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English embrace international footy at Brit Oval

  • Thursday, October 13 2005 @ 07:23 am ACST
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The curtain-raiser to last weekend's AFL Challenge Cup at the Brit Oval, London, was the international match between Ireland and Britain.

This wasn't an expat event, both sides were composed fully of Irish and British lads under International Cup qualification criteria. Unlike the Eagles v Dockers match that followed, the game was also Australian Rules by the rulebook - in other words it was melee free, and the standard impressed the crowd that had grown by the last quarter to several thousand. We got the views of some of the people involved and some ideas of future plans.

8th Oct 2005, Brit Oval, London

Ireland 8 - 9 (57)
Britain 5 - 6 (36)

Ireland - Alan Coomey, Bernie Collins, Mark Kilgalion
Britain - John Dickson, Andy Craig, Vinny Carey

Ireland - not available at time of publishing
Britain - Rob Burgess 2, Vinny Carey 1, Julian Ford 1, Ciaran Merrigan 1

Johnny Boyle of the British side commented:

"As the gates didn't open til 12.30 and the match started at 12.40 the crowd didn't build up til later, but everyone was impressed with the standard and the competitiveness. All the players enjoyed playing on the Oval. It was probably the best we played all year. I spoke to lots of the Irish boys and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Everyone who watched said it was a great spectacle.

From the British Bulldogs point of view we played really well and were happy with our performance. We played well in spells but our game doesn’t quite flow as well as Ireland’s yet. They use posession better than we do and move the ball forward quickly. Our game is still a bit stop start. But we are improving all the time and will get better by having more games together. Ireland want to play us home and away every year which we will be fantastic for our development."

Others have said the crowd had a lot of Brits, it wasn't all Aussie expats and hence the big support for the home team. Johnny is of the belief that the Surrey cricket club will promote the curtain-raiser next year given its success and that this year many of the crowd didn't know it was on until they arrived. BARFL President Remon Gazal reckoned around 1000 spectators when in the ground by half-time of the international, but even by the start of the AFL match many hadn't got in with the new security requirements which are becoming common at big venues. He said the BARFL, ARFLI and the AFL were all pleased with the international as a curtain raiser and it seemed likely to be built on in 2006.

The following is an account by one British Bulldog player, Adam Bennett, of the Reading Roos. It was passed on to us by Joao Coelho, who despite his latin family background is a true pom in multicultural England. Joao and the BARFL also organised a successful half-time juniors match - which will be the subject of another story.

Adam's story and the Bulldogs response to their coach and AFL premiership player Matt Connell's three quarter time address, highlights the development potential of these London AFL exhibition matches. Maybe the answer to critics who question the AFL player committment to these end of season jaunts is to upgrade the AFL match to Wizard Cup points, rather than abandoning the game that drew 18,856 spectators this year.

Adam's thoughts:

Walking out at the Oval is a great experience. Even with a thin crowd, dotted around the ground, consisting mainly of friends and family, the sense of scale is awesome. Knowing that we tonked the Aussies at cricket here helps as well. The term “hallowed turf” comes to mind. We’re playing on the same ground as some cricketing (and Aussies Rules!) legends, and putting studs to good effect in raking up the pristine surface – where does McGrath’s run-up start again?

The day was beautiful, with a slight breeze, bright sunshine and warm temperatures. We’re up against Ireland, past winners and recent fourth place finishers in the Footy International Cup. With a lifetime background in Gaellic Football, they have the skills and experience that have made them one of the top teams in today’s International game, so it was a tough test of the Bulldogs, back together for the first time since the return from Melbourne.

The game started quickly, with the play sweeping from end to end as both teams showed early promise. The Bulldogs enjoyed some early pressure, but stout defence denied any scoring opportunities. After weathering the early storm, the Irish then got the scoring started with some good play down the right, finding space and using quick play-ons to get round the Bulldogs defence. The Bulldogs defence were performing solidly, but found themselves out-numbered at times by the lightening breaks from the Irish wings.

In the second period, the Bulldogs got on the scoreboard, after great play from Andy Craig and Vinnie to set up Rob Burgess for their first goal. The Bulldogs forward line were working hard to get into the game, but were being tightly marshalled by an experienced Irish half back line. Jules Ford took a great grab about 40 yards out and was unlucky to see his shot go for a behind. Half time came and the ‘Dogs were down by 23, but beginning to get back onto a par with the fast-running Irish.

Coach Matt Connell introduced a few changes at half time, the main effect of which was to bring the Dickson brothers into the game more. These changes paid dividends in the third quarter as time again the team speed merchants broke tackles and made good ground, culminating in Vinnie’s shot from the edge evading the Irish blockers to bounce over the line. Dan ‘Chimpo’ Chambers continued his great work up front, turning up everywhere and getting the ball into the middle of the Irish goal square. The Bulldogs defence was coping much better with the relentless Irish forwards and fast-breaking midfield, reducing them to scrambled points and very few solid scoring chances.

The fourth quarter started with a do-or-die team talk from Matt and the team responded magnificently. Tough play all over the park started taking its toll on a few of the Irish players, as Donnie and Andy particularly put in some heavy challenges. One in particular sticks in mind, as the ball bobbled free between Andy and the six foot eight Irish ruckman. Both charged for the ball, but Andy, giving away a foot and more against his opponent, charged straight over it and folded the big man in half, before scrambling the ball away to the supporting Dicko’s. Jules got into the act, with some quick thinking making a yard of space and hit a sweet shot on the turn from a narrow angle straight through the posts (doesn’t sound like Jules, does it?). The crowd, now swelling in the run-up to the main event, responded deafeningly to his celebration.

At the end of the game, the Bulldogs could not close enough on the first half lead, but managed a very credible score against top class opponents. A great learning experience for the boys, and a great way to promote the game to the thousands of people watching from the stands. To look around and see the ranks of people waving, cheering and looking down at you is a fantastic feeling and one to be treasured. The spectacle will hopefully be one that can be instituted as an annual event as the curtain-raiser to the professional exhibition game. Your Reading Roos had performed well in the spine of the team – Jules worked tirelessly up front and got his reward in the 4th quarter, Andy was his typical wrecking ball self in the middle and put in some crunching tackles to break up Irish play, as well as making good yards himself, and Ads kept a clean-sheet against his markers, always a good aim to have. The boys as a squad looked good despite a lengthy break and last minute nature of the fixture, and with plans in place to set up a much more regular Bulldogs calendar, we should see some good development of the national game, as well as against International opponents.