The 2006 US Nationals are on this weekend in Las Vegas. As has been the case in recent years, there will be three mens divisions competing for national titles. Pleasingly there will also be a women's division to build on last year's successful inclusion of women's footy in the tournament. AFL celebrities have been organised and the AFL's head of Game Development will also attend. Staging the Nationals in Vegas has been a bold move by US Footy, and as usual there has been plenty of controversy, ranging from seedings to the inclusion of Canadian teams.
The Central European AFL Championships were held in Prague last month, with the Finland Lions defeating the Croatian Giants in the final. The tournament was played under handicap rules where teams with more locals received score bonuses and featured squads of mixed Australians and Europeans. The five squads competing were from the newer up-and-coming European footy nations, all except for France still at the one-club stage but aiming to be able to compete against the more established leagues in future.
The first results are in from the Barassi Youth Tournament. Of particular interest to readers of WFN will be the form of South Africa and New Zealand. The African program is the one receiving more AFL funding in recent times, although the Kiwis are still one of the better supported countries.
In the second of the Denmark-Sweden-Germany internationals for 2006, the Danes have thoroughly defeated the Swedes 13.14 (92) to 1.5 (11). Having similarly disposed of Germany the Vikings will take the series, with the Sweden and Germany left to battle for runners-up honours. The result is no surprise given the extra years Denmark have in the game, including strong junior development, but the win will still delight the DAFL.
As was widely expected (and hoped for by many), the 2006 AFL Grand Final was a classic, going right down to the final siren. The thrilling match even had impartial observers on the edge of their seats. Perhaps in the end it was fitting that after so many close matches between the clubs in recent years that the Eagles reversed last season's result, squaring the ledger at one premiership apiece from their two Grand Final clashes. Our readers certainly couldn't split them, with just under 47% tipping West Coast and the same number selecting the Sydney-siders, and around 6% went for the draw that so nearly happened. The AFL playing season is now all but over, with players having end of season surgery and most attention turning to retirements and the major draft. Of course from an international perspective this period has the added interest of the upcoming match between Port Power and the Geelong Cats in London, and the International Rules Test series with Australia travelling to Ireland to face what will surely be a spirited contest after the Aussies' controversial win in 2005.
On 14th September 2006 the Australian Football League announced its much anticipated budget for the next five years, with all eyes on how they would allocate the significantly increased revenues from television rights and other media. Australian media had closely followed the often public debate over how the money should be carved up, with the Players Association demanding a large increase, and AFL club presidents insisting on a distribution far above the AFL's proposals. There were also calls for putting money back into grassroots footy and of course from a small but dedicated minority there were hopes for more to be done on the international front. We discuss the final numbers and talk to AFL General Manager of Game Development David Matthews about where the international program fits in.
The 2006 Barassi Youth Tournament (also known as the Barassi International Australian Football Youth Tournament, and formerly the Jim Stynes Cup) begins on October 1st, with several of the strongest international youth sides due to arrive in the coming days. Junior teams selected from around Australia will also be heading to the Australian Capital Territory for the series, which is supported by the "VFL Club", and which organisers hope will one day form the basis of an Australian Football Youth World Cup.
In March this year we ran a poll on which team would be AFL premiers in 2006. The favourites were West Coast (15%), followed by St Kilda (10%), the Kangaroos (9%), then Sydney and Adelaide (both just under 9%). Not bad tipping, with 3 of the 5 making the second last week of the season - surely the Kangaroos votes were just optimistic fans being hopeful? The upset was Fremantle, with just 4% of the votes.
Now let's see how well our readers predict the winner now it's down to just two teams.
After another big year in which the AFL secured a record TV rights deal, crowds have been the second best on record and teams from across the nation featured in the final eight, it all comes down to Saturday 30th September - AFL Grand Final Day. In a repeat of last year's heart stopper, the Sydney Swans again take on the West Coast Eagles, the minor premier.
Editor: The number of AFL clubs based in Melbourne has long been debated, and indeed there is little opposition to the view that if the VFL had not embraced the national concept, bringing in license fees and extra TV audiences from other states, often with over a century of footy tradition of their own, then many clubs would not have survived. But can they continue to support so many teams, some of which rely on an uneven distribution of funds to stay afloat? The AFL's recent funding announcements make it clear they wish to maintain the 16 clubs. This is a highly emotive topic that is not directly related to international development (though there are some linkages), and is an area WFN has deliberately steered away from. However our intrepid new reporter Ash has now launched headlong into the debate with some controversial views of his own.
In part two of our long range look at the 2008 International Cup we consider which countries might attend for the first time. We also review previous standings and have a stab in the dark at possible finishing order at the next Cup.