Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Irish "Planted-Player" strategy will give Warriors edge

Canada v Ireland IC2008.
The fourth instalment of the International Cup of Australian Rules football will proclaim a new (or renewed) champion on August 27th, but rest assured the team hoisting the cup aloft at the hallowed MCG won’t be the only country leaving IC2011 as winners.

It is fitting that now, ten years since the inaugural cup, a little bit of tournament history is adding a spicy new flavour to the mix. Controversial rankings, simmering rivalries and long overdue retribution are but a few of the items on the menu.

The head to head grudge matches are aplenty. Ireland has battled South Africa in every cup taking the honours on nearly every occasion, but the one point loss in the third place final in IC2008 will have left a sour taste in the mouths of the Irish Warriors, a team expecting nothing short of ultimate glory this time around. In contrast, arch-enemies Canada and the United States have only met once on Australian soil, a thumping U.S win way back in 2002. Although the Canadians finally finished higher than the U.S Revolution in the final rankings in ‘08, two sound defeats for the Northwind in the past two annual 49th Parallel Cup matches between the two nations mean the U.S have wrestled back the favourites tag. The two teams square off on day one of the tournament.

Perhaps the most high stakes rivalry of the cup lies with the countries at the very top; Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. PNG have made every cup final battling it out with New Zealand in the previous two. The ledger currently sits at one cup all, and debate is divided on which country has been the better over the ten year journey. IC2011 will finally give us that answer.

Now to the numbers. Every cup has seen a nation make the long trek home without even recording a solitary victory, South Africa and Japan in 2002, Spain in 2005 and India in 2008. Four new countries: France, East Timor, Tonga and Fiji join the returning India all looking to officially open their IC win account. History says someone is going home empty handed.

The coveted “Final Four” has been an exclusive club of only six nations: PNG, NZ, Ireland, U.S, South Africa and Denmark. The question is with PNG, NZ, Ireland and South Africa all considered the elite super-teams of the tournament, can anyone force their way in?

The cup format is vastly improved from previous tournaments. The 18 countries will fight out a “grading” day of matches. The top twelve advancing to the fight for the cup, the bottom six looking for the consolation prize in the division 2 finals. While it will be a brave effort to predict the final standings, one thing is a certainty – every country has a final ranking they will measure the success and failure of their cup by. Let’s have a look.

Ireland Warriors (Cup finishes: 1st – 4th – 4th)
2011 Seeded: 4th - Predicted finish: 1st – Team pass mark: 1st
The Warriors will accept nothing short of their second International Cup victory. They’ve employed a massive “planted-player” campaign of drawing half their squad from Irish players currently playing footy and living in Oz. Carlton Blues star Setanta OhAilpin’s “little” 198cm brother and former Carlton VFL player Aisake will add the icing to the cake.

New Zealand Hawks (formerly Falcons) (Cup finishes: 3rd – 1st – 2nd)
2011 Seeded: 2nd - Predicted finish: 2nd – Team pass mark: 1st
For a half of football in the IC2008 Grand Final New Zealand looked set for back-to-back Cups. PNG’s late surge robbed the Kiwi’s claim to undisputed international footy powerhouse.  

Team rankings to be continued...