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.
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.