A World View

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

By Peter Schwab
AFL Director of Coaching

At the recent 2011 NAB AFL Under 16 Championships at Blacktown in Sydney both the South Pacific and World XVIII teams secured their first ever victories against traditional states Tasmania and Northern Territory respectively.

For me, it was the clearest indication of the future of our game in my experience - the first time I have truly believed that we can consistently develop international talent for the highest level, even if it is still some time before we can entrench the game in countries other than our own.

In the midst of all this excitement I received the news of my former coach and legendary AFL figure Allan Jeans' passing. Everyone knows where they were when someone famous or someone they loved dies.

Many thoughts sprung to mind when I thought of Allan upon hearing the sad news. For starters,  when I called him "Allan" as a young player and he said, "Son, you can call me Yab."

I wondered what he would make of the South Pacific and World teams if he saw them in action, and what he would make of the AFL's push into the international market.

It was one of the very few things we didn't discuss about the modern game.

There are two things that immediately spring to mind.

Yab was always asking me, when the question of AFL expansion was raised: "I understand why they are doing it, but where's all the talent going to come from?"

And the second is his response to a question once asked of him about whether champion Hawthorn rover John Platten should get his hair cut.

In his usual dry wit he replied, "If it will make him play any better."

If I could speak to him again there's a lot I'd like to tell him, but in response to the talent question I'd tell him, "I've seen some part of the solution."

That's what happened this week in Sydney

The South Pacific boys, who hailed from Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Samoa, New Zealand and Tonga, have shown just how fertile this region, which sits on our doorstep, can be for the AFL.

As athletes and footballers they are powerful, creative, competitive, skilful, athletic and exciting.

Just think about Nic Naitanui and then think how much more exciting the AFL would be with another 10 of him running around. With the right support it will happen.

And then there's the World team, who were so excited when they won that it was infectious.

It had me racing for the changing rooms just to hear what the victory song would be.

I had considered the Band Aid anthem, We are the World, or the pumping rock of Status Quo's, Rocking All Over the World. It was neither, but whatever they were singing it was heartfelt and passionate.

Who says sport can't make a difference in cultural harmony?

The World team has many players from multicultural backgrounds, many of whom have resided in Australia for a few years and have embraced the game with gusto and skill, and others who had their passion for Australian football ignited in their home countries.

It doesn't matter how they discover the game, just as long as they do.

The World team is obviously different to the South Pacific, but no less exciting, powerful, competitive, quick and skilful.

Players came from Uganda, Canada, East Timor, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, South Africa, Sudan, Syria, New Zealand, the US, Scotland and Ireland.

Another part of the talent search solution is in Yab's subtle response to the question about Platten's hair.

And that is, it doesn't matter what you look like or where you come from. It's whether you can play the game.


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