IT’S almost impossible to escape the reach of our native game when you’re born in one of Australia’s football strongholds.
But meeting the players lining up in the 2014 AFL International Cup you quickly realise that you don’t need to have grown up in Ballarat, Glenelg or Subiaco to be engrossed by football.
Twenty five teams, 18 men’s and seven women’s, from 18 different countries have converged on Melbourne this week for the fifth edition of the International Cup.
With developing skills and unbridled enthusiasm, the teams have gathered for a football tournament like no other.
Players sacrifice plenty to represent their country in a sport most of their friends back home know little about.
For the men’s and women’s teams from Canada and United States, most players sacrifice all of their two-week allotment of annual leave to venture down under.
For the European teams such as Sweden, Great Britain, Ireland and Finland, players face the financial burden of crossing the world, while for countries such Nauru, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga, the challenges of travelling to Australia are immense.
Ben Drew, AFL Development Officer for the Pacific region, said just being here was an amazing achievement for these nations.
“Players from the Pacific Countries will have been raising money to come to Australia for more than 12 months and in most cases their entire villages, settlements or communities will have contributed significantly to the fund raising effort,” Drew said.
“To give up work for two weeks and leave their families behind shows the enormous passion they have for football.”
“For almost all of those involved from the Pacific countries this will be the first time they have travelled outside of their own country.”
- Men’s teams: Canada, China, Fiji, Finland, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Great Britain, India, Japan, Nauru, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Sweden, Tonga, USA
- Women’s teams: Canada – Northern Lights, Canada – Midnight Suns, Ireland, Fiji, Tonga, USA – Freedom, USA – Liberty.
The AFL International Cup kicks off this Sunday at Royal Park in Parkville, which will host the majority of matches.
In all, 62 games will be played over 13 action packed days.
After four preliminary rounds, two grand finalists in both the men’s and women’s divisions will go head to head for International Cup glory.
The women’s grand final will be played at Punt Road Oval and the men’s grand final will be the curtain-raiser to the Round 22 AFL match between Hawthorn and Geelong at the MCG.
For the first time a community round will be also be played as curtain-raisers to suburban, amateur and country matches on the middle Saturday of the tournament on August 16.
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