Category: Australian Rules Football

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Ireland

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Ireland is significant as one of the first European nations to have adopted the sport of Aussie rules. However, footy has never enjoyed significantly broad popularity in the country due to the dominance of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which overseas the traditional Irish sports of hurling, camogie, handball, and Gaelic football.

Gaelic football — by far the largest Irish spectator sport — has several similarities to Aussie rules, which have been well-documented over the years. The primary differences are the number of players, the size and shape of the ball and pitch, and the fact that Gaelic football is not full-contact.

Irish interest in footy was most likely initially sparked in 1967 during the Australian Football World Tour, which played a couple of test matches in Dublin. The hybrid sport of international rules football (a combination of Aussie rules and Gaelic football) has its roots in the World Tour. In addition, many Gaelic footballers have given Aussie rules a shot since the 1980s, primarily due to the lure of a quality salary; the Gaelic games are only played at an amateur level in Ireland.

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As far a domestic competition goes, there were no official footy clubs in Ireland until 1999, when teams were formed in both Belfast and Dublin (the Redbacks and Demons, respectively). The following year, the Australian Rules Football League of Ireland (ARFLI) was founded, and the Demons and Redbacks began playing test matches against teams in England. Having recruited well, both clubs performed admirably, providing a strong foundation for footy to grow in the Emerald Isle. Three more clubs — the Leeside Lions, the Midland Tigers, and the Drogheda Dockers — were founded within the next year, helped by an established group of Aussie expats.

ARFLI’s co-founders, Ciaran O’Hara and Michael Currane, attempted to strengthen ties with other organized footy clubs and leagues in both the UK and Continental Europe, helping form the European Australian Rules Football Council in early 2001. This was a key development in the eventual formation of AFL Europe in 2010, of which Ireland was a founding member.

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Due to a lack of available cricket ovals, the ARFLI originally decided to create two competitions, starting in the 2001 season. The premiership season was the original five teams competing in traditional 18-a-side formats, while the Super 9’s competition was nine-per-side, and was played on Gaelic football pitches in order to give players a smoother transition.

In addition to a growing local competition, Ireland’s national footy team, the Warriors, were inaugural members of the International Cup in 2002, when they won the premiership over heavily-favored Papua New Guinea, in addition to prior victories over Canada, Samoa, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States.

In both 2005 and 2008, the Irish team (AKA the Green Machine) finished in fourth place, suffering losses to both PNG and the US in ’05 and falling to New Zealand during round one of the finals in ’08. However, Ireland rebounded three years later, taking home the 2011 IC title with another nice win over PNG. The Green Machine/Warriors are one of the most successful IC teams ever, as they’ve never finished below fourth place overall and are tied with PNG for the most premierships.

The women’s national team, the Banshees, was also an inaugural member of the women’s IC in 2011, winning the Grand Final that year and finishing as runners-up to Canada in 2014.

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While Gaelic football still dominates the local media coverage and captivates spectators, the future of Aussie rules in Ireland still looks bright, due to the triennial International Rules Series, the emergence of several Gaelic converts in the AFL, and the chance to compete abroad at the International Cup. There are roughly 150 registered Irish footy players, as well as a junior development program.

AUSTRALIAN RULES FOOTBALL LEAGUE OF IRELAND

  • Belfast Redbacks
  • Dublin Demons
  • Galway Magpies
  • Leeside Lions
  • North Leinster Giants
  • South Dublin Swans

IRISHMEN IN THE AFL

  • Dermott Brereton (played 1982-1992) — One of the greatest goalkickers ever, Brereton is a first generation Irish Australian who played in 189 career games for the Hawthorn Hawks, winning five VFL premierships during that time. After briefly attempting a comeback with Sydney and Collingwood in the mid-90s, Brereton permanently retired and is now a prominent radio and TV commentator.
  • Jock McHale (played 1903-1920) — The son of Irish immigrants to Sydney, McHale mostly grew up in Melbourne and played for Collingwood during the VFL’s infancy. However, he is best remembered for his 714-game coaching career with the Pies, which lasted over two decades and resulted in seven premierships. McHale passed away of a heart attack in 1970 and was posthumously named as a Legend in the AFL Hall of Fame.

