Australian football teams from Banff win duels in the “Battle of Alberta”


The Banff Bison and Bilbies are provincial champions.

BANFF – It took just over a month for Banff’s first-ever Australian Rules football team to go from a social media sensation to provincial champions.

The Banff Bisons women's team, also known as the Bilbies, started off the way you would expect any brand new team to do in their first competition on the field.

By the end of the first half, they had scored one goal, shooting the ball through two goal posts, worth six points, while their opponents, the Calgary Kookaburras, had a convincing 18-point lead.

Playing in a championship game and trying to get used to new teammates, the 10-man team promised to be a tough battle last Saturday (May 25) at the Banff Recreation Grounds.

“It’s not easy to come back from that,” said Audrey Pring, organizer and player of the Bilbies.

Because there is such a small scene in Canada for this sport, also known as footy or Aussie Rules, the Bilbies were awarded a championship game right from the start – and had only a month to prepare.

The contact game is Australia's most popular sport and is similar to a mix of rugby, basketball and soccer. In Banff, a resort town with accents, the Australian population is usually one of the largest each year.

The Bilbies' first training session had five women, but by the third training session there were 12, and that was enough to field a team of 10. With a mixed group of inexperienced and experienced players, there was a lot of learning on the fly and getting to know each other in real time.

“We didn’t know exactly how it would turn out,” Pring said of the championship game.

However, as in any sport, you can never rule out an underdog.

After a quick second-half goal by Pring, who led his team in scoring with three goals and two behinds (20 points), the resurgent Bilbies launched a remarkable comeback, defeating the Kookaburras 43-8 to take gold in the Battle of Alberta with a final score of 49-32.

“It was great,” Pring said. “We had a chat with one of the girls who played ruck … and we gave her some tips and from then on she won almost every time there was a ball in play. We also ran out a lot more and created space and played more as a team.”

The Bisons also won their Battle of Alberta duel, defeating the Calgary Kangaroos 46:21. With this victory, the Bisons are now provincial champions for two years in a row.

Following the win, the Alberta champions plan to compete in Kelowna, BC and Calgary this summer, and they have been invited to play in Austin, Texas this fall.

Founded in 2016, the local club joined AFL Canada as the Bow Valley Bisons. The club was revived in 2022 by Mitch McLeod and Callum Walker as the Banff Bisons following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Putting together a women's team was difficult for them, but McLeod said Pring was instrumental in putting the team together.

“The demand from girls in town over the last few months has been huge,” McLeod said. “To see women's sport growing, not just globally, but to see a small town like Banff field an Australian Rules Football team is great. Hopefully we can keep this going for many years to come.”