AFL umpires will take a minimum 50 per cent pay cut during the shutdown period under a new agreement struck with league headquarters.
For the first time at the AFL International Cup, the United States will be sending two women’s sides to take part – the Freedom and the Liberty. I had a brief chat with their coach Leigh Barnes about how preparations are coming along.
Barnes is originally from Tasmania, where he was a champion full forward (kicking more than 100 goals in a season twice) with Burnie and North Launceston. He also played three games for the state.
Barnes would go on to play for a number of clubs in Queensland, before moving to America where he was the founding President of the Golden Gate Australian Football League in San Francisco.
Leigh has been coaching the Freedom since the 2011 International Cup. The Freedom finished third behind Ireland and Canada that year.
The USA sends two women’s teams to its games against Canada, and both countries are sending two women’s teams to the cup. This will bolster numbers, with several countries expected to be unable to get teams up – the New Zealand program is not up to speed, and the New Guinea side is unable to get funding.
While the US players are funding the trip themselves, Leigh said that they had no trouble filling the teams up.
The US women’s teams will be comprised of about 49 players, and with staff will have a touring party of 60 or more. Leigh said that there are rules regarding teams mixing during the tournament, but much is still to be worked out.
For those who remember the footballers of the 1980s, the US midfield coach is none other than John Ironmonger, formerly of East Perth, Sydney and Fitzroy.
Selection for the side comes from six to eight full women’s sides, comprising of about 120 players. Final numbers are cut down through the training camp, and then the national championships. The US teams will have no players based in Australia.
The Freedom played the Canadian women at the 49th Parallel Cup in Edmonton last year, with the Canadians scoring a convincing win. Leigh said he told the girls that everyone has a bad day, and importantly they learnt from the experience.
Leigh expects the Irish Banshees to be the team to beat, with the Canadian Northwind seeded second, and the US third. Newcomers Fiji and Tonga are unknown quantities, while the Australian Indigenous side won’t be reappearing.
While the women’s draw for the International Cup hasn’t been released yet, hopefully the US teams aren’t drawn to play each other as they share coaches. Leigh said they are flat out as it is, though having two teams will have some advantages, particularly in training and practice.
Leigh said the benefits of being involved in the International Cup are huge. It’s a massive experience for the team.
In 2011, the Freedom were involved with games against Collingwood, Sydney and Carlton, and Barnes is hoping to replicate the experience in August – Carlton at least should be finals free. The women also receive tremendous support from local women’s football groups in Australia.
Players to watch out for
Alexa Blatnick from Sacramento is a dynamic new player, while Haille Lee from Denver is extremely physical and returning from the 2011 International Cup. Lindsay Kastenek, a forward who was in the all world squad in 2011, is another to look for.
The International Cup begins on August 9, with the women’s grand final scheduled to be held at the historic Punt Road Oval, home of Richmond, on August 23.