New Zealand enjoyed considerable Australian footballing success in 2005. Besides winning the International Cup, the Pacific nation was invited to compete in the Australian Country Championships and thousands of junior participants were exposed to the sport. This February, Auckland hosts New Zealand's premier domestic football tournament - the National Provincial Championships - which will determine the nation's best senior league and will include junior participants for the first time.
AFL and GAA chiefs met in Melbourne last week to discuss terms for continuation of the International Rules series, with calls in the Irish media to scrap the series due to what has been labelled 'thuggery' on the part of the Australians. An agreement between the two leagues will see much harsher penalties for on-field violence in future, plus possible changes to the way AFL clubs can recruit young Irishmen.
Southern Sweden will this year play football across three levels of competition, with a 4-team Scania league feeding into a 3-team regional league. The best players from the regional league will continue to compete as the Southern Saints in the DAFL Premier League.
Colorful new inclusions to the regional league include the Landskrona Bulldozers (jumper at left) and the Göteborg Beserkers, set for their first year of regular league play after a few years of hard work getting off the ground.
Australian Football has clearly put down roots in the United States over the past few years. It was only in 1996 that the first match was played by US teams, with the first Nationals the following year, in Cincinatti. In a few countries growth has been slow but fairly steady and the US is no exception, except its shear size of population means any small growth adds up to big numbers quickly. Where America appears to have fallen off the pace a little is in junior development, with leading countries like Papua New Guinea and New Zealand working hard on spreading the game amongst children. The US has been held back by a variety of reasons, such as no single city reaching "critical mass" in adult players. But also being relatively new to the sport, there has yet to be many former players now parents looking to get their kids into the game, as has been seen for example in Denmark.
However the USAFL's Denis Ryan has been working hard with the US Footy Kids program (similar to Auskick) and has started to see tangible results in the past year, so what better time for WFN to catch up with him and see how the future may unfold. Having recently sold nearly 1000 footies in Texas, things must be looking good.
2006 will see footy league play return to the OC, LA and Inland Empire with a new four-team Southern California AFL under formation. California boasted the first organised regional footy league in the USA, but has since gone through hard times - the right league structure proving elusive despite the area being home to two of the USA's traditional power clubs in Orange County and San Diego and a large local Australian population. WFN talks with Chris Olson about the new league.
With the size of the workload involved becoming more obvious in recent times, no club had put up their hand to host the tournament by the time of the 2005 National Championships held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Usually an announcement would have been made at that time, but not in 2005. There is also the matter of the ‘Nationals Curse’ which seems to haunt host clubs in the years following the tournament being in their city, perhaps due to the enormous workload on volunteer administrators. The curse is generally not taken seriously, yet a serious case could be mounted that there is something to it.
In a surprise announcement from AFL Headquarters this week, the league has announced a major boost to its programs in South Africa with a view to the nation joining the Australia-Ireland International Rules series by 2008 at under 17s level, the seniors following before the end of the decade. The announcement also displayed an optimistic change in the tone of official announcements relating to international Aussie Rules, AFL chief Andrew Demetriou notably upbeat about the arrival of an AFL club drafting directly from Africa being close to hand.
Japanese players Michito Sakaki and Tsuyoshi Kase will be keenly waiting to see if they get a run in trial games with the Bendigo Bombers in the Victorian Football League. Currently training with AFL club Essendon, the pair will need to impress Bendigo's coach, Matthew Knights, a former champion of the Richmond Football Club. The Bombers have a relationship with Bendigo that sees them use the VFL club to play their AFL players not selected in any given round.
Mike ‘Scuba’ Russell wasn't expecting to suit up for his country when he attended the AFL exhibition match in LA but wasn't about to say no to such an honour. Here he gives us a forthright, first hand account of his day playing for the US Revolution team, made up of all American players. They took on the Aussie All Comers side at the UCLA last week as the curtain raiser to the Swans v Kangaroos match.
The New York Magpies and other organisers of the Australia Day longest kick competition, featuring NY Jet and ex-Geelong AFL player Ben Graham, have released further information on the locations and details of their contest.
The AFLPNG will this year send three junior teams on tour to Australia, with a boys under 16s squad touring in April, an under 16s girls team playing in the North Queensland challenge in Cairns in October and some of the boys under 14s competing at the Queensland Country Championships in June.