By Lachlan Buszard
Sport has the ability to breakdown barriers, to unite people from different religions, colour and race and socio economic background. Sport inspires people and people inspire sport.
Over the past 2 weeks I have been lucky enough to be involved with the AFL International Cup carnival that has been played in Melbourne and on Saturday I will again be helping out the Irish teams coach David Stynes (the younger brother of the late Jim) to go back to back on the hallowed turf of the MCG.
Whilst the players are here to win, the AFLIC14 carnival brings together 18 different nations of mens and womens teams all of different standards, all with different stories and all united under the AFL banner. The carnival showcases the international passion for our game like no-other and credit must go to the hard working volunteers and/ or AFL development staff who have had the courage and desire to spread the AFL gospel far and wide.
2014 represents the second carnival that I have been involved with the Irish team for. Pronouncing names is not my strong point, and understanding their questions through thick accents is not that easy either but this is why it’s so enjoyable. 30 players make up the squad with most of the players have been playing in Ireland or out here in Australia for the past couple of years. None of these players have grown up playing AFL and have had to learn the nuisances of the game and the skills. Gaelic footballer, hurling, soccer, basketball and rugby union are the staple sports in Ireland so getting players to play together can be challenging, especially for the overseas Irish lads who play 9 or 12 a side in the local AFL competition. The players are all keen to learn, all keen to play and importantly excited by the opportunity to play on the MCG, which is reflected in their team song which states: we are on a long road……… multiple counties together as one on the long road to the MCG.
There is something special about being involved with a group of highly passionate amateur players who have funded their own trips to Australia despite the struggling Ireland economy and high unemployment, to represent their country in a game they have found and fallen in love with. Their passion for the game is unquestionable and it is refreshing in the current climate of professional sport and world turmoil. In 2011 I learnt that an orange t-shirt that was to be worn at training by the player that best epitomised the teams standards may not have been the best choice of colours politically, but sport always has a way of overcoming barriers and uniting people for a common cause and the joke was then on me.
Over the next couple of days there will be a flutter of activity around Port Melbourne and St Kilda beaches as AFLIC14 players emulate their heroes and spend most mornings in the water trying to aid recovery. Structures, team rules, style of play, injury management and team selection will be discussed at length by team management as four tough games in 2 weeks takes its toll on the body, but for all of the teams, this is just a small price to pay for the chance to share a common passion, meet new people and celebrate the opportunities that sport can provide.
This Saturday will see the Irish squad take on PNG at the MCG in a grand final re-match from 2011. PNG have played in the Grand Final in all 5 international Cups, however which ever country wins is largely irrelevant, as another generation of international AFL fans, players and supporters will head back to their home countries with some great memories, new friends and importantly they will continue to be great advocates for Australia and the game of Australian rules football.
Lachlan Buszard is the former GWS Giants Academy Manager / Head Coach.