The Flying Boomerangs depart Australia today for the third such tour of South Africa and their fifth international series overall. Twenty five Indigenous teenagers will spend two weeks in the country, conducting clinics, experiencing the culture and playing a match against each of the two South African primary development squads - the Inland and Coastal teams as discussed in Lions name elite training squads.
The youth Indigenous Australian squad is the same concept that travelled to South Africa in 2006 and 2008 and hosted a return visit from the South Africans in 2007. Each tour has seen three matches played and so far the Indigenous Aussies are undefeated against that country. However in 2009 when they toured Papua New Guinea the two matches were split. They'll again have their work cut out for them as the South Africans rapidly improve and contain both youth and experienced senior players, although the Inland/Coastal split will obviously reduce their strength. It should be a good test for all the teams involved and great practice for the new development structure being used by AFL South Africa. The Australian players’ selection follows their attendance at the Qantas AFL KickStart Camp in Melbourne last August.
The 2010 Flying Boomerangs squad will be joined by recently retired AFL players Michael O’Loughlin (Boomerangs coach), Chris Johnson (assistant coach) and Malcolm Lynch.
The Western Cape Province of South Africa has quickly risen from having no Aussie Rules players to recently winning the 2009 National Provincial Championships (see Western Cape - new chiefs of African footy?). With all four of the country's active football provinces now benefiting from AFL and AFL club support, how is it that Western Cape has leap-frogged the more established regions of North West and Gauteng, along with fellow newcomers KwaZulu-Natal? worldfootynews.com poses a simple theory.
In good news for the future encouragement of African immigrants to take up Aussie Rules, Sudanese born Majak Daw has been rookie listed by North Melbourne. After much hype during the year it looked like Daw was a good chance to be drafted in the full AFL Draft (see Majak day for Africa gets closer) however come the end of the day his name had not been read out.
Offering renewed encouragement was that both the Kangaroos and the Western Bulldogs invited him to train with their clubs leading up to the rookie draft, and North Melbourne duly selected him with their first selection (pick 9 overall). He fits in with North's recent efforts to integrate better with migrant communities, and they made it clear he was a project player.
Speaking of his local community, Daw said "They're very proud of me to be the first Sudanese," and "A lot of them are migrants, refugees, come from a war-torn country and don't expect this to happen. When something like this happens it really means a lot to them. It gives them a lot more confidence to sort of go out and be more involved in the community."
Four talented young South Africans have been in Canberra at Australia's Institute of Sport as part of their Mtutuzeli Hlomela Scholarships. The scheme is named after the current AFL South Africa Talent Manager, who is also the most successful Aussie Rules footballer to so far emerge from their domestic program.
Three of the four young men come from the FootyWILD ROAR Talent squads recently named - Bayanda Sobetwa, Thembisile Oupaster and Prince Nematswerani. The fourth recipient is Chesney Botha, with very little Australian football background but regarded as an exciting athlete.
The players have made the trip to Australia to participate in the annual AIS/AFL Academy Camp, giving AFL talent scouts the chance to assess their ability against the cream of Australia’s youth.
After South Africa's second provincial championships in late September 2009 the talent managers selected two squads to carry the country forward over the next few years. The Inland (North West and Gauteng) and Coastal (KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape) squads feature a mix of the country's best senior and youth talent,
Stewart Edge, an AFL talent expert spending an extended period in-country, said “We were really pleased by the improved standard of play at this year's Nationals and thrilled to announce two squads that will regularly attend intensive weekend camps and play more often against quality opposition”.
Clearly the AFLSA brains trust have identified regular quality matches as a key to advancing their national program. For players not selected, there is hope. “The squads will be fluid with players coming in and out of contention based on two measurable criteria - ability and effort,” said Edge, when speaking to the players at the Nationals. “The three areas you will need to improve on to maintain your place in the squad include physical fitness, skill development and knowledge of the game”.
The first camps will take place in November with both squads set to play the Flying Boomerangs Indigenous Youth team when they tour early next year.