NOTABLE GAELIC FOOTBALL CONVERTS TO AFL

  • Tadhg Kennelly (played 2001-2008) — An athletic 6’3″ defender, Kennelly made history with the Sydney Swans in 2005, when he became the first born-and-raised Irishman to win an AFL premiership. Before he transitioned to footy, Kennelly was a stellar underage player for GAA powerhouse club County Kerry.
  • Pearce Hanley (played 2008-present) — The son of an Irish father and Welsh mother, Hanley played for GAA’s County Mayo. In 2005, after a positive showing at the International Rules Series, Hanley began to receiving scouting attention from the AFL. He ultimately signed with the Brisbane Lions as a midfielder/defender and played in 129 career games there before being traded to the Gold Coast Suns last year.
  • Jim Stynes (played 1987-1998) — Born in Dublin, Stynes spent his entire AFL career with the Melbourne Demons and is considered the first major success in the so-called Irish experiment, playing in 264 career games and winning a Brownlow Medal in 1991. Following his retirement, Stynes became well-known for his charity work and penned two memoirs. He was also selected to the AFL Hall of Fame and named to the Melbourne Team of the Century. Stynes passed away in 2012 at the tragically young age of 45 due to recurring melanoma.
  • Ciarán Byrne (played 2014-present) — Byrne is another Gaelic convert who originally made his presence known to the AFL when playing in the International Rules Series. Hailing from County Louth, Byrne signed as a category B international rookie with Carlton in 2013 and has since played in a dozen AFL games, primarily in the half-back line.
  • Conor McKenna (played 2015-present) — McKenna hails from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland and played at the minor league level in Gaelic football before deciding to give Aussie rules a try. Now a midfielder for the Essendon Bombers, McKenna has seen more and more senior level footy in recent months, drawing praise for his style of play from ex-Bombers captain Jobe Watson.
  • Colm Begley (played 2006-2009) — Begley moved to Australia in 2005 from County Laois and signed with the Brisbane Lions, where he played for three seasons. Unfortunately, injuries marred the latter half of his career; he retired in 2009 and elected to return to Ireland.
  • Zach Tuohy (played 2010-present) — Tuohy is one of the more recent Irish success stories. Originally from County Laois, he began his career as a versatile defender with the Carlton Blues before getting traded to Geelong at the end of last season. Tuohy also represented Ireland at both the 2011 and 2013 International Rules Series.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Germany

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The Aussie rules phenomenon has expanded in continental Europe in recent years, and Germany has been no exception. The sport was originally played there in 1995, with clubs formed by Aussie expats in both Munich (the Redbacks) and Frankfurt (the Kangaroos). The two clubs competed against each other on a largely informal basis until AFL Germany was founded in 1999.

In 2003, the league expanded, with the Berlin Crocodiles and Hamburg Dockers joining and forming a nice nucleus for a nationwide German competition. Soon enough, the Dusseldorf Lions (now the Rheinland Lions) and the Stuttgart Emus were added in the ensuing years.

The German national footy team, the Black Eagles, were established in 2006, when they participated in a tri-nation series of matches against Sweden and Denmark. The Eagles were able to use that experience as a springboard the following year in the same series, defeating Sweden in Berlin for their first international victory in July 2007. That September, the EU Cup – another international Aussie rules tournament – was hosted in Hamburg, where the Eagles finished in second place.

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The Eagles have desired to make an impact at the International Cup, but AFL Germany has been reluctant in the past, instead voicing the desire to focus on regional development and becoming a dominant force at various European tournaments, both in traditional 18-a-side format and 9-a-side. In the summer of 2011, the Eagles dominated France’s national team, the Coqs, at a test match in Paris.

After gaining suitable support to the greenlight from AFL Germany, the Black Eagles will be making their long-awaited International Cup debut later in 2017; AFL Germany now boasts four separate leagues, and many other clubs are looking to get started in the near future.

