Reality check for international footy
Friday, July 28 2006 @ 11:36 pm ACST
Contributed by: Brett Northey
Perhaps not unexpectedly the Australian Country Championships have provided a harsh reality check for supporters and officials of international footy. The 2005 International Cup winners, New Zealand, have gone down convincingly in their three qualifying matches against the top country footballers from around Australia.
The Kiwis were always going to be up against a tough task and it was somewhat surprising that they jumped straight from an invitation to play a Victorian country club last year (Maffra) to the top country carnival, albeit division two. However such opportunities are important in benchmarking the game's progress internationally and provided the New Zealand AFL had realistic expectations then a lot can be gained from the tournament.
The Falcons started with an ugly scoreline against hosts Queensland, losing 10.6 (66) to 0.1 (1) in two 17 minute halves. Heavy rain dampened proceedings and when New Zealand returned to take on Victoria Districts (Victoria's "B" country squad) the score was close and the Vics may have been worried, with bad kicking keeping it tight. The final margin probably flattered NZ with Victoria B winning 1.10 (16) to 1.1 (7). Lastly it was time for the Kiwis to see footy Aboriginal style, and the classy All-Stars ran away to win 11.10 (78) to 2.3 (15) with former Adelaide Crows player Ricky O'Loughlin (now playing in the Northern Territory) strong throughout the tournament.
Despite the lopsided scores there is reason for optimism. In one week New Zealand has played four high quality teams (starting with a warmup game with Maffra). They also missed three of their best players from the International Cup, former captain Andrew Congalton and equal leading goalscorers of the tournament James Bowden and Craig Ashton - big losses in a country that obviously lacks depth at this early stage of their development. The NZAFL are building good links to Australian football institutions and raising awareness of international football. We'd love to see them winning but it should be noted that lesser sides could easily have gone down with more goals conceded and a blank scoresheet to their names. These championships represent a solid starting point for NZ to be more closely involved with the game in Australia and hopefully they will be invited back in future (though with the series held every two years the next may fall very close to the 2008 International Cup which would severely stretch the NZAFL and players' resources).
The finals are on Sunday, with New Zealand to play Queensland in the consolation final, while the All-Stars play Victoria B. It will be very interesting to see if the Falcons can show some improvement against the Queenslanders, who will be disappointed on narrowly missing the main final. In division one New South Wales lost narrowly to Western Australia and the ACT defeated Victoria A by 8 points, with remaining matches washed out and delayed until Saturday.
New Zealand's results courtesy of AFL Queensland.
New Zealand v Queensland
NZ - 0.1, 0.1 (1)
QLD - 5.2, 10.6 (66)
Goals: QLD: M Lynch 3 J Price 2 N Marshall M Walsh T Moncur S Easdown J Coatsworth 1
Best: QLD: M Lynch T Upton J Coatsworth S Easdown M Walsh
NZ: L Hurst F Archer A James G Ferguson M Callaghan
New Zealand v Victoria (2)
NZ - 0.0, 1.1 (7)
Vic (2) - 1.5, 1.10 (16)
Goals: Vic (2): M Forbes
NZ: S Telfer
Best: Vic (2): J Marchesani M Peake A Morris S Parsons M Ramsay
NZ: L Hurst R Bradley G Ferguson D Cory-Toussant S Power
New Zealand v Aboriginal All Stars
NZ - 0.1, 2.3 (15)
All Stars - 6.7, 11.10 (78)
Goals: Allstars: R O'Loughlin 3 S Charles 2 C Maher D Newchurch B Miskin G Scrymgour M Brown T Wako 1
NZ: R Hart J Kuser 1
Best: All Stars: C Maher T Wako R O'Loughlin M Brown B Goodes
NZ: R Hart S Bauer J Mailing L McLennan
As an aside: you can read a bit more about selection policy for Victoria's team at The Age's Realfooty.