The Vietnam Swans’ ambition to be considered amongst the AFL Asia elite took a big step forward last Saturday 30th May in Manila, winning their first ever Manila International Cup in a clean sweep and moving to the top of the AFL Asia ladder.
The Swannies impressive midfield of Tom Doer (Player of the Tournament), Mitch Hyde and Swannie legend/Jakarta Bintang Dave O’Shea making his return to Swans colours, were unstoppable all day, providing great supply to the big target of key forward and Swans President Grant Keys.
“We’ve been working on improving the Club’s on-field stocks for years now” Swans Captain Billy Crang told afl-asia.com. “We’ve got a great movement in the club at the moment. For a now old timer at the club it’s great to see guys like Timmy P coming into the VC and bringing up the professionalism, Keysy in the North getting that ball rolling again which made all the difference in Manila, the committee preparing so many different aspects of the club all the time, coach Andy working with so many people so successfully and getting our game day organisation to the stage where we can go all day as happened in Manilla. I truly believe we can carry this forward and make the Manilla Cup, which was once a ceiling to our clubs level, a floor which we push to higher heights from.”
The Swans started the day in great form, with a comprehensive 24-point defeat of 5-time Manila Cup Champions the Hong Kong Dragons, followed up by a 69 point defeat of ‘The Barbarians”, Philippine Eagles second team. However, in the finals the Swans didn’t have it all their own way, with epic come-from-behind wins in both their Semi and Grand Finals to steal the Club’s first ever tournament outside of the IndoChina Cup.
In their Semi-final the Swans drew the form team of AFL Asia the Malaysian Warriors. Boasting quality players across each line including James Worland in the middle, the Warriors were the team under the spotlight coming into the tournament following an undefeated start to the year. Despite some impressive patches of play, the Warriors just weren’t able to replicate their full-sized game form into tournament play and will be disappointed to come away from Manila with narrow losses to the Eagles in the earlier round games and the Swans but content that they can match it with any team if they get it right on the day.
Going into half time of the semi up a goal, the Warriors started to find space putting the Swans backs under the pump even further. The Swans big 3 defensive line of Canadian Vaughn Swart, Tim Pickert and Dan Morrison stood firm, quashing multiple Malaysian attacks and keeping the Swans hopes alive.
With less than 3 minutes on the clock the Swans were still 8 points down, had the momentum and all the possession but just couldn’t find the answer with a couple of narrow misses before unlikely hero Bart Schneenan kicked two goals in two minutes, his first two goals for the Club, to see the Swans into their first ever Grand Final.
In the other semi-final it was a physical affair in the 2014 Grand Final replay between the Bowski-less Dragons and Eagles. While the Dragons took home the choccies in 2014, it would be the Eagles that would win the bragging rights between these two rivals this year with a spectacular 1-point win. With their only win coming against the Philippines second team The Barbarians (only games between AFL Asia first teams count for premiership points) the Dragon hounds now find themselves on the bottom end of the AFL Asia ladder with a 0-2 record and plenty of work to do in the business half of the AFL Asia season.
Going into the Grand Final it was uncharted territory for the Swans but never before had the Club had such a great opportunity to take home some major silverware. With the home crowd behind them and a desire to overturn their 2014 Manila Cup GF defeat, the Eagles started the better and more confident of the two teams going into the half 4 goals to 1 up, with the Swans mids just not finding the space they had been used to all day.
With emotions being tested, in his half time speech Swans Coach Andy Glendinning urged his players to relax and play the footy they had been playing all day. It was just the tonic the boys needed and before long the Swan mids had several more possessions racked up, backman Timmy Pickert gobbled up mark after mark that came his way, big Keysy had another couple of goals to his name and the Swans were right back in it.
The Eagles to their credit would never surrender and just when the Swans looked like they would run away with the game they responded to make it neck and neck right up until the final siren. If not for an inspirational Vaughan Swart smother that will be sure to be recalled for many years back at Saigon’s Spotted Cow, it may have been a Philippines victory. The final siren sounding with the footy deep in the Eagles forward line much to the relief of the Swans, giving them their first Manila Cup.
Emotional scenes would follow at the Manila Polo Club, with many years of effort and toil at tournaments by the Swans finally being rewarded. “The Boy from Bunbury” Jimmy Bairstow’s inspirational efforts to push through several injuries being rewarded with the Player of the Final and Tom Doer’s consistent play throughout the day, including several memorable on the run goals at crucial points in the game giving him the Player of the Tournament.
While not as many teams as in previous years, no doubt effected by the Philippines hosting of the AFL Asian Champs in October, it was a great day for Asian footy with many observers commenting on the high level of play throughout the day. A Friday night sportsman night was also enjoyed by many, with AFL legends Simon Beasley, Dale Weightman, Percy Jones and John Lord telling a few yarns and then getting involved in Saturday’s matches with a couple of the legends taking up the boundary whistle.