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.
The new AFL Middle East season gets underway on Friday morning (Dubai Time) with a double header at Dubai’s Sevens Stadium. The season starts with the Dubai Dingoes clashing with the Abu Dhabi Falcons ahead of the grand final replay between the Dubai Dragons and Multiplex Bulls.
Whilst the off-season didn’t produce another team for the 2018/19 season – the Bahrain Suns, Doha Kangaroos and Muscat Magpies still a distance away from re-entering the competition – the four teams that take the field on Friday will be determined to create an exciting contest for this season’s flag.
Each team has seen the usual comings and goings which will change the look of team lists, but a look at last season also gives a clue.
In the afterglow of the recent Euro Cup in Cork, Ireland, where the Tel Aviv Cheetahs competed brilliantly and even won an important game, the club has been inspired by a young titan of the game – Nic Naitanui. Will Taylor and Ashley Browne report on the www.afl.com.au website about his vivit to inspire the Cheetahs whilst in Israel.
INJURED West Coast star Nic Naitanui worked closely with his fellow ruckmen leading up to the Eagles' premiership and his coaching journey has now taken a more exotic turn, this time to Israel.
Naitanui spent Monday night on a bumpy soccer field, conducting training for the Tel Aviv Cheetahs, who play in the AFL Europe competition.
Naitanui is in Israel on holiday, and has spent the week travelling through all parts of the country, from the Galilee region in the north, down to Beersheva and the Dead Sea in the south.
Having been on the receiving end of consecutive premiership defeats now for too many years, the Multiplex Bulls needed some success to believe that they can turn their fortunes around. In Bahrain yesterday, the Bulls achieved just that by taking out the AFL Middle East Pre-Season Cup. It isn’t the same thing as a premiership, but it is a result that sparks belief and confidence and sets a strong platform for what will follow.
On a hot day in Bahrain, the Bulls played in a three-way round robin tournament against their nemesis, the Dubai Dragons, and a combined Dubai Dingoes/Bahrain Suns team. The drinks tables, air conditioners and shady spaces got a heavy workout as the teams slugged it out.
One of the more interesting teams headed to Ireland for this weekend’s Euro Cup in Cork is the newest Australian Football entity in Israel, the Tel Aviv Cheetahs. Whilst they are a genuine new team on the world stage, based in a city not known or its connection to the game, in truth, they are a phoenix rising.
The team that runs out in Cork to do battle with the best teams Europe has to offer owes much of its existence to the Peace Team, formed in 2008, and more recently their incarnation as the Jerusalem Peace Lions. But make no mistake - this team from Tel aviv is itsown entity, grown out of its own grit, sweat and determination.
After having performed admirably at the 2017 Euro Cup in Bordeaux, France, where they managed to finish in 11th place overall with an historic win against Sweden, the Lions returned to Israel to a period of change. With key players leaving Jerusalem to travel elsewhere on life paths, some relocated to Tel Aviv and, inevitably, a footy got kicked in a park somewhere. From there, the Tel Aviv Cheetahs came to life.
As part of their slow burn towards a return to full competition in the AFL Middle East, the Bahrain Suns will host the region’s AFX tournament next month. With their rebranding and rebuilding program last year, the Suns had planned to be back in action for the 2018/19 season. That goal will wait a little longer, but their involvement in the AFL Middle East pre-season competition will certainly boost interest and support.
In a media release from the AFL Middle East, “on October 12th, AFLME will conduct an AFLX style tournament which will comprise of all teams from of the competition. The tournament has been scheduled to take part in Bahrain to engage other areas of the Middle East to get involved in the league and potentially use this for expansion into the future.”
Next month the new AFL Middle East season gets under way for the 2018/19 season. It will again be a fascinating battle with the four teams seeking to break new ground. Reigning champions, the Dubai Dragons. Have already created a dynasty that may never be surpassed. With four flags in a row, and six in the past seven seasons, the Dragons sit on a level of success rarely seen. They want a fifth flag.
However, the Multiplex Bulls have been hurting since March and are keen to erase the memory of recent grand final losses to write themselves into the history books. Their arrival in the league has seen four years of heartache, yet to win a flag.
The most improved team last year was the Abu Dhabi Falcons. It would not appear so from their ladder position, again finishing third, but their on-field performances were consistent. They will be aiming to reach the grand final at the very least.