The Western Cape region of South Africa appears to be quickly establishing themselves as South Africa's top football province. This may well come as something of a shock to the older regions of North West and Gauteng provinces. The Western Province, aligned with Collingwood Football Club, recently claimed their first provincial championship, despite being new to the sport.
It was the second National Provincial Championships staged since AFL South Africa expanded into four provinces under 3 years ago. In their first attempt in 2008 the Westerners made the senior grand final, losing comfortably to North West, the original heartland of footy on the continent, 65 points to 33 (reminisce with North West Dockers take open crown, but new guns surprise). Yet just 12 months later they turned the tables. In a later story we'll explore how, but below is a review of the day's action.
2009 has been a stellar year for international footy with many major new announcements that should see junior talent fast tracked to give them AFL opportunities. During this time the rough gem that is South African football, that had begun to shine in 2008, has not been hitting the headlines to the degree it has in recent years. However, Africa's great Australian football hope has continued to consolidate in some areas and develop new projects in others, which we hope to bring more news on later, but it can be difficult for all involved to collate the facts and figures from the grassroots across one of Aussie Rules' most ambitious programs. Firstly we track back to September of this year.
A series of Provincial Championships were held across South Africa's four Aussie Rules provinces. The matches helped each region in selecting their sides for the National Championships, staged at Mohadin Cricket Ground, Potchefstroom, where there was a youth focus. Speaking before the Nationals, Provincial Development Manager for KZN Bubele Ngangalaza explained that unlike last year when there were senior and youth divisions, in 2009 the provinces instead were combining the squads. “We expect this year’s Nationals to be even more competitive than 2008, as each Province has been asked to bring its best 24 players in one team, rather two sides spread over Extreme and High levels”. It was expected that at least eight 15 - 19 year olds would feature in each side.
Sudanese immigrant Majak Daw continues to create interest as the AFL Draft approaches (November 26). Big in athleticism but raw in football skills with only 4 years in the game, there appears to be growing discussion in media and AFL club circles suggesting that rather than be a rough chance to be rookie listed, he may in fact be picked up in the main draft, possibly even quite early.
AFL clubs are increasingly confident that with full time coaches and full time players, inexperienced athletes can be fast tracked into good players. Although he wasn't invited to the main draft camp, Majak Daw attended the Victorian state screening and posted impressive statistics; a 70-centimetre standing vertical jump would have put him third at the main camp in Canberra, a beep test of 13.6 (compared with the best tall forward at 13.3) and 3.03 seconds for 20 metres (quicker than the tall forward mean).
On top of that is the prospect of what is being billed as the first African to play in the AFL and the associated attention that may bring. Technically, there have been others listed by AFL clubs who have had African heritage, such as Caucasian South African-Australian Luke van Rheenen and (more successfully) Essendon's Damian Cupido. But in the popular imagination, a tall and very dark skinned African-born player has not been seen before at the game's top level.
Daw is very much aware of the growing hype and the potential to inspire other African immigrants to play Australia's indigenous game. But meanwhile he continues with his studies and plays the waiting game. "I reckon I've got a bit of a chance, but I'll wait and see. If it happens, I'm happy to be the first Sudanese to play AFL".
Majak Daw, a young footballer born in Sudan who migrated to Australia, has been receiving plenty of media attention recently as a possible draftee and the first of hopefully many to have originated in that part of Africa.
His stocks rose further last week when he was awarded one of eleven Mike Fitzpatrick scholarships by the AFL Players' Association. It was presented at the AFLPA's MVP Awards on Monday night, at which Geelong's son of a gun, Gary Ablett Jr took out his third straight win.
Since 2001, the AFL Players’ Association has awarded scholarships to assist young footballer’s aged between 15 and 17 in their education and training whilst they aspire to an AFL career. According to AFL Players’ Association General Manager of Player Development Steve Alessio, “this scholarship continues to provide much needed assistance to quality young talented men who may not otherwise get the opportunity to achieve their dream of playing in the AFL without this financial assistance.”
The AFL has again canned the Cape Town match that was originally to have been played between Collingwood and West Coast earlier this year. Back in December 2008 we reported that the match would be deferred for 12 months, but it seems that the AFL believes that the global financial crisis is still biting hard on many and they have again decided to defer the match.