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India's captain Mario Shelton shares his IC08 journey

International Cup 2008

India was one of five nations that attended their first International Cup this year. Two thirds of the team flew in from Kolkata, India with the rest of the squad Indian students already in Australia.

WFN spoke to team captain Mario Shelton about his journey to Melbourne and his plans for the game back home.

"It all started for me when the AFL India Chairman, Mr. Sanjeev Nagar and other AFL India members approached La Martiniere Old Boys Rugby Club Captain and Coach, Mr. Tony McCluskie one Saturday afternoon.

Mr. Nagar explained that they planned to start a footy program in India with the help of the AFL and Australian expats and that they needed to build a side to represent India at IC08. He had received an anonymous tip that AFL would spread like wild fire in Calcutta because of its great rugby history and popularity and since prior efforts in Delhi and other states failed they decided to give it a shot!

Mr. Tony McCluskie spoke to me and a few other players and asked if we were interested and I thought this was a great opportunity not only to learn a new sport but also move beyond the barriers of Rugby, which I had been playing for the past 12 years, and discover the unknown.

Before we knew it, practice sessions and selections had begun at the YMCA ground under the supervision of Mr. Ravi Chadha. A few weeks later we were told that an AFL development officer, Yuta Kobayashi was coming down from Australia for 3 weeks to teach us the game, equip us with the required technical skills and knowledge and to help out with selection process.

We had players from various sporting backgrounds; rugby, basketball, soccer and kabaddi, all eager to learn this new sport.

As IC08 drew closer, selections were done and our Coach Mr. Raja held training sessions three times a week; Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Sixteen players were selected to represent India at IC08 and the day before we left I was named Captain and was informed that a few students from Melbourne would join our team. Finally our bags were packed and we were set to go. For most of the boys it was there first time flying so they were real excited.

We reached Australia and I knew our journey had begun. It wasn't going to be easy, but it wasn't impossible either. I was real proud of representing my country once again, previously for Rugby (China 2004 & Pakistan 2005) but this time it was a whole new ball game, literally!!

I have some great memories from my tour to Australia. I'll never forget the feeling of running through the tunnel onto the field at Telstra Dome for the press conference. It weakened my knees and I felt sick in my stomach, but it was the most wonderful feeling in the world! The press Conference was followed by a Lunch with the AFL Commission and Mr. Kevin Sheedy and a few other officials. It was then I realised what I was getting myself into, and what footy meant to the Australian people and I loved every bit of it.

At the lunch all the captains had to introduce themselves and talk about footy in their country, its progress and development. When it came to me, most were impressed with my line, which Dave Mathews brought up every time he saw me, "footy is India's new born baby given to us by the AFL and its our duty and responsibility to nurture it and watch it grow!” Needless to say, I was so nervous!

I remember our first game of IC08, The Indian Tigers were making their debut against the Samoan Kangaroos. I wasn't overly nervous having been in a representative side playing rugby, but I could see most of my team mates were. I'm proud of them, they gave it their all and even though they had no match practice, each one tried and played to the best of their abilities.

As IC08 continued we played New Zealand (defending champions), Japan, Finland and China. From game to game we got better and better and even put some points on the board. It was an enormous learning experience. Even though we didn't win any of our games we learnt a lot and played better, harder and got stronger. Through it all we made lots of new friends and tied greater bonds with each other which will last a lifetime.

As for footy in India, I plan to keep to my word and nurture it and watch it grow! I'm sure with the second largest population in the world it shouldn't really be a problem. Me and my mates head out to the college ground sometimes and kick around the footy and a lot of on lookers are intrigued and eager to learn this new game and soon after the Puja Festive Season we are all looking forward to reviving the AFL practice sessions and introducing this new sport to our friends, family and even complete strangers! I have a lot of ideas; it’s just a matter of talking to the right people.

I would like to thank everyone who has helped out the Indian Team, particularly our Runners; Yuta and Peter, our Assistant Coaches Laurie and David and the Melbourne-based boys, for without them putting up a team together would have been impossible."

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India's captain Mario Shelton shares his IC08 journey | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
India's captain Mario Shelton shares his IC08 journey
Authored by: Niels Schønnemann on Wednesday, October 08 2008 @ 04:42 am ACDT

I know its not actively connected to this story, but when I was in melb for IC08, I also had a chance to talk to my club I played with in 2006, the Hampton Hammers. Their president, Ian Dougerty explained that this season they had had an Indian exchange student play for them and that he´d completely fallen for the game and Aussie culture. I cant remember his name, but apparantly he had even made seniors on a few occations. I mentioned that there was an Indian team at the IC..he could hardly believe me. Anyways, when he was going home in a years time, he was certainly bringing the game with him...

India's captain Mario Shelton shares his IC08 journey
Authored by: Aaron Richard on Wednesday, October 08 2008 @ 04:39 pm ACDT

Next step would be looking at other major cities in India. I'm guessing Mumbai,
Delhi, Chennai etc would have to already be on the planning board.

There would have to be at least a few Australians and other footy fans in the
country who'd be interested in helping out. Mickey Rodriguez, who I believe
played for Spain at the 2005 IC and has since been playing in Catalonia,
emailed me a little while ago saying he is moving to Mumbai and might be
interested in getting something going there...

Let's see where Indian footy goes in the near future.

India's captain Mario Shelton shares his IC08 journey
Authored by: 00Bock on Wednesday, October 08 2008 @ 05:51 pm ACDT

Since one month, I've been staying in India's eastern state of Gujarat. I've taken the footy to a local park in Ahmedabad a few times (most recently 3 days ago) and every time the kiddies and a few others (16-24) were immediately interested in kicking the ball around. Unfortunately, there was such a crowd (approx. 100+) that things got a bit out of control - the locals just went mental and I had to flee the park. Teaching things was impossible. If anybody wants to start grassroots footy in India, he is well advised to have some Indian support.

India's captain Mario Shelton shares his IC08 journey
Authored by: Aaron Richard on Wednesday, October 08 2008 @ 08:10 pm ACDT

Is the key to work with existing sports clubs for a local connection?

It could be worth contacting the AFL India guys in Kolkata for contacts
rugby/kabbadi/whatever clubs in Gujarat who'd be interested.

India's captain Mario Shelton shares his IC08 journey
Authored by: Brett Northey on Wednesday, October 08 2008 @ 08:57 pm ACDT

00Bock - did you manage to escape with your footy?

Brett Northey - Co-founder and Chief Editor of WFN

India's captain Mario Shelton shares his IC08 journey
Authored by: 00Bock on Thursday, October 09 2008 @ 05:18 pm ACDT

Yes, ball and ball-holder got out of the trouble...
by the way: Gujarat is the most western state - I had a geographical twister there.