AFL International Cup: South Africa v Fiji

Kardinia Park – I’ve watched a few games of footy there over the years, even seen a 20/20 match before the Big Bash became popular. What about that time Run Geelong ended on the hallowed turf? I vaguely remember watching some of a district cricket match out on oval 2 and I’m sure the children have done their swimming sports at the pool south of the main oval. None of those places are my destination tonight. St Mary’s Football club oval, virtually right on Latrobe Terrace and in the shadows of the Cattery is the venue for a third round match in the AFL International Cup: South Africa v Fiji. I’m quite intrigued, wondering what the standard will be like.


I’ve arrived at half time but don’t seem to have missed too much as the scoreline reads 0.2.2 to 3.3.21. Perhaps the match has been halted for a while as a stretcher is on the ground and a player is being carried off; he doesn’t look too good and an ambulance later arrives. Hopefully he is OK.


My first observation of the South African players is that they are mostly quite small. The majority of them must have spent more time waiting for trains than weight training. On the other hand the Fijians look like a group of ex-rugby players. There’s a fair crowd here, the majority of them in St Mary’s hoodies and caps.


The third quarter starts off at a frenetic pace and easily predictable based on their lithe physiques, the South Africans are lightning fast. Both teams seem to have their structures set up well, looks like an ex-pat Aussie might be the coach of the South African Lions. Marking of both teams is a fair standard, kicking not so. I’m tipping that St Mary’s – recent perennial finalist in the Geelong Football League would probably win a contest against either team quite easily. That’s not too relevant tonight; it’s more about the development of our great game and based on the passion and enthusiasm of coaches, players and supporters develop it will, over time.


Whiteboards, attempted speccies, a few “oh come on ump” – the familiar, counterbalanced with the new. I have never heard an impromptu version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight at an AFL game before.


The Lions appear to have their game together as the second half progresses and a couple of third quarter goals sets the contest up for a tight final stanza. The majority of the final term is spent in the Lions’ half and with only a few minutes of the 17:30, no time on last quarter they hit the front. Coaching and support staff are jumping, screaming, yelling. “Lock it in” as they go forward again, but they don’t and the ball finds its way to the wing and a throw in, then to the Fijian half forward line and another throw in. As they count down the last 10 seconds they know they have the win and then the celebrations really begin. I join the throng out on the ground to watch the singing of the song.


Undoubtedly this is the highlight of the night for me – these guys have a delightful joyous enthusiasm and they can sing. They sing, they dance, they hug. The celebration feels like it was more than a pool game early on the competition to them. (Looking at the ladder it doesn’t look like either team will progress to later rounds).


As I wander off to the car a couple of hundred metres away I can still hear the singing wafting out from the St Mary’s clubrooms. I ponder the possibilities. In a couple of decades could there be an AFL International Cup final played as a curtain raiser to the AFL Grand Final?

About Noel McPhee

Noel's background is in statistics including 13 years at the ABS. More recent employment has been at Deakin University and Services Australia. He has worked on every State and Commonwealth election this millennium plus a few Local Government Elections. His weekly article, 'The Stats Bench' appears in the EFL's football record - The Eastern Footballer. Noel's legacy as a sportsman is that he tried hard; two cricket fielding trophies, a tennis premiership and boundary umpiring about 80 EFL senior games.


  1. Noel
    good question at the end, I’m not sure of the answer but it would be wonderful to see something like that.

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