AFL GERMANY

  • Berlin Crocs
  • Dresden Wolves
  • Frankfurt Redbacks
  • Freiburg Taipans
  • Hamburg Dockers
  • Munich Kangaroos
  • Rheinland Lions
  • Stuttgart Emus

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GERMANS IN THE AFL

  • Alex Ruscuklic (played 1966-1974) — This German-born footballer was a star forward for Fitzroy, kicking 189 goals in 108 career games with the club. A testy relationship with his coaches resulted in his departure from Fitzroy, and he landed at Carlton in the 1974 season before announcing his retirement.
  • Peter Ruscuklic (played 1975-1981) — Alex’s younger brother was not quite as successful, but had some notable moments as a full-forward for both Fitzroy (1975-76) and Geelong (1977). After leaving the VFL, Ruscuklic caught on with the East Sydney Football Club in the Sydney Football League before retiring in 1981 and moving into coaching. He passed away suddenly at the age of 58 in 2014.
  • David Schwarz (played 1991-2002) — Originally from Sunbury, Victoria, Schwarz was a German-Australian footballer who was known for his goalkicking abilities. Although his later career was marred by knee injuries, Schwarz played in 173 games with the Melbourne Demons and became an AFL commentator following his retirement.
  • Dean Terlich (played 2013-2016) — Terlich is a German Australian who originally played in the South Australian National Football League (SANFL). He was drafted by the Sydney Swans in the 2008 rookie draft but never played a game for them, eventually falling in with the Melbourne Demons by 2013. He played in 35 career games before being delisted by the end of the 2016 season.
  • Jack Riewoldt (played 2007-present) — Riewoldt is of German descent on his father’s side and grew up in Tasmania, where he played for the Clarence Football Club before getting drafted by Richmond, where he remains today. Riewoldt is perhaps best known for his 2015 campaign, when he became the first Richmond player to kick 50-plus goals in six straight seasons.
  • Nick Riewoldt (played 2000-present) — A first cousin of Jack, Riewoldt has spent his lengthy AFL career entirely with the St Kilda Football Club, entering the league as the #1 overall pick in 2000. Although born in Tasmania, Riewoldt was historically significant as the first #1 pick to play his junior and senior footy in Queensland. To date, he has been St Kilda’s leading goalkicker four separate times and is a five-time All-Australian.

HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: Sir Doug Nicholls

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Doug Nicholls was born on December 9, 1906, at Cummeragunja Reserve, a small Aboriginal Australian community in rural New South Wales. The youngest of five children, Nicholls grew up surrounded by cattle and sheep stations and attended school at the local church mission.

By the age of 13, Nicholls was working for his uncle as a hand on a local farm, where he was known for his charming, boyish personality and strong work ethic. The young Nicholls showed plenty of athleticism, catching on with the Tongala Blues, a local Australian rules football club across the Murray River in country Victoria.

Eventually, Nicholls got good enough at footy in order to try out for both Carlton and North Melbourne – two teams in the Victorian Football League (VFL) – in 1927 at the age of 21. While Nicholls briefly played for Carlton’s reserves squad, his lack of height (5’2″) worked against him and he eventually chose to leave the club in favor of the Northcote Dragons Football Club, a team that competed in the Victorian Football Association (VFA).

Nicholls was able to work his way into the Dragons’ starting lineup by the 1929 season, and was eventually selected by Fitzroy, a well-established VFL club, in 1932. Known for his exceptional speed and ability to make smart decisions with the footy, Nicholls soon became a crowd favorite, although he was also subject to locker room taunts due to his ethnicity. It wasn’t until teammate Haydn Bunton befriended Nicholls that the young Aborigine felt like he belonged. In 1935, Nicholls became the first indigenous player to play for the Victorian state team.

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Nicholls also used his athletic talents to help fellow Aborigines, as well as raise funds by organizing footy matches to support Australian troops during WWII. He was also named the inaugural chairman of the National Aboriginal Sports Foundation. Following the death of his mother, Nicholls began to take an interest in the ministry, becoming a Church of Christ member after getting baptized in 1935.

