Donnie Hess is already well known to American audiences for AFL social media outlets. His YouTube clips, podcasts, tweets and myriad other promotions of our game have helped enormously to propel the game of Australian football further and wider across the USA.
In the second of a series of interviews with Australian football lovers across the USA, I threw some questions to Donnie about his own journey to the game, where the game sits now in his country and some ideas about the future. We haven’t spoken heavily about his beloved Sydney Swans, but rest assured, he will talk about them until he is blue in the face if you get him started.
Over the past twelve months, as the world has come to grips with the ravages of COVID-19 and its fallout, Australian Rules Football has had its own journey. Whilst on the home front, footy continued at the highest level (though not really at more grassroots levels), a different story played out elsewhere.
In the United States, local sport ground to a halt. Most people rode the situation patiently waiting for their beloved sports to return to playing fields or cable TV. But many stumbled across Aussie Rules with Foxtel matches live and through replays capturing a whole new breed of fan.
Among those is Rosanna. From a life where our game did not have a place in her life, she now has her own podcasts and social media platforms under the banner of AFL Obsessed where she discusses the game with anyone wanting a chat, and also supports her beloved Essendon Bombers to anyone who will listen - I do! But how is is that a young woman in New York City can become so fixated with our game in a relatively short period of time?
Here is my interview with Rosanna explaining just that.
The Australian Football world on both sides of the Pacific Ocean is in mourning at the news that former New York Magpie, Alex Aurrichio, has been killed in a car accident near Darwin. Aurrichio stands as one of the earlier pioneers of the wave of Americans coming to Australia over the past decade to pursue Aussie Rules careers.
The 198cm giant ruckman was involved in a cycling collision with a car neat Howard Springs, to the east of Darwin. The thirty-year old left his native New York in 2015 to chase his dream of making it in the AFL.
Lured to the game whilst playing for the New York Magpies, Aurrichio decided to throw the dice and try his luck in Australia. The Carlton Football Club had been impressed enough to sign the athletic and huge framed ruckman – the club at the time stating that they saw no novelty value in signing the American as his body could already stand up to the biggest bodies in the VFL/AFL system. He worked tirelessly on his skills to improve his chances.
Ahead of the 2019 AFL Draft, the son of club champion Dustin Fletcher was being touted as a chance to be drafted by Essendon. Having been closely watched by the club since his childhood, and particularly during his time at the Calder Cannons, Mason Fletcher was seen as a walk up draft selection under the Father-Son criteria.
After siting out the 2018 AFL draft due to injuries, it was anticipated that Fletcher would follow his decorated father and grand-father by joining the Bombers. However, he turned his back on the AFL before the 2019 draft to work with ProKick and set up a college pathway as a punter in the USA’s NFL.
Whilst Fletcher has not yet reached the NFL, his chances are greatly enhanced by gaining a college scholarship. Fletcher announced last week that he was "over the moon to announce I have accepted a full scholarship to study and play football for the University of Cincinnati."
In spite of the hard times going on around them, the Houston Lonestars from Texas have put together their own video clip showing club members staying in touch with the footy and each other as they negotiate COVID-19. Not only does the clip feature some unexpected footage from The Cattery down at Geelong, keep your eyes open for a "Cat Cameo".
Well done Houston Lonestars and thank you on behalf of the entire footy community worldwide.
As the United States of America struggles with the devastation wrought by COVID-19, all facets of community are still looking ahead to life beyond the virus. The USAFL also has its eyes on a future after coronavirus and a new update from the USAFL Executive Board to club presidents addresses their vision and steps required to get there.
The following excerpts from the release paint a hopeful picture, whilst acknowledging that much has to yet happen in the nation with regard to control of the disease, including eradication, and that the situation is still evolving on a daily basis.
“We are still hoping that we will be able to play tournament footy within the coming months. Therefore, our current plan is for the USAFL to support and promote smaller local tournaments, once it is safe and permitted to do so, later in the summer and fall.”
The following exerts from Riley Beveridge’s article on the http://www.afl.com.au website look at a fifth ex-AFL player, former Saint Arryn Siposs, making the transition to the NFL in the United States.
Whilst there is an increasing number of players from Australian Football backgrounds finding success in American Football, such as Nik Constantinou From Australian Rules Footy To American Football, only a handful of athletes can claim to have played both AFL and NFL.
According to Beveridge, “Former St Kilda forward Arryn Siposs is on the verge of becoming the fifth ex-AFL player to realise his NFL dream, signing as an undrafted free agent to the Detroit Lions on Sunday morning.”
Back in the aftermath of Round 1, before the AFL had to suspend the 2020 season, American sports commentator Pat McAfee expressed a love for our game. Sporting codes across his own nation had already been in recess leaving little to watch. AFL games filled the Fox Sports void and McAfee became a convert.
The clip below sees Collingwood's "American Pie" spend time explaining the finer points of our game to McAfee. The result is definitely worth watching, and could lead to even greater awareness of our game across the United States.
The following story from Marc McGowan at the www.afl.com.au website is an excellent look back at Mason Cox’s AFL career and the journey to get to where he is today, starting back in the United States. Cox has already enjoyed an almost unexpectedly impactful career, and is likely to leave a great legacy for future prospective players from America.
Mason Cox's unlikely journey from end-of-the-rotation college basketballer to playing on Australian Football's biggest stages has won him fame he never thought possible.
Remember, this is a guy who'd never heard of the AFL and travelled to Australia to meet five clubs, unsure whether the competition was "like an eastern European basketball league that could fall over after a year".
Few football fans will forget Cox's performance from the 2018 preliminary final, where he became the Richmond slayer with a match-winning four-goal effort.
It was the sort of meeting you read about, hear about or see in those emotionally engaging love story-type movies. It is the story of a brief encounter where love blossomed, then just as quickly is cruelly taken away.
America fell in love with Australian Football. It wasn’t a one-night stand. It was at least a weekend. In fact, the two knew each other with a small amount of fans and teams within leagues across the United States. However, last weekend, that simmering romance took off.
The two – AFL and American audiences – spent the weekend wining, dining, marvelling at each other’s attributes. They made plans to spend the rest of their lives together, going out each weekend – just the two of them (problematic, really) enjoying one weekend and looking forward to the next with quivering anticipation and, possibly, desire.