Hosts Geelong Gaels of Victoria scored an upset win to take the 2nd Australasian Regional Championships of Gaelic football recently. Conducted alongside the men’s tournament and a junior blitz, the Regionals is an opportunity for teams at a developmental level of football to play in a competition of appropriate standard.
Facing St Kevin’s in the decider, the Gaels hung on by a point to clinch a hard fought game 3-4 to 3-3. The surprise was that given this was the first ever tournament for the local women, no-one had expected them to do quite this well.
Ex-pat Laura Fitzpatrick from Sligo confessed that although she was familiar with football, her playing experience was very limited. To even build a team they had to recruit many players who had never played at all. “It was an emotional end to the day, and our hearts filled with pride and our eyes filled with tears,” she said. “It was an experience second to none. I had my immediate family and my second family, the Geelong Gaels club, by my side as I played my inaugural game, and tournament of Gaelic football, and scored my first goals and points.”
One of those newcomers was her team-mate Jade Gunther, who during the Australian winter togs out for the Geelong West Giants AFL team. “It was so much fun to learn the skills and rules of Gaelic footy,” she said. “The Gaelic community of Geelong were so supportive of us girls joining in and giving it a go. I couldn’t recommend the sport more and I can’t wait for the next tournament!”
Played in a sevens format with squads of twelve, interchange rule and a soccer-sized pitch, the tournament began with round robin. The Western Ireland ladies, from Adelaide, were another team brimming with players with minimal games of Gaelic football behind them. Despite showing significant improvement through the day they finished bottom of the pool and did not qualify for the final.
For their part, St Kevin’s – who compete in the Victorian State League – looked consistently strong and were able to move the ball fluently up the park and show composure in finishing. Come the final however they were heavy in the legs and unable to clinch the vital scores they needed to finish off Geelong.
Next year’s tournament is likely to be held in South Australia (to be confirmed) after the inaugural championships were played in Tasmania in 2017. Australasian GFHA President, Mr Ned Sheehy, said he was delighted with the success of the Regionals and thanked Geelong Gaels for a fine job as hosts. “Women’s football is very active now in Australasia and we are doing our best to encourage even more participation and provide the facilities, coaches and opportunities the ladies need,” he said. “We had 5 state teams at the Australasian Games this year which was a very evenly-contested tournament. It’s important to look after the developmental level as well which is where these Regional Championships are proving useful at building capacity, participation and love for the sport.”