After winning two nine-a-side European titles as part of the England Dragonslayers setup, and losing in the 2013 European Championship Grand Final, Mark Ireland is out for revenge as the build-up to this year’s tournament heats up.
Ireland is one of just two Bulldogs remaining from the 2013 team, but injuries and rugby commitments have seen the 29-year-old’s involvement in the GB setup limited.
“Being a bit injury prone probably hasn’t helped matters,” said Ireland. “Playing a pretty decent standard of rugby means my GB career has been very sporadic, but I’m very happy to be back in the fold.
“The 2013 European Championship was my first involvement with the Bulldogs. I remember it very clearly. It still hurts, losing [to Ireland] with virtually the last kick of the game. I was devastated.
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“I got named in the team of the tournament, so that and countless pints of Guinness afterwards definitely helped!”
Earlier this year, Ireland was part of the Cumbria team that won the Bill Beaumont County Championship Division 3 title at Twickenham, and it was his rugby roots that saw him pick up Australian football.
“A few mates who played it in Sheffield asked if I fancied it during our rugby off season. I didn’t know what it was at all!
“They said basically you just run, tackle and kick. I thought that sounded like fun, so I said yeah why not! I haven’t looked back since. I’ve absolutely loved it from day one and just wish I’d started playing it earlier!”
Ireland started out playing for the Sheffield Thunder in the Central & Northern England league, but now plays with the Nottingham Scorpions.
He first got involved in the Great Britain setup playing in that league, getting noticed by Great Britain and England Head Coach Dean Thomas.
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Since then a combination of injuries and rugby has seen him make just six appearances for the Bulldogs, but is now back in the fold.
Predominantly a nine-a-side player, Ireland won the Euro Cup in Sweden with the England Dragonslayers earlier this year and is relishing the opportunity to be part of the Bulldogs setup.
“A lot of the boys were over in Sweden so we know each other pretty well. The GB squad is absolutely full of talent and it’s just a joy and honour to part of such a close-knit setup.
“No matter what club or what area you are from all the lads make you feel welcome, the standard is top quality and everyone helps each other make us better footy players and improve the squad!”
Now aged 29, Ireland has several goals for the future starting with the European Championship in London and culminating with a potential return to the AFL International Cup in Melbourne.
“After EC we’ll be back focusing on the CNE title with the rest of the Scorpion boys, aiming to head over to Amsterdam for the Champions League. It’s about time someone beat the Manchester Mosquitoes and you heard it here first, we’ll certainly be after them next year.
“I’d also really like to put in the performances from now until the International Cup to put my name in that hat for selection. After breaking my hand and having an operation at the 2017 tournament, I feel like there is some massively unfinished business there!”