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Friday, May 29 2020 @ 11:45 pm ACST

Fitzroy Reds tour to Tonga


The Fitzroy Reds are a strong community football club in Melbourne, playing in the Victorian Amateur Football Association. Originally the third club from Melbourne University, the Reds took on the Fitzroy name after the AFL's Lions moved to Brisbane and now play their matches at Fitzroy's Brunswick St oval, ancestral home of the VFL/AFL Lions.

The Reds have also developed a few international links recently, having some players represent the Melbourne Croats in the Multicultural Cup, a sister-club arrangement with the Atlanta Kookaburras and last October playing a tour match in Tonga against the Tongan national team, the Black Marlins. Although the Reds ran out winners in the game, the locals were far from disgraced, showing great potential in a developing footy nation.

This match report courtesy of the Tongan Australian Football Association website.

Tonga does battle against the Reds

Australian football is a great game that has traditionally been endured by people of different social, class, and to some extent, ethnic backgrounds in Australia. On Saturday, October 7, a truly unique moment in Australian football occurred, when people from utterly diverse cultures, languages and origins did battle for the inaugural Tonga Vs Fitzroy Reds International test match.

The game was played at Takuilau College in Lapaha, where people from the Australian expatriate community, local Tongans and tourists from the USA and Europe made up a diverse crowed of people, many witnessing their first ever game of Australian football. They were not disappointed.

The atmosphere was intense even before the opening bounce, when the Tongan team performed the Sipi Tau, the Tongan version of the Haka. After the first bounce, the pressure was intense with many hard contests and both teams finding it hard to get the ball free from the stoppages. With the aid of a slight breeze, the Reds were able to get first blood. After scoring their first goal, they took control and scored a number of goals in succession.

It looked as if the Tongan team would be blown out the water, however with 10 minutes to go, a tightened defense and increased pressure across through the midfield enabled the Tongans to restrict the Reds from scoring in the final ten minutes of the first quarter. The Tongan team took their momentum into the second quarter and in the opening minutes Henry Tonga run hard from the midfield to receive a handball and kick truly as the Tongans got their first goal on the board.

Just moments later, Henry Tonga roved a ball in the forward line to kick his second and it looked like momentum had swung the way of the Tongans. However, the Reds team fought back and scored a couple of quick goals late in the second quarter.

The third quarter was fairly even, with both teams entering their forward lines on a number of occasions, however the Reds made the most of their opportunities. Koni Kivalu converted a set shot from 50 out just before 3-quarter time to keep the Tongans in touch, although it was obvious that the Tongan team was fatigued, with only a small number of reserves in comparison to their opponents and key defender Aleki Tuiono off with an ankle injury.

The Tongan coaching staff pleaded for one last effort from their team, and the Tongan fighting qualities were evident in the opening minutes of the final term, when Semisi Takelo cleared the ball from the midfield, then run forward to receive a handball and shoot for goal, only to miss narrowly. Moments later, Lafaele Moala put forward his claim for a spot on Almost Football Legends, with a miraculous soccer goal from in the air, which left the crowed in amazement.

The more experienced Reds team ran away with the game in the end, with Sam Baillee scoring after the siren to end a truly remarkable game of Australian football. The feeling after the game was hard to describe, as both teams joined arm in arm to say a pray and sang their respective national anthems..

Upon strong request from the crowed, the Tongan team performed the Sipi Tau one last time.

After the game, the Reds captain commended the effort of the young Tongan team, particularly their ability to run over 4 quarters and tackle with such ferocity. He conceded that despite the final scores, there were 6 passages of play where the Tongans totally outplayed the Reds.

An amazing feat considering it was the first time many of the Tongan players had played a game of Australian football.

TAFA development officer and coach on the day, Michael Russell spoke after the game of how proud he was of his boys. "I was unsure what to expect today, and I can say I was certainly impressed. The average age in our team wouldn't be much older than 20, and to stick together throughout the mourning period, with the uncertanty of playing a match shows the Tongans commitment to Aussie Rules. All I can say is that I am very proud."

The end result was the Fitzroy Reds 14.6.78 to Tonga 4.5.29, although final scores were irrelevant on the day.

The fact that 2 teams from 2 totally different cultures can stand arm in arm after a game which took place on a oval in the Pacific, surrounded by coconut trees suggests that football was the winner on the day.

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