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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canadian Australian Rules Football players need help to get Down Under

TORONTO - Neil Casey can't wait to represent Canada at the AFL International Cup in Melbourne, Australia, this summer.

But, like many of his Canadian team colleagues, finding the funds to get Down Under and show their budding skills at Australian Rules Football is proving difficult.

Casey, 26, is one of five members of Toronto's High Park Demons who will represent Canada at the developmental world tournament, slated to run Aug. 9-23.

The competition, held every three years, features men's and women's play. Organizers call it "a celebration of AFL football on a global scale." To keep it fair, no expatriate Australians are allowed to play.

Ireland won the inaugural men's competition in 2002, followed by New Zealand in 2005 and Papua New Guinea in 2008.

In 2011 the tournament featured 18 men's teams across two divisions and five women's squads. Ireland won both the men's and women's brackets.

But getting to Australia isn't cheap.

Noorbanu Mohamedali, manager of the Demons, estimates it will take $4,000 per player to cover flights, accommodation and meals. And they have a ways to go despite friends and business associates stepping up.

The other Demons on Team Canada are Garrett Reynolds and Paul Loughnane on the men's side and Heather Walshe and Sarah Ennor on the women's team.

All are tapping as many resources they can to help raise funds. Casey, a primary school teacher, has hit up friends on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Demons, a founding member of the Ontario Australian Football League (OAFL), have set up a website to help raise funds for the trip (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/high-park-demon-s-representing-canada-at-the-afl-international-cup-2014).

Individual players across the country on the Canadian team are doing their own fundraising as well.

Casey, whose position is mobile ruckman, is a native of Ireland who grew up playing hurling and Gaelic football. He joined the Toronto Hurling Club after moving to Canada in 2009 before discovering Aussie Rules Football in 2013.

"I just fell in love with the pace and the physicality of the sport," said Casey. "First game I played, it was brilliant."

He was good at it too, winning Canadian player of the year honours in 2013. Now he gets to test his skills against others from around the world.

"Just to play at that international level is very exciting for me," he said. "It's psyching me up a lot, because we're going to be playing teams that take it very seriously. I'm happy to say Team Canada is taking it very seriously as well."

Groups of Canadian team players are practising together across the country before assembling in Australia.

Canadians are no strangers to Aussie Rules Football. Former rugby international Mike Pyke switched sports and currently plays for the Sydney Swans.

The six-foot-five Casey speaks warmly about his fellow players in the Ontario league, saying they are committed, competitive and physical but keep things in perspective.

"At the end of the day you're able to have a barbecue with the other team after the game," he said.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

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