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Eddie gets back to Gaelic grassroots

Football

He’s one of the AFL’s biggest marquee names, but this week Eddie Betts was getting back to grassroots – of a different sort – donning a guernsey for the local Gaelic league’s seven-a-side competition.

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The Crows’ four-time leading goal-kicker joined the Irish Australians team for a mid-week hit-out in its pre-Christmas ‘sevens’ competition, as he honed his round-ball skills ahead of Sunday’s International Rules fixture against Ireland at Adelaide Oval.

“For Eddie it was just a chance to have a kick around before Sunday’s game,” said Irish Australians teammate Matt Doecke, himself a veteran A-grade Aussie Rules footballer who is also vice-president of the Gaelic and Hurling Association of South Australia.

Despite the Irish flavour, the team was laden with Australian Rules talent, with Betts joined by Port Adelaide SANFL player Robbie Young and Norwood speedster Anthony Wilson.

Eddie Betts with Anthony Wilson and Robbie Young. Photo: Peter Argent

“Eddie knows our other seven-a-side indigenous players Robbie and ‘Rabbs’ [Wilson, a teammate of Betts at the Crows in 2015],” said Doecke.

“On the field, he was just one of the boys… naturally he played in attack.”

Betts kicked 10 points in the game, including a pair of ‘unders’ (three-point goals) – with the Irish Australians going on to defeat Onkaparinga 5.21(36) to 5.16 (31).

“He cruised around and showed tremendous balance and poise, especially when he had ball in hand,” Doecke told InDaily.

“He reads the round ball well in the air and seems to have more time than most… like in Aussie Rules, he’s very unselfish and gave away a lot of opportunities to other players.”

Eddie Betts in action for the Irish Australians. Photo: Peter Argent

The GHASA’s ‘sevens’ comp – runs on Wednesday nights in the lead-up to Christmas at St Mary’s Park, at the bottom end of South Road – the old training ground and base of SANFL club the South Adelaide Panthers.

Seven teams take part across seven rounds, before play-offs.

“It’s a little bit more social than our state league,” Doecke said.

“A lot of players from AFL or soccer backgrounds use it to keep a little bit fit in the off-season.”

He said the link to the star Crow came via the Playford International College, a vocational school where Sevens player Josh Young teaches and Magpie Robbie Young works as an Aboriginal Support Officer – and where, Doecke says, Betts has been a regular presence, addressing students and “being Eddie, really, is the best way to put it”.

“Eddie said ‘would the boys mind if I come and have a run, just in preparation for International Rules?’” Doecke explained.

While the answer was clearly ‘yes’, no-one was holding their breath.

“If it happens it happens, but you just don’t expect it,” he said.

“It was a great for the SA Gaelic competition to have a person of Eddie’s calibre run around.”

Robbie Young told InDaily he’d extended the invitation to Betts the previous week “and he was keen to have a run before Sunday’s match”.

“The rules are a bit different than what he was used to in International Rules [but] he found plenty of the ball and his natural skills stood out.

“Eddie said he enjoyed the experience and it was great opportunity to get touch with the round ball.”

Betts joined his International Rules teammates for training sessions yesterday (at Richmond Oval) and today (at Football Park), playing alongside some of the AFL’s biggest stars, including fellow Crows Rory Sloane and Rory Laird, and Power trio Paddy Ryder, Chad Wingard and Travis Boak.

Chad Wingard at International Rules training yesterday. Photo: Peter Argent

The first game of the two-test series is played on Sunday at Adelaide Oval, before a decider in Perth the following weekend.

Ireland currently holds the Cormac McAnallen Trophy after its victory in the one-off Test at Croke Park in Dublin in 2015 – a game in which Betts also played.

Betts joining his fellow AFL players at International Rules training. Photo: Peter Argent

Doecke said he was pleased for the fillip the Crow’s star-power gave the local comp.

“Sometimes it’s strange where we get people from… being everyone’s second or third sport it’s always pretty hard to attract [players]… but Wednesday night was a good night for Gaelic footy in SA.”

The GHASA has had less interaction with the Australian International Rules team, with Doecke saying it “would have been great if we could have built off that relationship a little bit with the Australian side”.

But the visiting Irish side has embraced the local league, visiting training today after a welcome reception at Adelaide’s Irish Club last night.

“It was a good night,” Doecke said.

“From what I can see they’ve come to play – they’re a fit young team.

“It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”

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