Sydney Swans help Canadian youth dream of AFL careers
Tuesday, April 25 2006 @ 12:35 am ACST
Contributed by: Brett Northey
When 2005 AFL Premiers the Sydney Swans travelled to Los Angeles to play an exhibition match against the North Melbourne Kangaroos, their promotion of the great Aussie game went further than just the United States. An offer was made to bring two Canadian players down to LA to train with Sydney and a young player from each of Toronto and Vancouver were more than happy to accept the opportunity. This continues a growing tradition of the New South Wales side assisting international football, following on from their willingness to recruit and develop Irishman Tadhg Kennelly and the genuine support given to Canada for the 2005 International Cup. WFN spoke to AFL Canada President Mike McFarlane about what realistic pathways the two young guns could follow.
Vancouver Cougar's Scott Fleming (above left), at 15, was considered too young to play in the curtain raiser to the big game which saw an ex-patriate Aussie team soundly beat the US Revolution (see Aussies too slick - view from inside the Revos). George Dimacakos (above right), from Toronto and 19 at the time, had 2 quarters and performed well. Dimacakos and Fleming did a full day training with Sydney at UCLA, including skills and fitness work. The Swans have indicated that they will stay in contact with both of the Canadians.
Fleming is coming through the junior program set up by Mike McFarlane, who is now President of AFL Canada. The teenager is playing both in the North Delta Junior AFL and in the metro league based around Vancouver and Burnaby. The latter is giving him invaluable experience against adults, and in the first match the gun youngster booted 9 goals.
Wingman Dimacakos plays in Canada's biggest league, in Ontario, and represented his country at the International Cup in Melbourne. He is committed to the sport and has put aside a university gridiron career to focus on Australian Football. Sydney's Melbourne manager and former player Tony Morwood sees potential in both players. He is on the record as pointing out that Tadhg Kennelly's skills weren't as good as Dimacakos' when the Irishman first arrived in the Harbour City, yet the Swans took a punt on him. But will either player get adequate exposure to the game to develop fast enough to have a genuine crack at the big time? That's a question yet to be answered.
The best hope appears to be the apprentice scheme the AFL has discussed implementing. Primarily aimed at giving more kids from New South Wales a chance, there is also a proposal for something similar to apply to international juniors. With Kevin Sheehan now heavily involved in the AFL's international program there is reasonable cause for hope that this will occur.
Mike McFarlane says that Fleming's family would be willing to move to Australia to give him a chance if a club wanted to take a punt on him. "Scott's family is extremely serious about moving, if that's what it takes for Scott to get a chance. His father is recently retired from the Vancouver police force and his mother is in the process of selling her business. For them to take the next trip would only having Scott offered one of the apprenticeship spots by any team and it would not be a matter of if but when would they want him down there".
The North Delta juniors recently featured in an article in the Surrey Leader, both in print and on their website. McFarlane explains "Surrey is the largest growing district of Vancouver. North Delta is a suburb next to Surrey".
For footy in Canada to keep moving forward it would seem vital that the major league, the Ontario AFL, also manage to get a constistent junior development program going. Currently the Canadian national side the Northwind is dominated by Ontario players, but this could reverse entirely in a few years if youngsters aren't coming through the system there. There have been several attempts in the past but finding enough volunteer hours is difficult. With the OAFL running for around 17 years perhaps some of the older generation of players have children and will look to start junior teams to get them into the sport. In the meantime McFarlane says "we are working on sending our best junior player to Sydney each year to train for a couple of weeks during preseason".
With Fleming showing such good form amongst adults he must be a chance to represent Canada at the 2008 International Cup. But he also is firmly set on the AFL. "Scott's ambitions for himself in footy are to play professional. He wants to achieve the highest level he can. Unlike most Canadian kids his dream is to play AFL. As for playing in Australia he tells me that there is nothing he wouldn't do to make it happen. As for playing for Canada at the 2008 IC he has set this as one of his goals. As I said he is playing juniors and seniors this year to get as much experience as he can. I think he will be able to achieve this, but to what degree he will have on the team will be another thing. He will still only be 18 at that time".
That's a way down the track and will depend on form, availabilty and the selection committee. In the case of Papua New Guinea in 2005, they went with a talented but youthful side, whereas others went for the best possible outcome at the tournament. Each country has its own unique circumstances.
You can read more about the LA trip at BCFooty.