The journey isn’t over yet. The Multiplex Bulls’ victory over the Dubai Dragons yesterday does not win them the AFL Middle East premiership. But it goes a long way towards gaining the belief and commitment needed to claim their first flag.
Make no mistake, the Dubai Dragons would know that this match was a massive statement. If they won again, the Bulls would sink further into an inferiority complex, doubting their ability to ever beat the Dragons when it mattered. A Bulls’ win was going to set the Bulls into a momentum that might not be stopped.
By quarter time, the Dragons were a goal in front. Way too early to pick a winner, but they had played their hand again, inviting the Bulls to play theirs. They did, grabbing the half time lead by three points but knowing a battle still needed to be won.
It could turn out to be a season defining moment – or a few moments, really. The clash between the AFL Middle East heavyweights, the Dubai Dragons and the Multiplex Bulls. One team is on track to claim its fifth consecutive flag. The other is out to avoid the indignity of being runners-up for a fifth consecutive season.
It may sound harsh, but the time has passed for the Bulls to say they were gallant in defeat. That was true early, and possibly even extended to last season. But gallant isn’t enough now. Years of hard work and sacrifice by many people have to be rewarded with a maiden flag.
That is what makes this Friday’s battle in Dubai so important. The Bulls simply must prove that they can defeat the Dragons. They cannot rely on waiting and hoping for a crack on grand final day – it isn’t yet guaranteed they will get that far. The assertiveness that goes with premierships has to start Friday and then extend through the finals series.
The dust has barely settled on the fourth round of the AFL Middle East season and already the two grand finalists are as good as confirmed again. The Dubai Dragons and Multiplex Bulls will meet each other again, barring an unforeseeable event of monolithic proportions.
The gulf between the top two and bottom two teams has expanded even further. It isn’t as wide as the Great Rift Valley, but it is worryingly enormous.
The Dragons and Bulls enjoyed huge wins at the expense of the Dingoes and Falcons, and in so doing have created a two game buffer between second and third place with two games to play. The Dragons cannot miss the grand final, still undefeated after four rounds. The Falcons cannot get there unless they win the preliminary final – winless after four rounds. The only mathematical change is for the Dingoes to defeat the Bulls in the final round by about 28 goals and win next round over the Falcons. Half of that equation is possible.
After having enjoyed their winter break, the AFL Middle East teams return to the field on Friday for their Australia Day round. With three rounds remaining, all teams can book a place in finals if they can win all remaining games and it starts Friday at the Dubai Sports City with a double-header. The Multiplex Bulls will meet the Abu Dhabi Falcons whilst the Dubai Dragons play the Dubai Dingoes.
The Bulls sit in second place with two wins. Another win against the Falcons will almost certainly ensure them a grand final berth. But it won’t be easy. The Falcons sit on the bottom of the ladder winless, yet have played far better than that position suggests. Should they upset the Bulls it will give them momentum to win all remaining games. The Bulls start favourites, yet the Falcons will be determined to turn their season around.
The work and passion of Mohammed Hashem and his Auskick in Egypt initiative was at risk of falling away. But the Australian Embassy in Cairo stepped in and suddenly there are Australian Rules footys in Egypt. Mo Hash’s dream can now continue. Following is his account of what it has taken to grow the game in a part of the world that previously seemed worlds away from the Aussie Rules heartlands.
“Auskick in Egypt was an initiative started by myself at three distinct attractive sports facilities in Cairo and one out of Cairo in New Valley Governorate. The idea was to give children aged 5-12 the opportunity to learn about Australian culture through playing AFL. We have not charged any of the participants for any of the programs.”
Things were challenging early on for Auskick in Egypt, as Mo explained. “I was only using grid iron balls and whatever else I could find in the sports facilities. We used a combination of witches hats, soccer balls and the mentioned grid iron balls where possible.”
Richmond star Bachar Houli has been joined by Essendon speedster Adam Saad and former Saint, Ahmed Saad, to lead a group of Muslim boys on a football and cultural journey to the United Arab Emirates – home of the AFL Middle East – as part of the Bachar Houli Academy initiative to develop youth.
The travelling party were based in the capital city of Abu Dhabi, enjoying training sessions, some sightseeing and cultural experiences amid the overall objectives of developing youth through a leadership course.
Houli has long been working with Muslim youth with his academy back in Australia, but Adam Saad, the Essendon speedster, happily donated his own time to be a part of the trip to the UAE. Former St Kilda footballer, Ahmed Saad, was also there and has been instrumental recently in getting football gear to Auskick clinics in Egypt in his role within the AFL Diversity Unit.
The favourites won their AFL Middle East matches in Round 3, with the scoreboards showing emphatic wins to the Dubai Dragons by 59 points over the Dubai Dingoes and the Multiplex Bulls by 33 points over the Abu Dhabi Falcons. The matches marked the midway point of the season and the final games for 2018. But, more significantly, each match could have been so much different but for one quarter.
Down in the capital, the Abu Dhabi Falcons gave the Bulls a ferocious welcome. The Falcons came out on fire and gave the Bulls a devil of a time, kicking five first quarter goals and holding a decent 17-point lead at the first break. By half time, the Bulls had fought back to lead a tight clash by just two points.
The final quarter was won by the Falcons by a single point. But the damage was done in one quarter by the Bulls as they hammered home seven goals to two in a powerful third term. The Falcons held their own for the rest of the day, but would just love the chance to replay that third quarter again.
The thing with four team competitions – and only a small amount of rounds – is that seasons can be defined quite early. The AFL Middle East competition goes into that mode with Round 3 today, marking the halfway point of the 2018/19 season. If the favourites for each match wins, it will be difficult to see major changes prior to finals.
However, conversely, the beauty of such competitions is that favourites don’t always win. In both Dubai and Abu Dhabi tomorrow, underdogs have the chance to turn the completion on its head.
Last round, the Abu Dhabi Falcons were desperately unlucky to lose to top team, the Dubai Dragons. Outplayed early, the Falcons rattled home to lose to the reigning champions by just two points, raising the issue of what might have been with four quarters of footy. At home again this round, the Falcons have the chance to show what could be when they take on the Multiplex Bulls. The Bulls will start favourites after their last start win against the Dingoes, but the Falcons will be primed to play four quarters and steam a win.
It was just another day at the office for the Dubai Dragons. After four consecutive flags and victories over every team over those years, a trip down to Abu Dhabi did not hold any fear for the Dragons. All they had to do was play their normal way and win.
By half time, that was exactly the way things were. The Dragons scoring when they needed to and their defence keeping the Falcons goalless. By the main break, the Dragons had strolled to a 28-point lead and another by-the-numbers half would see them comfortably home.
But for any Marvel Studios Avengers fans, the Abu Dhabi Falcons were Bruce Banner. Something upset them at the break and they came out swinging – though not green – in the third quarter. They won the quarter, not by much, and said to the Dragons that pressure was the name of the game. Unrelenting pressure – the kind that wins matches.
It might only be Round Two, yet tomorrow’s matches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai could well shape the destiny of all four clubs. After two close matches in Round One, all four teams believe they can win – and all four teams need to.
The opening match in Abu Dhabi will see reigning premiers and first round winners, the Dubai Dragons, out to win a second match in a row and in the process try and secure top spot. Their title defence will be built around winning enough games to guarantee a grand final berth, and the sooner they stack the wins away the better. A loss is something that will be lurking in the back of their minds – a genuine possibility away from home – so they will be ready.