Finals Fever in Port Moresby

The triumphant welcome back to the all-conquering International Cup PNG Mosquito’s was held on finals eve at a swanky new establishment in Waigani. The temptation of free white and green cans of SP lager was always going to be a temptation toO hard to resist for both players and officials celebrating PNG’s latest international sporting success. The following day the greatest AFL playing nation in the world outside of Australia was set to commence the 2014 Moresby final series.

The code has steadily grown over the last few years with the formation of a number of new clubs. Initially, with the Bomana Cats, Gordon Kokofas and Gerehu Magpies who were joined in 2013 by the Central Bombers, Taurama Suns and Gulf Giants. These new clubs joined the handful of clubs with sufficiently stable administration to avoid the treadmill of clubs folding and remorphing in another form before inevitably folding again: the University Tigers, Koboni, Defence Hawks and Koki Dockers.

The genesis of this continued expansion in 2013, which occurred under the AFL PNG General Manager at the time, Murray Bird, was a Community Development ethos. With the objective of fostering community links and establishing club identities – particularly in the burgeoning outer suburbs – where senior players and parents supported by AFLPNG staff would involved themselves in developing and growing the game by working with schools and community leaders to provide opportunities for children to play underage football. Thus providing each club with a feeder network and the ongoing flow of players so essential for the well being and vitality of not only the clubs but also the stable and structured growth of the code.

In 2014 the new clubs continued to perform well with the skills gap between them and the firmly established clubs continuing to narrow. With Taurama Suns and Gordon Kokofas being highly competitive in the Senior competition and the only club based outside Moresby, the Central Bombers of Geraka village, embarking on their first finals campaign, in the reserves.

The day after the night before commenced with the Bomana Cats arriving without their jumpers and a subsequent one-hour delay to match proceedings resulted. Although the more astute judges felt this was a cunning ploy by the AFLPNG Senior Competition Manager, Rex Leka, to buy time for the excesses of the previous nights celebration to dissipate a little further. The participants in the first week of the finals were the Taurama Suns, Gordon Kokofas, Koboni and Defence Hawks. With the spirited young Hawks team bowing out after a meritorious performance and the Suns earning the right to take on the flag favourite, Koki Dockers, the following week for the right to play in the Grand Final.

In 2014 the Koboni Demons are celebrating their 50th anniversary as a foundation club of the Moresby AFL competition. This proud club of Central Province origins missed a few seasons over the years but has flown the flag proudly for the vast majority of those years and produced many of the local legends of the game.

The club originally chose the Koboni name (Demon in local language) after a visit to a Melbourne match at the MCG by local AFL enthusiasts at the time. Apparently there was a talk of a sister club arrangement and ongoing support from the Melbourne Demons. I do not believe this support ever eventuated but Melbourne please take note; Koboni have been wearing the famous strip proudly ever since and patiently await for the promised cargo to drop out of the sky.

To celebrate their 50th anniversary Koboni undertook an audacious recruiting campaign to win the premiership and the pressure was mounting on legendary player and now firebrand coach, Douglas Lai, to deliver the goods in the 1st semi final the following week. While the surging Taurama Suns keen to make up for a disappointing 2012 final series were pumped to take on the imperious Dockers in the qualifying final.

Douglas Lai at least knew his boys were clear headed when they ran out on the field a week later to take on the Kokofas in the knock out semi final. Alas it was not to be. Despite exalting his troops to die for the hallowed Demon jumper, Douglas was undermined by a recruiting strategy placing too much emphasis on reputations (aging) rather than young fit bodies and the Demons went out in straight sets. The Suns stitched up the Dockers and perhaps a new era dawned on the horizon.

Gordon Kokofas (Lizards) have been knocking on the door since their formation only a few seasons previous. The preliminary final presented the ideal opportunity to defeat their arch nemesis the Koki Dockers, who comfortably defeated them in the previous two grand finals. The Lizards had defied the pundits who predicted a downhill spiral after their expatriate duo of coach Glenn Davies and nuggety, defensive hard man Gary Johnson (known locally as Bobby “The Brain’ Heenan) retired during the off season.

