The Dubai Dragons have taken out the latest Dubai derby, downing the Dubai Dingoes by 68 points at Dubai Sports City. The Dragons were relentless, leading and extending their advantage at every break and never looking like allowing the Dingoes back into the match.
Even though the first quarter saw just two goals to one in favour of the Dragons, the real story was in the poor kicking by the Dragons – eleven scoring shots to one showed more clearly where the match might be headed. By the final change the Dragons had put the game to rest with a 47 point lead, going on then to a comfortable victory. Darcy O’Sullivan kicked three goals for the Dragons whilst Jess Mcguirk kicked three for the Dingoes.
Final Scores: Dubai Dragons 13 24 102 d Dubai Dingoes 5 4 34
Recently, World Footy News reported of the decision that would see the Doha Kangaroos in Qatar stand down from fielding a team in the AFL Middle East competition for the current 2017/18 season. Their intention was to rise out the current travel restrictions between some Middle East nations and return to the league when travel became less difficult. (See story: Doha Kangaroos On Hold)
To ensure the teams stay fit and remain together, both the Doha Kangaroos (AFL) and the Qatar GAA (Gaelic Football) teams have come together in a unifying tournament with a view to their respective league returns.
Australian Rules football in the Middle East is unique – and at times problematic. Unlike most leagues that play their games with teams from within a country, AFL Middle East (Like AFL Asia) is a competition played amongst nations. The traditional nations in the league – United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain – have held the league together through many formats over the years depending of the availability of teams for that season.
But the political, economic, social and geographical challenges involved across this part of the world have conspired to halt the progress of some clubs – the latest being the Doha Kangaroos from Qatar. Just three seasons ago, the Kangaroos claimed their maiden AFL Middle East premiership. Now, after a period of travel instability across the region, mainly political in nature, the Kangaroos will sit out the remainder of the 2017/18 season.
Whilst the AFL Middle East football community had eyes firmly locked on the grand final replay between the Dragons and Bulls, it was another Emirates team that sent a strong message of their own. The Abu Dhabi Falcons fought hard against the Dragons in Round One and followed that up with a comprehensive win against the Dingoes to drive home the message that the Falcons are right there in the finals mix.
In a game of two halves, the Falcons did the damage with a 74 to 21 first half. The second half belonged to the Dingoes as they clawed back some of the deficit to outscore the Falcons after half time. Their effort was even more commendable with just two players on the bench. But the damage had already been done early as the Falcons ran out convincing 43 point victors. So early in the season yet, but the Falcons are on track to stay in the finals battle waiting for one of the top two teams to falter.
Round One of the 2017/18 AFL Middle East season got under way in Dubai on Thursday and Friday amid the warmth of the Middle Eastern climate. Last year’s grand finalists, the Dubai Dragons and Multiplex Bulls, both enjoyed first up wins and have already grabbed a flying advantage over all other teams.
Thursday evening saw the season opener when the Multiplex Bulls took on the Dubai Dingoes. On a warm but pleasant evening under lights at Dubai Sports City, the Dingoes threw everything at the Bulls early. According to the AFL Middle East report:
“[The game was played in] very still and pleasant conditions - 29 degrees for the 8:30pm kick off but humidity was low. The Dingoes won the toss [and] had plenty of new faces. Captain Ben Dawson did his calf during the week and could only manage 5 minutes of game time – a big loss for the Dingoes.”
One of the hallmarks of a great dynasty is to understand that change is inevitable and be able to absorb change and continue forward. It is what has powered great nations and cultures over time and a similar process occurs in sport.
The Dubai Dragons – winner of five out of the past six AFL Middle east premierships – is in that position now. They may be at the end of their great reign, or they may be on a solid plateau set for another year of greatness. Time will tell, but one thing that is certain is they have embraced change over this past off-season. How they respond will determine whether the new season brings more glory or the start of a new phase of rebuilding.
The club is acutely aware of this and is addressing needs. Iain Rowe, president of the Dubai Dragons, offers his insight.
During the 2009 AFL Middle East season, the Bahrain Blues first entered the fields of footy battle when they played in the Dubai 9’s tournament. By later that year the nation’s Australian Rules football team was a part of the AFL Middle East competition proper. Big things were possible and the sky was the limit.
Then came the “Arab Spring”, a period of political turmoil across much of the Middle East and northern Africa, which saw massive protests and clashes across many nations. Bahrain itself was a part of this. The island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia saw clashes and the unsettled nature of the events between 2010 and 2012 (predominantly 2011 in Bahrain) saw the landscape change for footy as many ex-pats once involved in creating the Blues left the nation and Australian Rules football, as with other endeavours, stalled.
It was their destiny. The Multiplex Bulls entered 2016/17 confident that it would be their season. It would be their breakthrough premiership – their reward after having already felt the pain of four premiership defeats in previous seasons. Admittedly, one of those was a pre-season cup in their inaugural season, but they still hurt.
Last season it was the Bulls first into the Grand Final and they waited as the Dubai Dragons won their way into the final clash of the year. However, this year it would be the Bulls – finally.
It was not. They went down by just a goal. Not only were the Bull’s hearts broken again, but the margin was further salt into raw wounds…so close and yet so far.
The Bulls now have a new season ahead of them, but acknowledge how much the club hurts. According to the club, “the Bulls were gutted last year to not take the prize, but we are looking forward to another strong and successful season. We have been training in some pretty awful summer conditions since August.”
The new 2017/18 season for AFL Middle East is now ready to roll into action with the release of the new season draw. All eyes will turn to Dubai on the 20th October with the first of three “double headers” in the city. Other features for the season include eight matches per team for the Dubai based clubs and a special provision for the Doha Kangaroos.
Bahrain will not enter the league for this season. Instead, they will use the season to recruit and be ready to re-enter for the 2018/19 season. The Muscat Magpies will not enter a team, focusing on Gaelic Football instead. However, to borrow from James Bond – “never say never again”.
The new season will not feature a pre-season cup competition – the focus placed instead on extra rounds for points across the season.
One has to have some respect for those who write the draw for the AFL Middle East competition. Far from being a simple Team A v Team B and repeat competition, the Middle East throws up a unique set of challenges to have teams play matches once, much less for a whole season.
But the fact that they do so every year is evidence of the passion with which the people involved in the AFL Middle East competition operate.
Whilst four of the teams are located within the United Arab Emirates – the Dubai Dragons, Dubai Dingoes and the Multiplex Bulls are each based in Dubai and the Abu Dhabi Falcons are located 140 kilometres to the south-west. If it were just those four clubs thing might be relatively easy – but there is more.