Bush Boys Beaten By Heat In Dubai by Rocket 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 (based in the UAE) against the Muscat Magpies from neighbouring Oman. Dubai is an emerging 21st century megapolis 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 that are overwhelmingly tradesmen and engineers working on developing the Sultanate’s oil and gas industry.

The Grand Final represents 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 United Arab Emirates. The season has consisted of one complete round of home-and-away matches and the Grand Final. Teams consist of nine players with up to four reserves and are played on either soccer or rugby pitches.

After emerging from the air-conditioned changing rooms to 36 degree stifling 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 is the Sevens – a purpose built complex to host the world rugby sevens earlier this year – half-an-hour’s drive out of Dubai in the desert. Played on the outer field it provided spectators with the chance to park their cars around the ground or to 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 colours, but for obvious reasons can’t be called the “Saints”.

In an audacious move the Muscat Magpies have flown in two boys from Koroit, Simon O’Keefe and Ben Goodall for the week leading up to the grand final ostensibly for a “training course”. Despite not qualifying for the Grand Final the Heat graciously granted permission for the two to play in the decider.

A couple of ironies here. Muscat wears the same strip as Koroit, and Koroit 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 of the match with former Collingwood and Swans player Andrew Schauble and former Old Ivanhoe amateur star James Hope prominent up forward. Another former Collingwood listed player Cameron Hotton 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 Hopes missed some easy shots at goal.

It was a two-man show in the third quarter. O’Keefe and Goodall – combined exquisitely and repeatedly, it was almost Krakouersque to propel the Magpies back into the game. A length of the ground manoeuvre engineered by the Koriot boys operating in tandem registered a late goal that put Muscat just six points in arrears at three quarter time. The non-partisan crowd had got behind the Magpies mesmerised by the outstanding play of O’Keefe and Goodall and tantalised by the prospect of an upset.

But the fairytale ending was not to be and after getting within one point soon after the commencement of the final quarter the Dubai Heat steadied with their experienced old hands like Schauble and Andrew Bereza leading the way they secured the inaugural Middle East AFL VB Premiership Cup. The final scores were Dubai Heat 11.11.77 d Muscat 10.8.68. It was a brave effort by the Boys from the Bush but they were out-gunned in the end by the City Slickers.

The Kelvin Templeton Medal awarded to the Best Player went to Simon O’Keefe. 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 Crows supporter (aren’t they all?), was on hand to present the cup to the victors.

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