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.
As the most improved team in the AFL Middle East competition last season, the Abu Dhabi Falcons might have decided that the season was over and they had earned a rest. Not so. The team decided to have one last hurrah and travelled to Croatia to take on their national team - the Croatian Knights – for the general reason, as the club states (tongue in cheek), ‘because we can.”
As if taking on their own UAE teams – the Dragons, Bulls and Dingoes – was not challenging enough, the Falcons opted to test their strength on a truly successful championship team. The Croatian Knights finished in first place of their Division Two draw at last year’s International Cup in Melbourne. That is on top of having won the AFL Europe Euro Cup in both 2010 and 2015 as well as having been second three times and third three times since 2008. They are a powerful Australian Football nation.
When the brilliant Chrissie Amphlett sang these words back in 1985, she wasn’t singing about footy – as least we don’t think she was. Yet those words adequately sum up the result of the AFL Middle East Grand-Final played in Dubai yesterday when the Dubai Dragons won their fourth straight premiership (and sixth in seven seasons) by defeating the tragic heroes, the Multiplex Bulls.
The difference between the pleasure of premiership heaven and runners-up despair and pain was just 23 points. Ten minutes into the last quarter it was just ten points. Two goals to either side would turn the result…it was the Dragons that turned.
Four flags in a row is an incredible effort at any level of the game. The consistency to bring together a squad of players over that length of time and keep them hungry enough, as well as talented enough, to hold off every other challenge is remarkable. The Dragons deserve their glory and deserve to go down in history as one of the most extraordinary teams to play the game outside of Australia. Pleasure.