NORTH Meath footballer David Walsh is heading Down Under to represent Ireland in a AFL (Aussie Rules) international tournament. Walsh is part of an Irish squad which will take part in the Aussie Rules Cup which involves teams from various parts of the world and is played every three years.
Walsh, who is a native of Oldcastle, has been selected on the Irish squad for the Aussie Rules Cup which gets underway on Wednesday, 20th August.
There are five clubs affiliated to the Australian Rules Football League of Ireland (ARFLI) and 29 players from those clubs are travelling to Melbourne and Warnambool to participate in the tournament.
Walsh is one of seven players from the Dublin-based Demons club who will be going to Australia as part of the Irish Aussie Rules squad. As a member of the ARFLI since it"s inception in October 2000, he has represented Ireland over 15 times in various competitions around the world.
He was a member of the Irish team that won the inaugural Atlantic Alliance Cup in London in 2001, when Denmark were defeated in the final. He has also played in the Brit Oval ground in Surrey against a Great Britain Aussie Rules side. The game was played before a crowd of up to 20,000 and was a curtain raiser to a contest between two touring professional AFL teams.
Ireland, who won the inaugural Aussie Rules Cup in 2002 by beating Papua New Guinea in the final, are this year coached by Roger Clarke, a native of Melbourne.
The next instalment of the Cup was in 2005 when Ireland reached the semi-finals with a strong New Zealand side emerging as overall winners. The Kiwis are top seeds for this year"s competition. Ireland, who are seeded fourth, open their group programme against Sweden, followed by outings against Finland and Canada.
The final will be played as a curtainraiser before a professional game in the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground, the MCG where 40 years ago the reigning All-Ireland champions Meath, under captain Peter Darby, played against a local AFL selection in a compromise rules game.
Accompanying Walsh in the Irish squad going to Australia are Westmeath men Pat Leavy, Sean Fallon and Paul O"Mahony. They hail from Mullingar and turn out for the Midland Tigers. This trio also represented Ireland in the 2005 Aussie Rules Cup.
'This year a squad of 29 players will be heading down to Melbourne where we will be joined by four Melbourne-based Irish players. There are 14 players travelling who were involved three years ago and five players returning from the victorious 2002 team,' Walsh explained.
'The rest of the squad comes from the other league teams based in Dublin, Mullingar and Cork. Nearly every county is represented, with players from the Demons also being from Kerry, Roscommon and Galway.'
'The cost of the trip is €3,000 per player and that only covers flights and accommodation. All the money has to be raised by the players themselves. While based in Melbourne, the Irish team will be twinned with the Collingwood club, who have Irishman, Martin Clarke on their professional squad.'
Invitations were sent out last October to all eligible players in the league to take part in trials for the Irish team. Since then, there have been warm up games against Great Britain in Dublin, as well as against Denmark in Aarhus, and another against a selection made up of Australians playing in the Irish league.
'With the quality of the players in the squad and the management and coaching staff, we are fitter, stronger and technically superior than we have ever been. We are confident without being brazen about it all, and feel we have a great chance of winning the cup again this year,' added Walsh.
This year, the AFL celebrates its 150th anniversary and are backing this year"s Aussie Rules Cup event more than before, using the games as curtainraisers to many major professional AFL premiership encounters.
For any player interested in getting involved in playing Aussie Rules in Ireland, check out the ARFLI website: www.arfli.com for details of a club nearby.