While Nicholls wanted to serve in WWII, he was eventually released from his duties in order to help the Fitzroy community, including many Aborigines who suffered from alcoholism. In addition to his Christian ministry work, Nicholls became a social worker and was a voice against the alcoholism and gambling problems that he felt were plaguing his community. He also helped set up hostels for abandoned children, built vacation homes for poor families, and was also a field officer for the Aboriginal Advancement League. Many people admired Nicholls’s enthusiasm and charisma, and he eventually became the minister of the first Aboriginal Church of Christ in the country.

In 1953, Nicholls received a great honor when he was recommended to be a part of the Australian contingency that attended Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. This never materialized, but the recommendation specifically highlighted the positive community activism that Nicholls had been doing (he did eventually help welcome the Queen when she toured Australia in 1970).

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Among other career highlights, Nicholls was chosen as a member of the Father’s Day Council of Australia due to his work with youth, met Pope Paul VI at the Ecumenical Conference held in Melbourne in 1968, and ultimately was the first Aboriginal Australian to be knighted, in 1972. Nicholls was also the first Aboriginal to hold high office, when he was elected Governor of South Australia in 1976. However, he served only five months in office before resigning due to poor health.

Nicholls passed away on June 4, 1988, at his home in Mooroopna, Victoria. He was 81 years old and survived by his wife of 39 years, Gladys, in addition to three kids and three step-kids.

A state funeral was widely attended, and a life-size statue of Nicholls was dedicated in 2006 at Parliament Gardens in Melbourne. In addition, Nicholls remains widely influential in sport – the Australian Football League recognizes his achievements every year with the annual Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round, which celebrates the Aboriginal impact on the game of Aussie rules.

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FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: China

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As one of the biggest media markets in Asia, China has long been a target for Aussie rules as authorities look to spread the sport abroad to new nations. Given the large Chinese population and their well-established enthusiasm for many different sports, they would seem to have a fertile ground for a grassroots footy following.

China has embraced footy at a breakneck pace, as the first recorded game of Aussie rules was played only 13 years ago. The Beijing Bombers – a team made up of Aussie ex-pats in the Chinese capital – were established in 2004. They eventually grew a big-enough audience to help kickstart a local competition with three other teams in the Beijing area. In more recent times, the cities of Shanghai, Dongguan, and Guangzhou have also started up local footy clubs. Some other smaller cities , such as Xinjiang and Suzhou, currently lack any senior level footy competitions, but have a history of supporting teams at the junior level in local schools.

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It’s clear that mainland China has taken a liking to Aussie rules, but both Macau and Hong Kong have also embraced the sport. Footy was first played in Hong Kong back in 1990, while Macau footballers first competed in 2009. The Hong Kong Dragons are one of Asia’s most successful teams, regularly participating in major city tournaments and also boasting a strong Auskick program for kids.

In 2005, Tianjin (a sister city of Melbourne) began to organize a competition through the Tianjin Normal University. This was largely due to the efforts of the AFL (via the Melbourne Football Club) and the former Lord Mayor of Melbourne, John So, a Chinese Australian who was born in Hong Kong.

China’s national team is known as the Red Demons and consists entirely of Chinese nationals. They have played at the 2008, 2011, and 2014 International Cups and made their way up to the Division II level in 2011, where they beat India, but lost to Fiji and the joint Israeli-Palestinian team. In 2014, the Red Demons returned to Australian shores and finished in fourth place with a nice win over Finland and losses to Canada and New Zealand.

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Back on the the mainland, there has been growth in promoting Aussie rules as both a spectator sport and a participation sport. In 2010, an exhibition AFL match was held at Jiangwan Stadium in Shanghai, drawing an impressive crowd; the following year, a Chinese AFL academy was founded, too. While other areas of Asia have seen more immediate success in terms of establishing footy as a major enterprise, there is still much potential with China, primarily due to the Aussie expat influence, as well as increased TV exposure.

And coming up very soon – on Sunday, May 14th, 2017 – the AFL will return to Shanghai when the city will host the first ever AFL premiership match outside of Oceania. The Port Adelaide Power will take on the Gold Coast Suns at Jiangwan Stadium; AFL officials have already stated that the game has been sold out, and are optimistic that a game in China could become an annual occurrence.

