenge matches in early spring.
An Irish National Aussie rules team, drawn from all ARFLI affiliated clubs headed to London between October 6 –15 to take part in the Atlantic Alliance Cup 2001 – a five nations International competition with United States, Canada, Great Britain and Denmark providing the opposition. A final panel of 24 players, whittled down from 60 over a three-month training period made the trip. Ireland, playing their first ever competitive International matches won all their games in the round robin series and went on to record a historical win against Denmark (pre tournament favourites) in the Grand Final. This was a huge achievement for such a young league against teams from leagues that had been established for ten years plus. Darren Fitzpatrick, who now lives in Kilkenny and who previously played Aussie Rules at a professional level with the Western Bulldogs in Australia, coached the team.
In August 2002 the National team attended the Australian Football International Cup (An Amateur World Cup for Nations outside of Australia). The Team went into the competition as third seeds behind Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. The competition was a resounding success for Ireland as they beat Canada, Samoa, USA, South Africa and New Zealand in the group stage and went on to beat PNG in a televised final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The team which was again coached by Darren Fitzpatrick, was captained by Michael Johnston.
In 2005 the "Green Machine" again attended the Australian Football International Cup. With injuries and late withdrawals, the team managed a 4th place behind a much improved New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and USA.
Ireland currently has almost 150 senior Australian Football players representing 6 teams and a junior development program.
The sport in Ireland faces constant struggle, due to the massive popularity of the indigenous and similar sport of Gaelic football.
A controversial International Rules series in 2005 may have irreparably damaged the reputation of the code in Ireland, however the continued export of Gaelic football converts to Aussie Rules ensures that the sport continues to have a small following in Ireland.
Proximity to Great Britain and mainland Europe, where there are fairly strong Aussie Rules leagues gives teams from Ireland the opportunity to regularly participate in international competition and remain competitive through access to Gaelic football players.
Great Irish Aussie Rules playersEdit
Australia has recruited several Irish Gaelic footballers to play Aussie Rules. As Gaelic football is primarily amateur competition and the AFL competition is professional, there is a strong financial lure.