The AFL International Cup landed in Ballarat on Wednesday, bringing together a range of cultures and abilities with one thing in a common – a love of Australian Rules Football.
Whether it be a pieced-together team like European Crusaders or an established side like Ireland, who make an easier transition to our game given the links with Gaelic football.
Or Pakistan, who have minimal experience but are rich in passion, or Nauru, who is the only other country in the world that call Australian Rules its national sport.
Ballarat held four matches, with St Patrick’s College hosting two and Mt Clear College running the other two from Marty Busch Reserve.
AFL Community football operations manager Andrew Hughes said the competition made for not only a great spectacle, but was critical in growing the game overseas.
“This is the pinnacle for a lot of our countries,” Hughes said.
Hughes said the approach to growing the game differed from country to country. For some it is about planting the seeds of interest, while others it is more about talent identification.
Wednesday’s matches highlighted a range of skills, particularly from an athleticism point of view. Hughes said given the men’s game was firmly established, the step-up to AFL from a foreign country is significant.
However, given the AFL Women’s competition is only beginning to blossom, he felt there were some international players capable of finding their way onto an AFLW list.
“We just try and give people the opportunity to play our game if they want to, but also give them an opportunity to watch our game, whether that’s through broadcasting or online.
“In the US, Ireland and New Zealand, there’s a particular focus on talent, trying to find players that can actually get into the AFL competition.
“It depends on what part of the world we’re talking about, but certainly for all of them the International Cup’s a massive showpiece.
“In the women’s competition, they’re starting a little closer (to the top-level).”
“There might be a few AFLW recruiters floating around the International Cup over the next couple of weeks.
Mt Clear College sports coordinator Cameron Dole was rapt to play a role in the International Cup, thanking Marty Busch Reserve for its facility.
Dole felt the school’s strong international program was key to gaining the honour.
“I think the decision was down to our international program,” Dole said.
“I think we’ve established a reputation for promoting the game in just about all corners of the globe.”
St Patrick’s College’s head of sport Gavin Webb was pleased to help grow the game while hosting both Ireland teams was an added bonus given its links to Ireland.
“We’re thankful AFL Victoria has given us the opportunity to host the game.”
Men’s games: Ireland 11.13 (79) d France 2.2 (14); Japan 5.3 (33) d Pakistan 2.2 (14); Papua New Guinea 13.6 (84) d Nauru 5.5 (35); women’s: Ireland 8.13 (61) d European Crusaders 0.0 (0)