With two rounds to go in the 2019/20 AFL Middle East competition, the Multiplex Bulls stand as favourites to complete back to back premierships. Nothing is guaranteed, but their 103 point demolition of the Dubai Dingoes sent an unnerving message to the rest of the competition.
The greater interest centres on the two teams most likely to play off to meet the Bulls on Grand Final day. The Abu Dhabi Falcons defeated the Dubai Dragons in a tight clash, putting them two games clear in second spot. They have booked a Preliminary Final berth, at least, but importantly they have the psychological advantage over the Dragons for next time they meet – likely in the first final.
Round 4 action at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai saw the Dragons and the Falcons play out three intense and tight quarters. However, a six goal third term from the Falcons took the game away from the Dragons. True to form, the Dragons fought hard to come back in the final quarter, but could not bridge the gap.
Back in 2014, the Doha Kangaroos were set to be “the next big thing”. Fresh from taking the 2013/13 season premiership after downing the Dubai Dragons, the ‘Roos had the Middle East football world at their feet. Dreams of going “back to back” were tempered by a greater ideal – a dynasty growing with sustained success.
However, the script changed. Off and on field changes occurred which made it difficult for the Kangaroos to maintain momentum.
Then along came the Qatar Blockade in June 2017 – ostensibly seeing other nearby Middle East nations cutting links (across many fronts, including travel) with the nation. The political arguments can be discussed elsewhere, but the impact saw the Doha Kangaroos having to pull out of the AFL Middle East competition and effectively losing much of the traction built around their maiden premiership.
The Dubai Dingoes have pulled off one of the biggest upsets in recent years, surprising almost everyone in the AFL Middle East world. Their victory over competition behemoth, the Dubai Dragons, on Friday was as unexpected as it was exhilarating – especially for the Dingoes.
The club has had a tough time over the past few seasons, being a perennial prey for other teams, secure in the knowledge that at least they’ll get a win against them. How that has now changed. The Dingoes 34-point victory over the Dubai Dragons has made the club believe that they can be a finals candidate again. Other clubs can now wipe away the smug smiles when they play the Dingoes with victory no longer a given.
Winning your opening two matches in a season is no guarantee for success at the pointy end of the journey. However, it is a huge advantage in a six-match season. Two wins from two is a solid foundation for success, and the Abu Dhabi Falcons are in a great position to achieve bigger things this season.
Their victory over the Dubai Dragons at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi has seen them win two from two so far this season. This result is more compelling when their two biggest hurdles to success – the Dragons and Multiplex Bulls – have each lost a match.
The Falcons have a tough run over the next three matches – meeting the Bulls twice, and a return clash with the Dragons in between. It is possible they lose all three. But, one win across that streak, and a final round win over the Dubai Dingoes, might set the Falcons up for their best flag tilt since they took the title in 2011. They would likely need to reach the grand final via the preliminary final, but would do so knowing they have beaten quality opposition along the way.
If you thought that the Dubai Dragons’ reign as a power would end with their loss to the Multiplex Bulls in last season’s Grand Final, think again. Rather than ceding their title as the greatest and handing over to a new era of the Bulls, the Dubai Dragons have sent a new message. The past is the past – the future is us.
The eyes of the AFL Middle East world were firmly fixed on Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi for the Round 1 fixtures to kick off the new season. The hosts were up first against the Dubai Dingoes, but the match with the most talking points was second up with the Dubai Dragons tackling the Multiplex Bulls.
In a tight match for the first half, both sides threw their all at each other for scores to be level at the main break. An arm-wrestle between past and present powers was underway for the audience to see. However, a four goal to two third quarter for the Dragons gave them wriggle room and they were able to take that further with another five goals to one in the final term.
The winning ways of the Multiplex Bulls have continued in the Middle East with the team taking out the 2019/20 Pre-Season Cup after downing the Dubai Dingoes in the final. This follows on from the maiden AFL Middle East premiership earlier this year and sets the scene for another big year for the Bulls.
The big improver from the event were the Dubai Dingoes. After a few torrid seasons without much success, the Dingoes showed that their off-season recruiting, planning and drive has paid off. They contested the final after impressing in their two wins against eventual winners, the Bulls, and a dominant performance against the Abu Dhabi Falcons. Their only defeat was a narrow loss to the Dubai Dragons by just three points.
With all AFL Middle East clubs coming to life after their off-season, the excitement and anticipation for the new season is already starting to grow. The release of the 2019/20 season draw last week added to the excitement as teams learned whom they will play, where and when.
Kicking off the challenges of the new season is the Pre-Season Cup, just over six weeks away. Scheduled for Friday 11th October, the day is the perfect chance for teams to dust off the cobwebs with match play and the first silverware of the new season. The venue will be announced shortly.
The opening round is full of excitement, featuring a double-header in Abu Dhabi. The Grand Final rematch between the Multiplex Bulls and the Dubai Dragons. The Bulls will be keen to get their title defence off to s flying start against their archrivals. The Dragons will be hoping to claim a victory and right the ship after losing last year’s final match.
Mid-July marks the point furthest away from the footy season – the middle of the off-season. Recovery from the previous season is largely complete and the first stirrings of the new pre-season are evident. Post-mortems on the previous season are done.
It is time to be looking forward to a new season.
Each team would be quietly going through the mental exercises of what needs to be done for the new season. One thing that remains eternally true is that new seasons bring new hope, new expectations and new opportunities. Each team is at a different stage in their journey and making plans for the next step.
It took longer than they had hoped, and arguably longer than they deserved, but after four consecutive grand final losses the Multiplex Bulls have won their maiden AFL Middle East premiership. In the process they brought to an end a Dubai Dragons reign of four consecutive flags.
Since joining the league for the 2014/15 season, the Bulls have not missed playing in a grand final, including reaching the big dance in their first season.. However, until today their only silverware was multiple pre-season cup trophies.
But after an excellent season which saw just one defeat – by three points – the Bulls knew this was their best chance, and they took it.
It cannot be understated how important tomorrow’s AFL Middle East grand final is. On the one hand you have an incredible club chasing what would be a seventh flag in eight seasons and a fifth in a row. On the other hand, a club that has performed so well since they first came into the league, but four premiership defeats later are waiting to break a drought.
Sceptics might take the view that another Dragons flag would be fine for them but have a downside to the competition as a whole as other clubs might question their ability to rise and ever challenge them.
But the Multiplex Bulls hold the antidote to a sceptical viewpoint. A Bulls victory will send a clear message to all present and future clubs that things change the Dragons are nothing more or less than a raised bar to be jumped over. The Dragons will not lay down, but the Bulls are ready to bring them down - rise to the challenge.