AFL CHINA

  • Beijing Bombers
  • Dongguan Blues
  • Guanzhou Scorpions
  • Hong Kong Dragons
  • Macau Lightning
  • Shanghai Tigers

CHINESE IN THE AFL

  • Les Fong (played 1973-1987) – Fong was an athletic playmaker for the West Perth Football Club in the West Australian Football League. Kicking over 330 career goals, Fong was also a long-time team captain, earning the well-deserved nickname “Captain Courageous” for his passionate style of play. He later became a coach in Perth.
  • Dannie Seow (played 1986-1990) – Originally from the suburbs of Melbourne, Seow is of Chinese descent on his father’s side and played two seasons with both Melbourne and Collingwood. In between his stints with those two clubs, Seow also briefly entertained a career in American football as a wide receiver before returning to Australia in 1989.
  • Wally Koochew (played 1908) – Koochew was born to a Norwegian mother and a Chinese father in Melbourne, becoming the first ever VFL/AFL player with Chinese roots. Despite battling discrimination, Koochew played the 1908 season for Carlton and was known for his strong, accurate kick. He passed away in 1932 at the age of 44.
  • George Tansing (played 1908) – Another early example of Chinese Australians playing the game, Tansing played one season with the Geelong Cats.
  • Lin Jong (played 2012-present) – Jong, a Melbourne native, is the son of an East Timorese-Chinese father and a Taiwanese mother. A speedy, versatile footballer, Jong first played footy while attending Brentwood Secondary College. and also played for the Oakleigh Chargers in the TAC Cup. He made his AFL debut in 2012 for the Western Bulldogs and was elevated to the senior list in 2014.
  • Chen Shaoliang (played 2016-present) – Shaoliang originally played basketball as a youngster before moving to Aussie rules in 2012. After a promising test at the AFL combine and a successful run as the Red Dragons’ team captain, Shaoliang was selected as an international scholarship player by Port Adelaide in 2016. This makes him the first Chinese national to ever be signed to an AFL list.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Samoa

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Although primarily known for producing scores of talented players in rugby union, the nation of Samoa (population 179,000) has a recently established presence in Aussie rules.

The game was first introduced in the Samoan capital of Apia back in 1997, with the country’s governing body being founded the following year as the Samoa Australian Rules Football Association (SARFA). An exhibition match drew an impressive crowd, and the new footy players showed athleticism, toughness, and a natural aptitude for the game.

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Due to Samoans’ rugby fanaticism, the first games of footy were played under hybrid rules, including 15-on-15, restricting certain players’ movement and playing on rectangular rugby fields, as opposed to cricket ovals. This was called Samoan rules and was used as a catalyst to get people involved in the basics of footy. The SARFA also developed a mutual relationship with the AFL’s Western Bulldogs, as Samoa shares the same colors (blue, red, and white) as the Bulldogs’ jumper. Several AFL players visited Samoa for coaching clinics and development camps, most notably Bulldogs legend Brad Johnson.

The country’s international team was originally known as the Bulldogs. They debuted at Australia’s Arafura Games in 1999, where they took home the bronze medal; two years later, the Samoans competed against Nauru during an international test match in Melbourne.

The year 2002 was big for Samoan footy, with Bulldogs being selected to the inaugural Australian Football International Cup. While they only finished seventh overall, this was a major step forward for Samoa, showing that they could compete at a high level against other countries. Also in 2002, AFL games were first broadcast on Samoan television.

The Bulldogs returned to Australia to field a team in the 2004 Multicultural Cup, but lost to the Israeli team in the Grand Final. In 2005, they finished in fifth place at the International Cup, beating Great Britain decisively and scoring a narrow win over Canada, while suffering losses to powerhouses Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

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The SARFA was reincorporated as AFL Samoa in 2007, and the national team was renamed the Kangaroos in time for the 2008 edition of the IC, mostly due to the influence of Aaron Edwards, a Samoan-born footy player for the North Melbourne Kangaroos. That year, Samoa beat India, but lost again to New Zealand and suffered a disappointing loss to the Japanese team as well.

