Middle East Correspondent: Koroit pair almost steal premiership cup from Dubai Heat’s grasp

By Rod Gillett

It was more than a truly international clash on football’s latest frontier; it was a classic Bush Boys versus City Slickers encounter. The inaugural Middle East AFL grand final pitted the unbeaten Dubai Heat, who are based in the United Arab Emirates, against the Muscat Magpies from neighbouring Oman. Dubai is an emerging megalopolis while Muscat is an ancient Arab port made up of a string of towns hugging the cliffs on the Arabian Gulf Sea.

By any measure the Heat are the classy city slickers: nearly all their players have a grammar school education and they mostly work in the finance and property sectors. The Muscat Australian and Gaelic Football Club (Clann nah Oman) is composed of Australian and Irish players who are overwhelmingly tradesmen and engineers working on developing the Sultanate’s oil and gas industry.

The grand final represented a culmination of a very successful initial season for the Middle East AFL. The season began with six teams from three countries: Oman, Qatar and the UAE. The season consisted of one complete round of home-and-away matches and the grand final. Teams consist of nine players with up to four reserves. Games are played on either soccer or rugby pitches.

After emerging from the air-conditioned change-rooms to 36-degree desert heat, the teams lined up for the Australian national anthem followed by a rendition of Up There Cazaly over the crackly PA system. The setting was a venue known as The Sevens – a complex that was built to host the world rugby sevens earlier this year. It’s half-an-hour’s drive out of Dubai in the desert. As the match was played on the outer field, spectators had the chance to park their cars around the ground or stand and watch from the balconies of the Players Club.

The Heat wear a unique blue and gold guernsey with red trim with the numbers emblazoned in Arabic; fortunately, they also have the numbers in English albeit in a smaller font underneath. The Muscat Magpies wear the same strip as St Kilda, but for obvious reasons can’t be called the Saints.

In an audacious move the Muscat Magpies flew in two boys from Koroit in Victoria’s Western District, Simon O’Keefe and Ben Goodall, for the week leading up to the grand final, ostensibly for a “training course”. The Heat graciously granted permission for the two to play in the decider despite the fact that hadn’t qualified.

A couple of ironies here. Muscat wear the same strip as Koroit. And the Koroit area is famous for its potato growing and strong Irish connections.

The Heat were quick out of the blocks and stunned their opponents by booting the first three goals with former Collingwood and Swans player Andrew Schauble and former Old Ivanhoe captain James Hope prominent up forward. Another former Collingwood-listed player, Cameron Hotton, brother of Trent, was running amok across half-back. The Magpies were lacking cohesion but big forward Steve Redden was able to post a late goal for his team.

It looked how far the Heat at quarter-time as they had the advantage of a stiff breeze in the second stanza. And while they had most of the play in this quarter they weren’t able to put the Magpies away. The Koroit duo won a lot of the ball and slowed the game down. The Heat’s big guns, Schauble and Hope, missed some easy shots at goal.

It was a two man show in the third quarter; O’Keefe and Goodall combined exquisitely and repeatedly, in almost Krakoueresque fashion, to propel the Magpies back into the game. A length-of-the-ground manoeuvre engineered by the Koroit boys operating in tandem registered a late goal that put Muscat just six points in arrears at three-quarter time. The non-partisan crowd were behind the Magpies, partly because they were mesmerised by O’Keefe and Goodall, but also because they were tantalised by the prospect of an upset.

But the fairytale ending was not to be. After the Magpies had drawn within one point soon after the commencement of the final quarter, the Dubai Heat steadied, with experienced hands like Schauble and Andrew Bereza leading the way for the Heat to secure the inaugural Middle East AFL VB premiership cup. The final scores were Dubai Heat 11.11 (77) to Muscat Magpies 10.8 (68). It was a brave effort by the Boys from the Bush but they were out-gunned by the City Slickers.

The Kelvin Templeton Medal for the best player on the ground went to Simon O’Keefe. Templeton, the 1980 Brownlow medallist, was on hand to present the medal named in his honour. Templeton is now based in Abu Dhabi where he runs a business consultancy firm. The Australian Ambassador to the UAE, Jeremy Bruer, a fanatical Adelaide supporter, was on hand to present the cup to the victors.

Comments

  1. nie writeup Ord. Wish it was on when i wsa in Abu Dhabi a few years ago.

    Not much interest in Amman at the moment for a team but will keep trying. want to enter next year!!!

  2. K Campbell says:

    Just a question Rod — We have noticed several moves to increase the profile of cricket over there in the UAE and new cricket grounds are planned in the region
    Ex WA cricket great – Rod Marsh is running the new ICC academy.
    Will there be any moves to get the AFL ME on to some of those grounds “eventually” – Hiring costs and getting groundstaff to agree might be a bit of an intial hurdle to say the least.
    As you will know AFL South Africa has gained access to the cricket grounds in that country in four provinces which is a breakthrough internationally for our great game.

    Cheers,

  3. Rod Gillett says:

    The new Dubai cricket ground is state-of-the-art and is fully enclosed by grandstands with a capacity of about 25,000. It’s been described by Rod Marsh as one of the best cricket grounds he has ever seen. Rod and Dayle Hadlee are working hard at the school and junior level to get more kids playing – especially the Emiratis.
    The Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi holds about 15,000 and is used extensively for cricket – they mostly play at night, sometimes until 2 pm in the morning. My son attends the Zayed Cricket Academy and they also get to play on the big ground. Haven’t seen the Shajah ground but given it is used for international cricket it’d be pretty good.

    However, the footy is in its infancy in the Middle East and is best described as “park footy” so the school soccer and rugby pitches are ideal at present.

    However, the big cricket grounds such as the Dubai and Abu Dhabi ones would be ideal venues for AFL pre-season matches, rather then the Ghantoot Polo Club field half-way between the two cities.

  4. The biggest issue is convincing the local cricket ‘mafia’ that the ground won’t be damaged by footy boots. Agree wholeheartedly with Rod regards the grounds being much better for the pre-season games than the Ghantoot field. Although would have a mild dig at the “park footy” tag. The Dubai Heat are the current Asian Cup Champions, so maybe upgrade to ‘suburban’ eh Rocket? :)

  5. Salam alakoum Gus,

    The Dubai Heat are justifiably proud of their Asian Cup championship title that demonstrates the strength of the game in the Middle East, but more particularly of the Heat who are a very professional outfit that have set the benchmark for the other clubs in the competition.

    I went to see a North Coast AFL match between Nambucca Valley and South Coffs last Saturday – I reckon the Middle East standard is better – but comparisons of this type are notoriously difficult to make due to a range of variables such as climate, size of grounds, state of ground,etc

    I reckon Middle East footy is neither suburban nor country,
    rather it is developing its own distinctive type and flavour.

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