MAAFL 2005 - Season Preview
Friday, April 29 2005 @ 02:42 am ACST
Contributed by: Wayne Kraska
Footy in the USA is taking a much more structured look these days with the consolidation of teams into regional leagues. None more so than the Mid American Australian Football League (MAAFL) with its seven teams fighting it out for the coveted Premiership Trophy. The emergence of the Eastern Australian Football League (EAFL) in 2005 is testament to the success of the MAAFL over the previous years and the general acceptance that there is a solid place for stand alone inter city games of Aussie Rules thoughout the US (i.e. a home and away season, not just tournaments and metro). Here is review of what the clubs have been up to in the off-season and what lies ahead.
The MAAFL enters its 6th full year and for the first time in a while the league remains unchanged in team make up. This might be seen to some as a type of leveling off, but quite the contrary. Dig under the surface a little and you see huge changes in the way teams are recruiting, training and being administered.
One of these developments is the formation of the Chicago Australian Football League facilitated by the joining of once rivals the Chicago Swans and the Chicago Sharks. The CAFA is making no bones about it, they are a league in itself with a representative team in the MAAFL. A joint committee of the two clubs was established late in 2004 and by October a representative CAFA team was sent to the Nationals in Atlanta to play in the Div 2 championships. The CAFA has a four team structure and like in a lot of cities is paving the way for recruitment and player education of Aussie Rules football. Chicago also has worked hard at keeping strong ties with the Sydney Swans and in particular Jared Crouch and also with two QAFL clubs Southport Sharks and the Labrador Tigers. The later has agreed to player swap for the regular season, a development that is sure to bring an experienced footballer into the Chicago fold as well as provide a terrific developmental opportunity for a local Chicago player back in Australia.
The Dallas Magpies have been hard at work in many areas over the break. Now playing their version of Touch footy called Ozball under lights on Wednesday nights, the Dallas club have enlisted the services of a specialist sports recruitment company “Dallas Sports and Social”. DSS have 18,000 subscribers in the Dallas area and this has brought many new players to the sport. So much so the Aussie contingent in the Magpie squad has dropped from 30% to less than 5%.
Dallas also hosts the third East v West tournament this month on April 30th in what is believed to be the first game recorded for broadcast on free to air and cable TV networks under the USAFL's agreement with the ASTN organization.
The Nashville Kangaroos continue to be at the forefront of footy development by also branching into Metro footy in 2005 with the Nashville Australian Football League. The Kangaroos host the biggest and best Australian Cultural Festival in September each year that now incorporates the National Collegiate Australian Football Championships. Nashville’s work in developing College football is second to none and their work with Vanderbilt University in particular has been both exciting and very beneficial for the development of the game in the music capital of the world and at other Colleges around the country.
The Atlanta Kookaburras have expanded their Fosters Metro League into four teams this year and for the first time gave them a regional focus. The four teams now train separately during the early part of each week with those players wishing to go onto the main Kookaburra squad training at another time. As host of the 2004 USAFL National Championships the Kookaburras have laid a solid foundation for themselves in recruiting new players to the sport. Recently hosts of the first club Trans-Atlantic club game versus the Reading UK Kangaroos the Atlanta club remain a leader in innovation, corporate support and administration heralding plenty of future growth potential in the home of Coca Cola.
The St Louis Blues have been Premiers of the MAAFL the past two years and this is further applauded due to their much advertised lack of Australians in their midst. With youth and plain enthusiasm the club has developed into a strong cohesive unit of local players who just love the game. The Blues are also looking into furthering their College ties with training at Washington University and gracing the Francis Field Stadium this month for an exhibition game, at the home of the 1904 Olympics.
The Cincinnati Dockers are one of the two founding teams of the USAFL playing the first official footy game on US soil in 1996 against Louisville. From then they have been a part of footy in the Mid West ever since. At the Nationals in 2004 they were again rewarded with success when combining with a squad from Pittsburgh they took out the Div 3 title. The Dockers have scheduled a very ambitious year with not only 6 MAAFL games but three other challenge games or tournament appearances plus the Nationals in Milwaukee. That’s a sign of a club wanting to go places.
Milwaukee Bombers round out the seven MAAFL teams and are certainly going to be the focus of attention in 2005. Having been awarded the hosting of the 2005 USAFL National Championships all roads will lead to Milwaukee this year for the October 1st event. Like four of the other MAAFL clubs the Bombers have their own metro league the Milwaukee Metro Football League (MMFL). Numbers have swelled over the previous years in Milwaukee and this led to a huge showing last year including just missing out on making the Div 1 Grand Final of the USAFL National Championships. As Atlanta discovered last year perhaps a lot of energy goes into hosting the Nationals and lets hope that doesn’t affect the Bombers on the field as they certainly are going to be a force at any game they play.
So who is going to be the winners and losers this year? Chicago with their new structure and development I’m sure are looking to improve on a disappointing year in 2004. Word is fitness has been the focus of pre season with Craig Brazendale leading the coaching duties. Todd Holmberg has been awarded the Captaincy and with combination of players like Burgman and Mc Glasham in the one lineup a spot further up the ladder is surely on the cards for the Swans. The unknown is their Labrador QAFL recruit who to this stage remains under wraps.
St Louis will rely on their locals as they know no other way. With Chris Carol doing a pre season at the Essendon Football Club and now playing with Uni Blacks in the VAFA in Melbourne his return will scare the daylights out of any club with this experience under his belt. Cincinnati will look to their club and 100 game veteran Kyle Strenski to again lead by example as Captain with Dan Ryan again taking the coach's job. The Dockers put it together in quarters not games last year but if it all comes together I’m sure games can go the Dockers way this year. The Atlanta Kookaburras fell away toward the later part of last year and much was written that hosting the Nationals had a bit to do with that. Brent Bacon and Wayne Kraska (author of this article) have swapped roles again with Kraska coaching and Bacon leading the Kookas as Captain for a record third year. News is the Atlanta squad have recruited well both from interstate teams and locally so they cant be written off.
Nashville got off to a good start last year before a slump then a resurgent return later on in the season which saw them defeat Atlanta away, Chicago at home and go down to Dallas by only a few points. With American Bo Link in his second year as coach further improvement is certainly on the cards from the Kangaroos. Milwaukee are now certainly a force in footy in the MAAFL going within a few points of winning the MAAFL title last year and figuring in the Nationals finale. Paul “Plugger” O Keefe” retires from playing after many years to take on coaching duties and Heath Moore is rewarded for his team spirit and leadership with the Captaincy.
The Dallas Magpies had an indifferent year last year after defeating the reigning champs the St Louis Blues in the first round they could not consolidate and finished with a 3-3 record to be in fourth place on percentage. Stuart Rackham takes over as Captain/Coach with 18 years playing experience and with Grant Campbell and Brandon Blankenship firing the Magpies are looking for a better result in 2005. In fact it is widely know the focus of the Dallas season like several of the MAAFL clubs is to win the MAAFL Premiership and not Nationals in 2005.
So for me the top four will be the same, St Louis, Milwaukee, Dallas and Atlanta. But will the order be the same? Only time will tell, but I have a feeling it will be different, check out www.midfooty.com for all the news, teams announced on Thursdays nights and scores as they happen Saturdays. A great year is a certainty for the MAAFL.