There was something of an anomaly at this year’s clubs and societies day: the newly-founded DCU AFL Club, which was the only free club or society. The club immediately stood out due to the modest nature of its booth and the idea of Australian rules football in Ireland, but that is an idea that is slowly being accepted.
The club is not the first of its kind in Ireland. The Australian Rules Football League of Ireland was founded in 2000 and six teams currently compete in it. Irish universities and colleges with clubs include University College Cork, Trinity College and Ulster’s Northern Regional College.
“AFL is growing throughout Europe. We currently have our own league here in Ireland and a national team,” says DCU AFL Club chairman and Australian native Caoilte Ó Baoill. Having played the code for 10 years in Australia before moving to his father’s native Gaoth Dobhair at age 16, Ó Baoill was eager to get back to the game he loves. He hopes that the sheer size of the university will help him achieve the hopes that proved impossible in the rural setting of the Donegal Gaeltacht.
Ó Baoill is more than confident that DCU AFL will be fielding a team this year, and remains hopeful that there could also be a ladies team in the university, given the right amount of interest. Interest does not seem to be an issue, with 302 male students and over 100 female students having signed up. “There’s a correlation between AFL and Gaelic football here so interest wouldn’t be a problem,” he reasons, and so far he has been proved right; the club’s first training session yielded a crowd of over 20 people, more than enough to field a team.
Should a team be fielded, they will take the field for the first time on October 26th to compete in the Fitzpatrick Cup, the first intervarsity Australian rules competition to be held in Ireland. The competition is at present slated to feature four teams: DCU, UCC Bombers, NRC Eagles and England’s Oxford University.
One problem standing in the way of any potential DCU team taking the field in the Fitzpatrick Cup is that the club has not yet been fully ratified by the Students’ Union. The process is advanced and Ó Baoill is optimistic that the club will be ratified. “Hopefully the SU ratifies the club so we can solidify the progress we’ve made,” he says.
‘Progress’ has been the buzzword in the club as of late, with an exciting possible partnership with Australian League side Geelong Cats in the works. Ó Baoill is quick to stress that “nothing is concrete” but a jersey sponsorship that would see the university’s team branded as DCU Cats and adopting the blue and white horizontal stripes of Geelong has been discussed.
Headway has also been made in the area of coaching, with John ‘Toasty’ Enright and Shane ‘Bilbo’ Beggan of the ARFLI’s oldest club, Dublin Demons, having agreed to take the club’s teams. Enright and Beggan were brought on board by Ó Baoill and his Demons teammate and DCU colleague Myles Traynor. Ó Baoill and Traynor represented Dublin Demons and DCU this summer in Bordeaux, France with the Irish national team in the Axios Euro Cup.
With the Fitzpatrick Cup looming fast, Ó Baoill and co. hope to have every detail sorted before DCU’s first Australian rules football team takes the field in Islandbridge. The club is training in Albert College Park and is looking to make that its permanent home through dealings with Dublin City Council.
The prospect of silverware in its first ever outing and the ratification of the club being little more than a formality, according to the talk of the club’s chairman, DCU AFL club is looking to the future with definite reasons for optimism. As Ó Baoill puts it: “We’ve gotten most of the menial work out of the way now, I just can’t wait until we get to play.”
Odrán de Bhaildraithe