In addition to Samoa’s historic relationship with the Western Bulldogs, they also share close ties with the Moorabbin Kangaroos, a team in suburban Melbourne that competes in the Southern Football League. There remains an ongoing effort to keep a strong senior league going in Samoa, as footy already has a strong foothold among schoolkids. With the AFL looking to expand their geographic footprint in the South Pacific, they will no doubt have their eyes on Samoa in the near future.

Samoa currently boasts 240 senior players and 132 junior players, in addition to a schoolboys’ tournament and a full-time development officer appointed by the AFL.

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SAMOANS IN THE AFL

  • Karmichael Hunt (played 2011-2014) – Hunt is of Samoan descent on his dad’s side and his mother is a Cook Islander. While he hasn’t directly engaged with Samoan footy on the international level (having been born and raised in New Zealand), Hunt played in the AFL as a versatile midfielder/defender with the Gold Coast Suns for four seasons. Before his AFL career, Hunt played rugby league with the Brisbane Broncos from 2004-2009, and he currently plays rugby union with the Queensland Reds.
  • Aaron Edwards (played 2003-2014) – Born in Samoa to a Kiwi father and Samoan mother, Edwards emigrated to Melbourne, where he played under-18 footy with the historic Dandenong Stingrays team in the TAC Cup. While Edwards played a few seasons with both West Coast and Richmond, his most notable career arc was when he played as a key forward for the North Melbourne Kangaroos from 2007-2012, kicking 122 career goals. Like many Polynesian converts to Aussie rules, Edwards played rugby union as a youngster before picking up a footy at the age of 13.
  • Fia Tootoo (played 2008-present) – A Samoan national who lives in Melbourne, Tootoo plays at the semi-pro level for the Nyora Saints, a team in the Ellinbank & District Football League. Tootoo is also a key member of the Samoan national team.

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: Canada

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Aussie rules has developed rapidly in the country of Canada in the past decade or so, buoyed by a wave of Aussie ex-pats who live and work in the large cities of Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa, among others. There are several leagues currently operating, most notably in Ontario, Alberta, Quebec, and British Columbia.

The AFL brought the game to Canada officially in the late 1980s, when exhibition matches were held in both Vancouver and Toronto. In fact, the 1987 Vancouver-based match between Sydney Swans and the Melbourne Demons drew a record crowd of over 32,000 – which, to this day, is the largest crowd ever to see a footy match outside of Australia.

Like in the US, many Canadians were first introduced to Aussie rules during the 80s, when ESPN hosted regional broadcasts of AFL games. The first Canadian league was established in Toronto in May 1989, with two teams, the Toronto Panthers and the Mississauga Mustangs. Four other teams had joined by 1992, and by 1993, the Canadian national team, the Northwind, was born.

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Almost immediately, the Northwind experienced success, beating a British representative team in only their second year of existence. In 1995, a cable TV station in Hamilton, Ontario, broadcast a local footy game for the first time, and in 1999, the Canadians played the Americans in the first edition of the 49th Parallel Cup.

The Northwind have competed in every edition of the Australian Football International Cup, starting in 2002. The women’s team, known as the Northern Lights, first played their edition of the 49th Parallel Cup in 2007 and have also competed at the International Cup, starting in 2011.

In 2012, the AFL got even more recognition up north when former Canadian rugby union player Mike Pyke won an AFL premiership with the Sydney Swans. This, perhaps more than anything, signified the birth of Aussie rules in Canada as both a major competitive enterprise and an exciting spectator sport.

At the junior level, there have been organized footy competitions since 2003, when the North Delta Junior Australian Football League was founded in British Columbia. The sport of footy continues to grow in Canada, aided by the AFL’s push to add more development officers and coaches in North America. Today, there are 833 registered senior male players and 212 female players, as well as over 6,400 youngsters in various junior leagues. This makes Aussie rules one of the fastest-growing sports in Canada.

