Contributed by: Brett Northey
The 2008 Australian Football International Cup burst into life today at Melbourne's Royal Park. There was a festive mood in the air for Round 1, with three grounds set to go in dry conditions, almost touching on warm in the sun that often broke through the clouds. The NAB 150 Roadshow was on hand, a few bus-loads of school children were present, a handful of media reps, and music and commentary were playing. It would of course have been nice to see spectator numbers in their thousands, but clearly that will not be the case as long as matches are held on weekdays in Melbourne.
There were big wins to the favourites in Ireland (over Sweden), the United States (over Denmark) and New Zealand (over Japan), and a solid win to PNG (over Nauru). Other winners were Canada (over Finland), South Africa (over China) and Samoa (over India). Full match reports will follow over the next 24 hours, but what have we learnt about the various nations so far?
First up at 11am was Sweden taking on the might of Ireland. The Swedes slotted the first goal through good run and followed it up with some strong contests, suggesting they might be a handful at this tournament. That was where the tide turned, as the Irish Warriors stormed away to win by 78 points in an ominous display. At the same time the Kiwis were stamping their authority on the tournament, 89 point winners over a Japan outfit that was competitive around the ball but just couldn't penetrate. The third match for the early session had Canada destroy an undermanned Finland side by 124 points.
In the 1pm slot Samoa showed they will again be competitive and were far too good for India on debut and looking the least experienced of all the new footy nations at the IC08 - a nasty 110 point loss. Great Britain found the Peace Team a strong adversary in the contests but showed class in steadily drawing away to a rather large 128 point win. The US found Denmark even more competitive, but were too good to the tune of 62 points.
The two matches in the final slot yielded the biggest and smallest winning margins for the day. South Africa were very slick against new side China, a massive margin of 146 points. Next door and Nauru actually gave one of the favourites in PNG an early scare, but the Mozzies settled to pull away to a 49 point win.
Was there anything unexpected about the results? Firstly the margins were perhaps a little larger than predicted. The last Cup had 15 minute quarters so the step up to 17 minutes probably saw more scoreboard damage, especially against teams not match-hardened. The fine weather and full sized ovals compared with some of the games at Murphy Reserve in 2005 also allowed the better sides to keep the scoreboard ticking over, not getting bogged down in packs. And to be honest, if in doubt it's best to err on the small side when predicting winning margins - no one likes to hear they might lose by 100+ points.
Of the five debutantes, Sweden were, as expected, the most impressive. Ireland are a good team but had to fight all the way against them. The Peace Team, China, India and Finland all battled hard and showed courage and reasonable skills, but under pressure could not string together enough possessions to get scoreboard reward for effort. The Finns also struggled for numbers which might explain the size of their loss.
The favourites all did enough to maintain their rating. Some felt New Zealand were a little disappointing in not killing off Japan by more, and PNG's win over Nauru was difficult to gauge given the unknown quantity of the Chiefs, but the match was probably the best standard of the day. The US continue to loom and Canada and South Africa have made people take notice, as have Great Britain who showed a more instinctive feel for the game than in 2005.
Primarily the round confirmed that there is a major gulf between the new sides and most of the more established ones. Perhaps the main thing we learnt was that two of the more difficult nations to judge, Nauru and Samoa, will definitely play some good footy, and Denmark, a dark horse in some people's books, whilst competitive, will not be contenders for the major prize.
Organisationally the day went fairly smoothly, with all teams on time and facilities in place. There were of course a few smaller issues that crop up such as difficulties with the sirens and one team finding their supplier had sent them the wrong coloured shorts; there were a few team managers looking stressed as they tried to put all the pieces into place. But all in all a smooth day for an event bringing together 16 nations.
It was also pleasing to note that the AFL website ran several prominent stories during the day, reaching a large audience given it is Australia's number one visited sports website. From worldfootynews.com's perspective we hope the quarter by quarter score updates were well received but with so many teams competing and contacts to catch up with we did feel a bit stretched for resources which may be reflected in our match reports.
Full match reports will follow, and then next up is Round 2 on Friday 29th August, again at Royal Park just north of Melbourne's CBD.
Canada vs Finland
Watching media and spectators (including other teams)
World Footy News