The growth of local development continues to amaze those within AFL Asia footy circles and was certainly on display at our recent AFL Asia 2019 Asian Championships at the Thai Polo & Equestrian Club, Pattaya, Thailand. Record numbers of local players were a wonderful feature of our highly successful ‘Asian Champs’ with approximately 150 local players passionately participating for their countries and experiencing opportunities of a lifetime in the process.
The hallmark of the PNG Muruks success and their AFL Asia Infinity Division 1 triumph was their cohort of local PNG players, with 20 players making the journey to Thailand with one eye on the ultimate prize! The PNG Muruks speed, polished disposals, agility, decision making skills and the kindred spirit they played with were certainly key factors behind their success and is a credit to the PNG Muruks hierarchy for getting their players across to play in AFL Asia’s showcase event.
The Japan Warriors became the second all Asian-born to participate at the Asian Champs when they turned plenty of heads with their fitness base, ball movement and game plan during their Division 2 debut. The most recent all Asian-born team to compete at an Asian Champs tournament was the Indonesian Garudas at the 2016 Asian Champs in Saigon, Vietnam.
The Cambodian Eagles and Apsaras have heavily invested into their local development programs for a number of years, which is paying off in spades and was the backbone behind their Asian Champs campaign, which was terrific to see. 24 local Khmer players represented the Kingdom of Cambodia with distinction and is a magnificent example for other clubs to aspire to.
The Laos Elephants sacrificed on-field success as they injected their local development initiatives beyond the call of duty with 80% of their playing list coming from their local talent pool. Courageous local Vilayluck ‘Lucky’ Onphanmany was awarded the Bench Fitness Division 3 Best Player of the Tournament, which was superb achievement for young Lucky and reward for effort for the Laos Elephants as a club.
The growth of local development cannot be understated as 27% of total participants at the Asian Champs were locals and just as impressive is the fact that 11/30 All Asian Team were local-born players, which is an outstanding result and speaks volumes of those clubs who have invested in their local development programs and initiatives.
The introduction of the All-Asian born AFLW Team this year was another massive highlight and we’re very thankful to the Vietnam Lady Swans Chia Sabbatucci (Coach) and Naomi Reidy (Captain) for creating the initiative, whereby 9 locally-born Asian girls received medals for their efforts from throughout the tournament. Naomi’s father Berni, who owns a trophy business in Ireland, kindly prepared and donated the medals, which is a wonderful gesture of goodwill.
We must also mention that the Asian Champs featured an All Asian Game and an Auskick Game that were played prior to the AFL Asia Infinity Division 1 Grand Final, which was a terrific initiative by the Thailand Tigers as the host club. We’re very appreciative of Phil Stevens, who is a passionate advocate for local development and Auskick within Bangkok for organising these particular games. The All Asian Game was also umpired by local Cambodian Apsara Player Sophoan Peou and Hong Kong born Toby Lee, further highlighting AFL Asia’s investment in local development initiatives.