Contributed by: Brett Northey
One of the side issues that was always going to emerge at this International Cup is the pull of club versus country. And in many instances this is also career versus country.
As the standard of international footy continues to improve we're seeing more and more players head to Australia to hone their skills. This is great thing on many levels. It improves the standard of world footy overall, it exposes Australia to the game's growth which will help Australians and their footy leagues/clubs be more supportive, and it also provides careers for budding international talent.
In fact it is reaching the point that to push into the upper echelons of International Cup success teams really need to have quite a few players in Australia getting the benefit of weekly footy at a very high standard. But the drawback to all this is that when it comes to representing their country, will players skip games for their Aussie sides?
At first thought it seems a no-brainer. Surely country comes before club?
But dig a little deeper and it isn't that simple. IC11 is being played across Sydney and Melbourne just as club footy heads towards finals. Australian football is all about commitment to the club and your team mates. Leaving now to play for your country could make the difference whether your team mates, who have slogged out a pre-season and around 20 minor round games together, could miss the ultimate glory of a premiership. And if a player was always going to leave, would a coach really want becoming a key member, only to be away for finals? For some coaches the answer would clearly be no, whereas other may take a wider view.
It goes further still. There is good money to be made in Australian football even below AFL level. For a young man from a developed nation this money is important income. For a young man from a developing nation this money may be a chance to set themselves and their family up for a long time.
At the current International Cup we're seeing a mixed approach. Fiji lost to Japan by two points in their seeding match, and it cost them a spot in Division One. Young Fijian gun Dylan Wolfgramm is tearing it up in the strong Essendon District Football League in Victoria, often best on ground for Avondale Heights. If he had played that day it's hard to imagine Fiji losing. He should be available for later rounds and will give the Fijian Tribe a good shot at the Division Two title.
PNG stars like Don Barry are playing in Queensland, in his case for the Brisbane Lions Reserves, striving to make it on to Brisbane's senior list. Several of the Mosquitoes fall into this category and could have strengthened PNG dramatically. At this stage all that would do is make their dominance even more profound, but come the finals they would appreciate all hands on deck, and it's not clear that they will get it. Certainly PNG's management have made it clear they totally understand that career must come first. Even if a club is happy to release a player, who is to say that the game they miss might not have been one in which they starred and convinced an AFL club that they deserve a contract?
The Papua New Guinea side has also suffered from the loss of several star players who returned home to mourn the loss of Peter Meli. Their Team Manager was stabbed and killed just days before the Cup started, and he was a former player and father of Essendon scholarship listed player David Meli. The tragedy rocked the team and of course management has left it to the individuals to decide whether they return later in the tournament.
It's not just PNG and Fiji with players in Australia. South Africa's Bayanda Sobetwa has also been playing for Avondale Heights, and Khaya Sikiti and Tshoboko Moagi have been tremendous for South Launceston down in Tasmania. Seemingly half the Irish side already play in Australia, many having moved here given the torrid time Ireland's economy has suffered since the GFC.
Many of the players named across the various squads are not turning out for each game, simply listed just in case the schedule and their club allow them to slip away to national duty. For those lamenting the massive scoreboard gap between the top few nations and the rest, consider that some of the elite players for those powerhouses are not actually playing!
Altogether Australian football has been enriched not just overseas but in the sport's home as well. But the way forward for club and career versus country remains unclear. And at a more frivolous level in the meantime it makes picking the strength of each nation quite tricky until you see who is actually playing on the day.
This article sponsored by Lazy Traveller SA.
World Footy News