Sheedy welcomes the world
Wednesday, November 11 2009 @ 12:30 am ACDT
Contributed by: Brett Northey
Newly appointed Western Sydney coach Kevin Sheedy (pictured with New Zealand captain Andrew Congalton during the 2008 International Cup) has laid out the welcome mat for international talent.
As the new AFL club began to take shape there were small signs here and there that the AFL intended to focus heavily on the many immigrants that make up western Sydney. This made a stronger international connection a natural match, especially at a time when both non-AFL driven and AFL driven international growth has seen the first products of a new wave of non-Australian footy players begin to emerge. The introduction of international rookie lists, the AFL-AIS side touring and the upcoming Oceania tournament, along with some countries having a youth focus at the International Cup and the introduction of a World XVIII at the 2010 AFL Under 16s, have all pointed the way forward.
The final link to complete the circle now appears to be in place, with Sheedy making it clear he intends to look far and wide for talent for his new club, poised to back up his years of positive statements with concrete action. He is widely credited with being a visionary who has lead the international charge, and while not wishing to detract from that image, Sheedy was limited in terms of what he could practically achieve. Although his regular promotion of the idea of international development was helpful and inspiring for many, and no doubt he was often in the AFL hierarchy's ear, and although he trialled several left field options such as Ethiopian immigrant Goaner Tutlan and ex-American footballer Dwayne Armstrong, in the end it was the hard work of hundreds of volunteers overseas and now growing but still modest AFL backing that has brought on the next wave.
But now, with a new club to build very much as he sees fit, and a stated aim to bring international players in, a bold new era looks set to be unleashed. In an interview with The Herald Sun he has stated "We'll go anywhere to find players ... it's all about talent," the 61-year-old said. "If I can find two players out of South Africa then we'll go for it, the Pacific Islands absolutely, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand" and "It's about opening up the door to the AFL bigger than it's been open up before. The last 10 years at Essendon we had players from America, Japan and Africa train with us. I needed a break after Essendon, I'd had it, but the last two years have opened my eyes to what can be done". Read the full article Sheedy's world vision.
However, there will also be additional criticism. The concept of a Western Sydney side remains deeply disliked by many people, particularly some Australian football fans in Victoria who have always baulked at the national league, and Rugby League fans in New South Wales. Hardcore League fans will never be won over, the new club will be about fringe supporters from League, Union and soccer, fresh and not so recent arrivals not yet emotionally attached to any sport or club, and perhaps some existing fans from the western suburbs who only had a choice of one NSW club to follow. And of course the many new generations to follow.
The Australian football fans from outside of NSW will be more easily persuaded than League fans - success with mostly silence them. But in the meantime both groups will be fierce in their criticism, and if there is one more favoured target than NSW expansion then that is international expansion.
All the old diatribe is being rolled out already. Claims along the lines of "The game has no future", "It isn't real football", "No body else plays it", "It's all AFL spin", "There's no Aussie Rules players internationally", "It's a gimmick", "You should win over Australia before the rest of the world", "Give Aussie kids a go first (and only)".
The arguments are generally uninformed but will come thick and fast for as long as it takes for both Western Sydney and international football to succeed. But to all the game's workers and fans out there, hang tough, the true footy fans will be won over with just a little success and the louder the shrieks from the non-footy fans the more we all must be succeeding. The ride may be about to get rougher, but that's because it's picking up speed.