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CANADIANS IN THE AFL

  • Mike Pyke (played 2009-2015) – A British Columbia native who played numerous sports as a kid, Pyke played professional rugby union in both Canada and in Scotland. After injuries stalled his career, Pyke surprised many when he decided to switch to Aussie rules based on a friend’s recommendation. He caught on as a ruckman with the Sydney Swans and slowly managed to carve out a role for himself, drawing praise from coaches and teammates alike. In 2012, Pyke made history as the first Canadian to win an AFL premiership. Now a dual citizen of Canada and Australia, Pyke retired from the AFL in 2015 and currently works as an investment banker.
  • Andrew McGrath (played 2017-present) – Born in Ontario, McGrath moved to Melbourne with his family at the age of five. A long-armed, polished defender, McGrath was drafted as the #1 pick in the 2016 AFL Draft by the Essendon Bombers. As a junior, McGrath played for the Vic Metro squad in under-18 footy while attending Brighton Grammar School. He was also a gifted track and field athlete.
  • Scott Fleming (played 2008-present) – A lanky 6’3″ forward, Fleming started playing Aussie rules as a teenager in British Columbia and moved to Queensland in 2008 to pursue his goal. Helped by Canadian footy liaison Greg Everett, Fleming found a place at the Broadbeach Cats, a historic club in the Queensland Australian Football League (QAFL) that has also produced AFL players such as Joel Wilkinson and Dayne Zorko.

AFL CANADA

  • Alberta Australian Football League
    • Calgary Kangaroos
    • Calgary Bears
    • Calgary Cowboys
    • Edmonton Wombats
    • Calgary Wolves
  • British Columbia Australian Football League
    • Burnaby Eagles
    • Delta BayHawks
    • Vancouver Cougars
    • West Coast Saints
  • Newfoundland and Labrador Australian Football League
    • St John’s Puffins
  • North West Pacific Australian Football League
    • Burnaby Eagles
    • Columbia Basin Crows
    • Vancouver Cougars
    • Victoria Lions
  • Nova Scotia Australian Football League
    • Halifax Dockers
    • Sydney Giants
  • Ontario Australian Football League
    • Broadview Hawks
    • Central Blues
    • Ottawa Swans
    • Etobicoke Kangaroos
    • Grand River Gargoyles
    • Hamilton Wildcats
    • High Park Demons
    • Toronto Downtown Dingos
    • Toronto Eagles
    • Toronto Rebels
  • Quebec Australian Football League
    • Laval Bombers
    • Montreal Demons
    • Montreal Saints
    • Old Montreal Dockers
    • Point Claire Power
    • West Island Wooders

FOOTY AROUND THE WORLD: United States

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The growth of Aussie rules football in the US has been a slow, steady, but satisfying journey. The United States Australian Football League (USAFL) was originally established in 1996 and is currently based in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Americans and Australian ex-patriates alike have been able to get the word out about the historic game, and the excitement of footy is finally coming to American shores on a large scale.

In the 1960s, the Victorian Football League (VFL) tried to expand its international audience by promoting what they called the Australian Football World Tour in 1967 and 1968. It was initially conceived as a way to develop international rules football – a hybrid sport featuring representatives from both Aussie rules football and Gaelic football – but also became a way for international audiences to see various elements of footy up close and personal. Games were played in Dublin, London, and New York City, but the tour was discontinued after 1968.

The VFL (now the AFL) also tried to play various preseason exhibition matches overseas in American cities  – such as Portland and San Francisco – as well as two consecutive games held in Miami in 1988 and 1989. Most recently, the Sydney Swans battled the North Melbourne Kangaroos in a 2006 preseason game held at the UCLA intramural fields.

As far as a US-based league goes, the USAFL was founded in 1996 and incorporated as a formal competition the following year. Many of the American players had developed a passion for footy during the 80s, when VFL/AFL matches were televised on the then-fledgling ESPN network. Some of the original footy clubs in the first two seasons were the Cincinnati Dockers, the Louisville Kings, the Nashville Kangaroos, the Boston Demons, the North Carolina Tigers, the San Diego Lions, and the St. Louis Blues.

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The USAFL has gained some passionate champions in Australia. Some of the current USAFL ambassadors include such big names as former Brisbane Lions superstar Michael Voss, AFL Hall of Famer Leigh Matthews (former Brisbane and Collingwood coach), and Hawthorn icon Robert DiPierdomenico. These men, in particular, have helped the USAFL gain international credibility as a top-level footy league and as an avenue to help establish and develop the sport in the States.