In the seconds the Central Bombers continued to defy the pundits and a win over the Defence Hawks would take them and their traveling army of supporters to the first Grand Final in the clubs history. In the Women’s prelim the University Tigers took on the Koki Dockers for the right to defend their title against arch rivals the Taurama Suns.

Preliminary final Sunday had all the hallmarks of a perfect day for footy in Melbourne. Overcast grey skies, consistent drizzle and a cool breeze providing the players with conditions seldom experienced during a Moresby dry season.

The lead up games were tight, low scoring affairs as the Lady Tigers squeezed the life out of the Koki Dockers. The Central Bombers continued a fairy tale final series with their never say die approach edging out the Hawks by a goal in a low scoring battle of attrition. The Gereka community was out in force and once again the end of season celebration back in the village was deferred a week as the Bomber premiership dream lived on. Bookings on the village transport vehicles will be tight for the 40-minute trip up the Magi Highway on Grand Final day.

Behind the exhortations of their passionate supporters the Kokofas battled gamely but once again came up short when it most counted in the final term against the Dockers. However the club has narrowed the gap between them and the elite and with a group of promising youngsters and committed support the future looks bright.

On Grand Final Day rumors that Meatloaf would be entertaining the grand final throng ultimately proved unfounded. However the mistaken notion of free kai kai (food) swelled crowd numbers considerably.

The unseasonal cool weather persisted and continuous overnight and early morning rain provided an uncharacteristic green tinge to the oval and ground conditions best described as slightly more forgiving than normal.

The day kicked off with a replay of the Women’s 2013 Grand Final between the Taurama Suns and the University Tigers. This day, one year ago, an over confident Suns in front of AFL Commissioner Sam Moyston, lost their undefeated record in an upset of monumental proportions. They had waited one long whole year for revenge. However, the Lady Tigers living up to their reputations as big game specialists controlled proceedings from the opening bell to record a 5.8 to 3.0 victory and retain the crown as the undisputed women’s champs of Port Moresby.

Amongst a sea of Central Province flags and a spectacular banner featuring the famed Central Lakatoi, the Bombers energized the big crowd ringing the oval as they emerged from the heaving throng to contest the Reserves Grand Final against the Bomana Cats. The roar of motorbikes momentarily indicated the rumor of the pending arrival of that proven finals performer Meatloaf was, in fact, a reality. Fortunately, it was four young boys on mini bikes with Bomber flags accompanying the team on a warm up lap of the oval. The AFL hierarchy would be well advised to consult with the ladies committee at Gereka village on how to present relevant, culturally appropriate and entertaining Grand Final pre game entertainment.

The boys from Bomana, no doubt a little intimidated by this infectious and thunderous display of loyalty were slow out of the blocks and spent the afternoon playing catch up football. The Bombers, assisted by inaccurate kicking from the Cats, and spurred on by their enthusiastic supporters maintained their renowned never say die attitude and held on for a momentous victory and first pennant by the score of 4.4.28 to 2.10.22.

With an ever-threatening sky the main game kicked off with the Taurama Suns intent on knocking over the competition heavyweights and reigning champs, the Koki Dockers, to claim their first flag. With both teams fielding many players of West New Britain origins local pride and bragging rights were also on the line.

The Suns commenced nervously and were two goals down at ¼ time having squandered first use of the scoring end. Digging deep they slowly worked their way back into the game and at ¾ time held a slender one goal lead. The game was finely balanced.

At this point the heavens opened and the wet season officially arrived in Moresby. The Suns grabbed an early goal and then endured a Docker fightback of epic proportions. Six consecutive behinds and a frantic last minute clearance off the goal line saw the Suns hold on for a famous 9.5.59 to 7.11.53 victory.

It was a great day for AFL footy in Port Moresby and capped off a fine year for the code in Papua New Guinea.

Is the AFL listening?

Comments

  1. Great update on footy in Moresby! Thanks

  2. Thanks for the update Raitman.

    The AFL gets excited about the Tiwi Islands and other community footy, as it should. Port Moresby Grand Final Day is also fantastic, and nothing like anything we experience here.

    A Suns v Dockers Grand final … now that would be something in Australia in September.

    Loved the commentary on relevant and culturally appropriate pre-match entertainment.

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