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Chiefs give Peace a chance

  • Tuesday, September 02 2008 @ 07:16 pm ACST
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International Cup 2008

The Our Airline Nauru Chiefs have faced some major obstacles over the last few years and just making it to the third of the AFL's International Cups has been an achievement in itself. So it's quite remarkable that after such an effort, including personal self-sacrifice, that coach Wes Illig (pictured with Dipper) still found time to have some empathy for his opposition.

As with all the Peace Team's matches against the more experienced international sides, this was never going to be a close match. So coach Illig obviously asked himself, "what are we going to get out of this match?" But he also asked "what will they get out of it?". His decision was to try to teach his own men to have some understanding of their opponents, and to over an olive branch the Palestinian and Israeli players. Prior to the match he suggested that the two sides warm up together, and that was gratefully accepted by coaches Robert DiPierdomenico (the famous former Hawthorn champ that you'll see the media swarm to) and Simon Jacobs (the quiet but just as important one in the background).

But on the field football is a battle, and once the siren went the Nauru boys were right into it, though perhaps a little less intent on destruction than they sometimes seem to be. This was the 3pm game at Walter Oval in bitterly cold conditions.

Every quarter the Chiefs kept piling on the goals - 5, 8, 7 and 8. Their remarkably accurate final score of 28.9 (177) was largely due to their run and step which brought their players to around 10 to 20 metres out from goal from where they rarely missed.

It was great to see several of the Peace Team boys fired up and attacking the contest hard, with some great straight line running, but the Nauru players are not only strong but very agile, and often stepped out of the way. Although Port Adelaide's stocky but elusive David Rodan is of Fijian descent, his build and style is very similar to many of Nauru's players.

At three quarter time, desperate for a goal, coach Dipper suggested something akin to the "flying wedge", something I recall my old team attempting many years ago back in amateur league football in Adelaide. From what I could determine, this version involved every player, once possession was gained, rushing the ball up the field as en masse. A couple of times early the Peace Team got the ball and the call went out, but alas possession was lost quickly before the tactical master-stroke could be fulfilled.

One moment that left this writer holding his breath was when a Nauru player side-stepped his opponent. They threw their foot out as is occasionally seen in the AFL, allegedly a reflex action and not intended as a trip. But this was worse, as it appeared to strike the Nauruan around the stomach. It was one of those moments frozen in time and the next 10 seconds would reveal which way it would go. Fortunately the Nauru player was uninjured and kept running, and after disposing of the ball returned where apologies seemed to be given - an all-in bloodbath had been averted. Credit to the player for appreciating that the Peace Team are very new to what must seem a rough sport where the boundaries are clear to us but maybe not to someone so recent to the game.

In the final minutes it became clear that the interchanges on for Nauru were less than the interchanges coming off. Nevertheless, full credit to the Peace Team for taking their chance and progressing the ball down field. The small but focussed crowd, huddle under shelter from the increasing rain, urged them on as they first kicked a point (to great sighs) and then a goal from a mark to Fady Rumman. The cheers were loud, from the crowd to players to Dipper and the tooting horns from the cars around the boundary - good old country style.

Soon after the siren sounded and players from both teams embraced. Then some of the Peace Team decided they should bury their team-mates in the muddy centre circle. It could be said that you aren't really an true Aussie Rules footballer until you've played wet weather footy in the wet and mud - the Peace Team have now completed that step in their induction into the ranks.

There have been plenty of clich├ęs used to describe the concept of the Peace Team, and I think we've avoided them ourselves until now, but this truly was a spirited occasion. Credit to the players and credit to Nauru and especially their coach.

Believe it or not, but now the serious stuff really starts for the Peace Team. They play China tomorrow and they must be a chance. It's time to apply everything they have learned and try to achieve another step in the football journey - enjoying their first official win with their team-mates. As for Nauru, they face a titanic battle against the downcast Revolution, still hurting from their loss to the South Africans which consigns them to finishing lower than in 2005.

Goal Kickers: D. Baguga 5, G. Grundler 5, M. Batsiua 3, P. Dame 3, R. Gadabu 2, R. Cook 2, N. Starr 2, J. Dagiaro, N. Scotty, O. Adam, P. Agir, S. Notte, G. Quadina
Best Players: A. Amwano, T. Mwareow, D. Seymour, G. Grundler, D. Baguga, P. Agir
Peace Team
Goal Kickers: F. Rumman
Best Players: S. Swaitti, A. Suissa, F. Rumman, D. Haim, M. Lagisa, D. Brill

NauruPeace Team
5.3 (33)1/40.0 (0)
13.5 (83)1/20.0 (0)
20.6 (126)3/40.0 (0)
28.9 (177)Full1.1 (7)