Club versus Country and Career

By Brett Northey,

One of the side issues that was always going to emerge at the 2011 AFL International Cup (underway in Sydney with a record 18 men’s sides and for the first time 5 women’s teams) was the pull of club versus country.  And in many instances this is also career versus country.

As the standard of international footy continues to improve we’re seeing more and more players head to Australia to hone their skills.  This is great thing on many levels.  It improves the standard of world footy overall, it exposes Australia to the game’s growth which will help Australians and their footy leagues/clubs be more supportive, and it also provides careers for budding international talent.

In fact it is reaching the point that to push into the upper echelons of International Cup success teams really need to have quite a few players in Australia getting the benefit of weekly footy at a very high standard.  But the drawback to all this is that when it comes to representing their country, will players skip games for their Aussie sides?

At first thought it seems a no-brainer.  Surely country comes before club?

But dig a little deeper and it isn’t that simple.  IC11 is being played across Sydney and Melbourne just as club footy heads towards finals.  Australian football is all about commitment to the club and your team mates.  Leaving now to play for your country could make the difference whether your team mates, who have slogged out a pre-season and around 20 minor round games together, could miss the ultimate glory of a premiership.  And if a player was always going to leave, would a coach really want becoming a key member, only to be away for finals?  For some coaches the answer would clearly be no, whereas other may take a wider view.

It goes further still.  There is good money to be made in Australian football even below AFL level.  For a young man from a developed nation this money is important income.  For a young man from a developing nation this money may be a chance to set themselves and their family up for a long time.

At the current International Cup we’re seeing a mixed approach.  Fiji lost to Japan by two points in their seeding match, and it cost them a spot in Division One.  Young Fijian gun Dylan Wolfgramm is tearing it up in the strong Essendon District Football League in Victoria, often best on ground for Avondale Heights.  If he had played that day it’s hard to imagine Fiji losing.  He should be available for later rounds and will give the Fijian Tribe a good shot at the Division Two title.

PNG stars like Don Barry are playing in Queensland, in his case for the Brisbane Lions Reserves, striving to make it on to Brisbane’s senior list.  Several of the Mosquitoes fall into this category and could have strengthened PNG dramatically.  At this stage all that would do is make their dominance even more profound, but come the finals they would appreciate all hands on deck, and it’s not clear that they will get it.  Certainly PNG’s management have made it clear they totally understand that career must come first.  Even if a club is happy to release a player, who is to say that the game they miss might not have been one in which they starred and convinced an AFL club that they deserve a contract?

The Papua New Guinea side has also suffered from the loss of several star players who returned home to mourn the loss of Peter Meli.  Their Team Manager was stabbed and killed just days before the Cup started, and he was a former player and father of Essendon scholarship listed player David Meli.  The tragedy rocked the team and of course management has left it to the individuals to decide whether they return later in the tournament.

It’s not just PNG and Fiji with players in Australia.  South Africa’s Bayanda Sobetwa has also been playing for Avondale Heights, and Khaya Sikiti and Tshoboko Moagi have been tremendous for South Launceston down in Tasmania.  Seemingly half the Irish side already play in Australia, many having moved here given the torrid time Ireland’s economy has suffered since the GFC.

Many of the players named across the various squads are not turning out for each game, simply listed just in case the schedule and their club allow them to slip away to national duty.  For those lamenting the massive scoreboard gap between the top few nations and the rest, consider that some of the elite players for those powerhouses are not actually playing!

Altogether Australian football has been enriched not just overseas but in the sport’s home as well.  But the way forward for club and career versus country remains unclear.  And at a more frivolous level in the meantime it makes picking the strength of each nation quite tricky until you see who is actually playing on the day.

The fourth International Cup continues in Sydney before heading to Melbourne’s Royal Park for the finals on Wednesday 24th and Friday 26th August, with the Men’s Division One grand final at the MCG on Saturday 27th as an AFL curtain-raiser.

About Brett Northey

Chief Editor and co-founder of World Footy News, Adelaide born and bred, I support the Adelaide Crows in the AFL, Sturt in the SANFL and Adelaide Uni in the South Australian amateurs (the club I played for). I love footy and I love travel. For Australian Rules football to survive in this global economy I think it must continue to grow - which is in part why I co-founded site to help make a positive contribution to that goal - spreading the news, encouraging all the volunteers and hopefully helping to cross-pollinate ideas and inspiration. My travels outside of Australia have taken me to New Zealand, Singapore, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, The Netherlands, Tonga, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, China and Mongolia. Besides my amateur football career with Adelaide Uni I toured South Africa with "the Convicts" in 2005, have been in regular contact with most international leagues and the AFL for several years through WFN and was a keen observer/reporter/fan at the 2005 and 2008 International Cups in Victoria.


  1. Thanks, Brett – an interesting piece, and something I wasn’t aware of. You would like to think the playing for your Country takes precedence, but I can understand the individual players having both a sense of loyalty to their club side and discipline to their personal aspiration.

    I think the Internaiton Cup is a great initiative, and the AFL is to be applauded for giving it a growing focus. But maybe it would be better to play it in April or May, so it clashes with (say) rounds 3-5 of club footy, rather than the crucial build-up to finals.

  2. I’d like to see it earlier in the season as well. One objection to that is that for some countries their season doesn’t start until about then, so they wouldn’t be well prepared. Personally I think that angle should be pushed harder though. The weather is probably nicer then as well.

  3. Steve Alomes says

    The fourth International Cup,when over 34,000 players play Australian Football around the world, and, as with the IC, which bars expatriates, few are expatriates,is now a big thing.

    The International Cup has gone from a low-key event in 2002, mainly played at Oakleigh, to a big event, a serious event, with over 20 sides taking place, and a women’s division featuring the skilful Irish side.

    The quality of play in A Division has improved dramatically, and having watched even the moderately sucessful Nauruans with their brand of play-on football, it was great footy by any standard.

    The AFL has also made a serious commitment to running a brilliant tournament, with all the atmosphere which we once associated with ANFC footbal carnivals.

    It is a carnival, a festival, a tournament. It rocks. And there is little flooding.

    Except, there is one fly in the ointment. The conventional mainstream media – paricularly the print media – is not interested. Mick Malthouse’s toenail or another Magpie flying to Arizona would be far more interesting.

    TV came on board when Ted Baillieu came to toss the coin on Wednesday 26 August and radio has shown moderate interest. But the press continues to win awards for myopia.

    Footy Almanac people who want to follow the story – and the stories behind the scenes – can go to the two main sites for coverage, and the IC11 site on

    I must declare an interest as a writer for WFN and even more that my revelations of the ‘behind the scenes’ at IC11 (from French moustaches and body surfing to international umpires) will appear on WFN next week.

    Steve Alomes

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