AFL Canada 2006 season full of ups and downs
Sunday, November 19 2006 @ 09:11 am ACDT
Contributed by: Matt Riggs
The 2006 Canadian footy season was marked by progress in some areas and setbacks in others. Two clubs, with players from five sides competed at the US Nationals. Several clubs had difficulty fielding a side, others folded, but there was some expansion with at least two full clubs starting play next year. However, this still leaves AFL Canada with fewer sides than at the end of last year.
Burnaby Eagles/Vancouver Cougars: While the Cougars and Eagles were two fully separate clubs in 2006, their schedules did mirror each other, as they were the only two sides playing in the province. They occupied most of the season with fortnightly matches against each other, splitting them with four wins apeice. The two sides also traveled extensively during the season, playing in a three team tournament along with Seattle in Port Angeles, Washington and playing two tournaments hosted by the Calgary Kangaroos in Kelowna BC and Calgary itself. Vancouver also hosted the West Coast Challenge, which saw the two BC sides as well as Calgary and Seattle take part, with Calgary taking the premiership. The North West Pacifc AFL Premiership saw Vancouver defeat Burnaby in the grand final, after losing to the Eagles in the round robin. The two sides combined to send a side to the USAFL Nationals in Las Vegas, going 1-2 in the round robin and with Vancouver coach Stu Grills earning the most consistent award for division 2.
Victoria Lions: 2006 was a disappointing year for the Lions as a lack of numbers almost immediately made it a question of whether or not the team would be able to keep even a small band of players to be loaned out to other sides. The team did send four players to Port Angeles in May, but only one to the West Coast Challenge and Premiership. The side is attempting to reform for 2007 with a recruting campaign and training sessions over the winter, but the club's future is uncertain at best.
Calgary Kangaroos/Calgary Bears: The Kangaroos have taken a page out of the Vancouver Cougars' book and are splitting into two sides for 2007, with a few trial matches for the new Bears team this year. The Kangaroos managed an impressive trophy haul this season, winning the Kelowna Cup, West Coast Challenge, Stampede Cup and proving their versatility by winning the Calgary Cup Gaelic Football tournament. They couldn't transfer that success into their first trip to the US Nationals (division 2) however, as their opening match lost to eventual champion Baltimore/Washington Eagles was enough to put them out of the Grand Final.
Red Deer Magpies: Red Deer was another side that never quite fielded a side in 2006 although they were much closer than Victoria. In some consolation, the Alberta Canadians side at the Kelowna cup wore the Magpies jumpers and the Magpies did have some representation on the Calgary side at the US Nationals. Still, Red Deer will be another franchise on the bubble in 2007 and the first few months of the year should again tell the tale.
Ontario is the only province in Canada with an actual scheduled league competition, which this year, lost most of its sides outside of greater Toronto, with the departure of the London Magpies and Windsor Mariners from the OAFL. Windsor in particular had just missed the playoffs last year and contributed several players to the Northwind side, so there was added disapointment when the metro footy league planned to keep those players active fell through (however there are rumours that one of these sides will attempt a 2007 revival) . Still the league added a new side in Toronto, the Cental Blues and played a 12 game season amongst the nine clubs in three cities. One of the league's top sides, the Toronto Eagles came out on top, winning their 10th OAFL Championship over the Broadview Hawks, who had turned their club around after several poor seasons. By default Toronto also won the Conacher Cup as Canadian national champions, due to there being no national championship as of yet.
This year, Canada saw a trend of football growing in the larger cities, while struggling in the others. Cities like Windsor and Victoria were hampered mostly by travel as an issue, while Red Deer dealt with being the smallest city in the country with a side with only eighty thousand to recruit from. Still, with a new coaching staff for the national side and the continued support of AFL Canada, the game should continue to grow in Canada, even if only in a few locations. Add to this the junior development work in Vancouver and there remains cause for optimism about footy's growth in Canada.