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.
As most predicted, both the Dubai Dragons and the Multiplex Bulls have won their final round matches and will now go on to meet once again in the AFL Middle East Grand Final. The Dragons outlasted a determined and resilient Falcons team in Abu Dhabi, whilst the Bulls hammered the Dingoes to tune up for the big day in powerful style.
The clash between the Abu Dhabi Falcons and the Dubai Dragon was a willing affair. Both sides had points to prove – one to throw the dice once more for a finals shot, the other to assert themselves again as flag favourites. By half -time the Dragons led by just five points, with both teams equal for scoring shots. It was a more dominant Dragons outfit in the second half – but not before the Falcons gave them tough workout. In the end it was the Dragons winning by 43-points to go through the home and away rounds again undefeated.
The Abu Dhabi Falcons cannot realistically reach the 2017/18 season finals. Unrealistically, however, it is a different story. If they were to toast the Dubai Dragons in the final round in the same manner they did the Dubai Dingoes last round and the Dingoes miraculously defeated the Multiplex Bulls, the Falcons could get there. But the chances are so small as to be immeasurable. However, the win was a huge reward for the Falcons.
After the double-header in Dubai, the Dragons further enhanced their flag favouritism again after downing the Multiplex Bulls and the Falcons put together a comprehensive thrashing of the Dingoes. With one round to go it appears that the Multiplex Bulls are safe in second place (apart from the aforementioned miracles) and will once again challenge the Dragons for the 2017/18 flag.
Sometimes pure statistics can be a very useful tool in assessing performance and predicting results. On other occasions, statistics are an idiot – telling nothing more than what the reader wants them to say. But a brief look at the stats surrounding the fourth round of AFL Middle East matches are enough to confirm that the Dubai Dragons will once again contest the grand final, and only a disaster or upset of Hollywood proportions will stop the Multiplex Bulls from joining them in a fourth consecutive decider.
The Dragons have four wins from four outings after their demolition of the undermanned Entertainer Dubai Dingoes. They are not guaranteed the minor premiership just yet, but cannot be overtaken now by the third or fourth placed teams – the Falcons or Dingoes. The Bulls downed the Falcons, which puts a two game buffer – and a whopping 100% percentage differential – between second and third place. The Bulls WILL reach the grand final, they just need another win to wrap it and tie a bow around it.
After a break since late November, the AFL Middle East competition gets under way again this week with two matches in the United Arab Emirates - one in Dubai and the other in Abu Dhabi. As with all matches in a four-team competition, both matches will have implications for the upcoming finals series.
The Round Four clashes will see the Dubai Dragons take on the Entertainer Dubai Dingoes at The Sevens Stadium in Dubai at 12.30pm. Shortly afterwards in Abu Dhabi, the home team will host the Multiplex Bulls at 2.00pm at the Zayed Cricket Stadium. Victory for any team will brighten finals hopes with three rounds to go. Even the Dingoes, three defeats from three starts to date, could still turn their fortunes around.
The Dragons sit undefeated on top of the ladder and will be favoured to defeat the Dingoes. Already a game clear of second-placed Bulls, the Dragons will be hard to dislodge from the minor premiership position should they win. For the Dingoes to have any finals hope their resurgence must start Friday with an upset against the Dragons.