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.
The Footy Show on Australia's Channel Nine features a football news wrap by reporter Craig Hutchison, and tonight "Hutchy" reported that Sudanese immigrant Majak Daw is a chance to be rookie listed by an AFL club. Daw has featured in the news previously, with only a few years in the game, and could be the first of a wave of African immigrants to make it to the highest level in Aussie Rules.
Daw is still reportedly very "raw" in his football skills, but a short piece of footage shown on the Footy Show demonstrated his potential, with a spectacular mark and in a separate play he roved the ball and cruised away from three opponents who appeared to be trying twice as hard but were unable to match his speed. If Daw is rookie listed it should be a boost for the cause of introducing the many recent African arrivals to the great Australian game, and perhaps introduce a new level of athleticism to the sport.
More about the promising young player in an article in The Age, called Out of Africa.
AFL South Africa has been working closely with the University of Monash South Africa and this year has seen the roll out of a pilot program for 60 footyWILD volunteers in the Gauteng Province, which includes the city of Johannesburg. The broad-based ‘Basic Management and Development Course’ will cover generic skill sets but with practical application to the daily life of a footyWILD volunteer, leading to accreditation. It's another example of Australian football becoming embedded with the local community and providing more than just a game of footy.
Earlier in the year Melbourne newspaper the Herald Sun reported that the Western Bulldogs were in contact with Azumah Nelson regarding Australian football - see Bulldogs look to forge ties in Ghana. The Bulldogs are a good fit, with a lot of African immigrants in their region in western Melbourne (reportedly 15,000 - over half of which are Ghanaian), hence their appointment of multicultural development officers who work with recent arrivals.
One such employee is Sash Herceg, who was once involved with Australian football back in his original homeland, Croatia, which is indicative of the game's broad spectrum these days.
Azumah Nelson is a famous Ghanaian who held several world boxing titles in the 1980s and 90s and become very well known in Australia for a series of controversial fights with Australian world champion Jeff Fenech. Nelson has visited Australia in recent years using his profile to raise money for the Azumah Nelson Foundation which aims to give sporting opportunities to children in Ghana. The Foundation has been dealing with both the Western Bulldogs and the Australian Football League and recently publicised through their website that Australian football will become one of the official sports of the charity.
We report their release and chat to the AFL's Kevin Sheehan about their involvement.