Currently, the USAFL is divided into three separate regional leagues, which all have their own tournament during the summer season. In all, the USAFL has 37 men’s teams and 13 women’s teams. The USAFL Nationals tournament is held annually in October, with the location changing each year (the 2017 edition will be in San Diego).

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The best American footy players get a chance to participate in the triennial Australian Football International Cup and (in alternate years) the 49th Parallel Cup, which pits the American team against the Canadian team.

The Revolution (men) and the Freedom (women) are the names of the International Cup teams. The Revolution have competed in every International Cup since 2002, with their best finish coming in 2011, when they received fourth-place honors. The Freedom joined the party in 2011 and 2014, finishing in third place both years.

As of today, there are 2,000 registered footy players in the US, with many more on the way. The AFL has conducted more tours of the States in recent years, including combines in many major cities, and are working to place more development officers throughout North America.

AMERICANS IN THE AFL

  • Sanford Wheeler (played 1989-1994) – Born in California to an African-American mother and an Australian father, Wheeler moved to Parramatta (a western suburb of Sydney) at age six. He first picked up footy as a teenager before getting drafted by the Sydney Swans as a defender. Unfortunately, Wheeler played for Sydney during some of their worst seasons as a club and was de-listed by coach Ron Barassi in 1994.
  • Jason Holmes (played 2015-present) – Originally from Chicago, Holmes played college basketball at Morehead State University and was signed as an international rookie by the St Kilda Football Club in October 2013. After spending time with the VFL’s Sandringham Dragons, Holmes made his AFL debut in 2015 as the first born-and-raised American to ever play in the league.
  • Dwayne Armstrong (played 1996) – Armstrong, a former American football player for Iowa State University, attempted to transition to Aussie rules with the Essendon Bombers. While he never made a start in any AFL games, Armstrong gave a solid effort at lower levels of competition, both with Essendon’s VFL squad and also with Wanderers Football Club in the Northern Territory Football League.
  • Matt Korcheck (played 2015-present) – A basketball convert who played for the University of Arizona, Korcheck was selected as an international rookie by Carlton back in 2015.
  • Mason Cox (played 2016-present) – A former walk-on basketball player for Oklahoma State University, Cox is the tallest player in AFL history, standing at an imposing 6’11”. After being spotted by AFL scouts in the States, the ruckman showed plenty of raw talent when he landed in Australia, starring for the Collingwood Magpies’ VFL reserve team in 2015. Cox made his AFL debut in 2016 during the annual ANZAC Day clash (Collingwood vs. Essendon) and kicked the game’s opening goal.
  • Seamus McNamara (played 2010-2012) – McNamara played basketball for Marist College before switching to Aussie rules in 2010, signing an international scholarship with Collingwood. McNamara played a handful of preseason games for the Magpies before being delisted in 2012. He stayed in Australia and ended up going back to a basketball career.

UNITED STATES AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE

  • Central Region
    • Austin Crows
    • Baton Rouge Tigers
    • Chicago Swans
    • Cincinnati Dockers
    • Cleveland Cannons
    • Columbus Jackaroos
    • Dallas Magpies
    • Des Moines Roosters
    • Houston Lonestars
    • Indianapolis Giants
    • Kansas City Power
    • Louisville Kings
    • Little Rock Coyotes
    • Milwaukee Bombers
    • Minnesota Freeze
    • Nashville Kangaroos
    • North Star Blue Ox
    • Oklahoma City Flyers
    • St. Louis Blues
    • Tulsa Buffaloes
  • Western Region
    • Arizona Hawks
    • Denver Bulldogs
    • Golden Gate Roos
    • Las Vegas Gamblers
    • Los Angeles Dragons
    • Orange County Bombers
    • Portland Steelheads
    • Sacramento Suns
    • San Diego Lions
    • Seattle Grizzlies
  • Eastern Region
    • Atlanta Kookaburras
    • Baltimore-Washington Eagles
    • Boston Demons
    • Fort Lauderdale Fighing Squids
    • New York Magpies
    • North Carolina Tigers
    • Philadelphia Hawks
    • Tampa Bay Starfish