International Cup: Des Plus Brillants Exploits

Last year, I went to the footy in Canada. This year, thanks to the triennial International Cup, Canadian footy came to us. I was able to take in a couple of the Northwind’s (Men’s team) games at Royal Park.

Despite having possibly the strongest domestic competition outside Australia in the 10-club Ontario AFL, as well as smaller leagues in BC, Alberta and apparently singleton clubs in Quebec and Nova Scotia, the Northwind has found themselves a level below the likes of PNG, Ireland, and New Zealand at the International Cup. They have an annual(-ish) tournament with the US national team, the 49th Parallel Cup, and have been beaten by the USA in the last two of those. Nevertheless, by all accounts they felt like they had put together a strong squad for this year’s IC, with East and West Coast teams well represented in the squad.

Their opening day game against China, on the cold late afternoon at Royal Park, would have kept their optimism intact. China came into the tournament unknown and unranked, and so could have been anything, but the Canadians would have been expecting a win. As it turned out there were no surprises, and the Northwind were too big, too skilful and too well-coached for the Chinese. The 3rd quarter was the most entertaining, as Canada’s tall timber asserted themselves with some big grabs in the forward line. Final score 19.5 (119) to 0.1 (1).

Before the tournament and during the first round I heard some comments of concern about the 3-pool setup that the organisers went with this year in favour of graded divisions. A series of lopsided results would tend to suggest the concerns had some basis, but you had to actually see the games. As far as I could see, every lopsided game ended in smiles with the players from both teams mingling happily and posing for huge group photos. Everyone was just thrilled to be here. In the end, everyone got to play at least one game where they could expect to be competitive, and the teams that would have been in the lower reaches of a theoretical division 1 got to win games that reflected their real place in the order of things.

I couldn’t get to any of the other pool games, but from speaking to Canadian coach Ben Roberts, game 2 against the USA was the one they were really setting themselves for. Following the game on twitter, it looked to be tight for the first 3 quarters, with the USA keeping their noses in front throughout. Early in the 4th Canada had a shot to take the lead but missed, and the Americans kicked on for a comfortable win 8.3 (51) to 2.8 (20), which effectively put paid to Canada’s hopes of a top 4 finish. Bad kicking is bad football.

Another thumping win against Sweden set up the final rounds. Canada got past France comfortably to set up a final game against Tonga, who beat them in the 9th vs 10th playoff last time around. This time it was for 5th and 6th places, and a win would give them their best ever finish at an International Cup.

As Litza said on this week’s Almanac podcast, the Tongans took the game on like rugby players. Solid, agile at ground level, preferring to tuck the ball under one arm and run straight at tacklers rather than give an easy dish-off. Canada on the other hand played with more system, were stronger overhead, led by their impressive ruckman Neil Casey. A bit of a Dustin Fletcher lookalike and apparently only a year or two into his footy career, he’s got all the attributes of a good ruckman at this level: tapwork, marking around the ground, and a decent kick. His place in the World Team was well deserved from what I could see.

Canada opened the scoring with a speccy at full forward. The general atmosphere was turned up a few notches from the first game, and the Canadian bench erupted as their man (Kolwinski? Nash? Duggan? I’m not sure. I just loved the fact that the Canadian team features a Mike Kolwinski. But sadly nobody by the name of Gord.) pulled down the mark. By quarter time Canada had put on 3 goals to none and looked to have things under control.

In the second though, Tonga regained their composure and with the help of a couple of lucky breaks pulled to within a point by half time. With a half of football left the toll of 5 games in 13 days was starting to show on both sides, and it was borne out in a see-sawing 3rd quarter. With no breeze to speak of, the southern end was seeing most of the scoring and it was the Northwind’s turn to get a couple of lucky breaks, including a slightly mystifying free off the ball or 50m penalty or something after the siren. The goal was duly slotted, the boys got around him as they say on the footy shows, and I had to head back to the office.

The final quarter, which I was able to catch on Youtube, was no less gripping, the Tongans putting in one final push to almost draw level again before Canada pulled away for a well deserved 9.7 (61) to 7.6 (48) victory.

Ben and the boys would have been happy with that result: their best ever finish at an International Cup and a fair reflection of how well run the game seems to be over there, from what I can tell. The concourse around Spencer St and the Docklands stadium was swarming with Canadian team jackets for two weeks, and everyone seemed thrilled to be here. For my part, I really enjoyed the chance to get down to a couple of days’ play. The whole thing had a collegial carnival atmosphere, teams united by their love of the sport more than divided by rivalries. Reminded me of Uni sports carnivals. I wish I’d had a chance to catch some women’s games. The Canadians did themselves proud there too, upsetting the Irish to win the tournament. Will look forward to it coming around again in 2017.


  1. I had the pleasure of watching the Canadians defeat Ireland in the Women’s Grand Final at Punt Rd, which was also attended by AFL Commissioners Mike Fitzpatrick, Samantha Mostyn and Linda Dessau (with a photo of the ruckman, ruck rover and rover for the team in black as I described them in my article on the game).
    The Canadians played stylish football throughout the tournament, more Geelong or Hawthorn than the scrappier, pressure football played by some other sides, although the GF was a more pressured day.

    For the report of the Granny see ‘New traditional rivals…Canada dethrones Banshees’ at

    Worldfootynews.con has an amazing array of reports and photos on the whole tournament with its 18 countries represented, while the AFL, which streamed the matches live (allowing overseas players to watch their teams play), has interesting material on its International Cup website,

  2. Barkly St End says

    I saw France vs Indonesia at Diggers Rest. Even though it was a big win to France, it was a really good day of footy, and I thought the Indonesians did ok in spite of their lack of height, strength and experience.

    It was great listening to the quarter time break, hearing the players urge each other on in their respective languages, having a real feel for it.

    I heard the French saying don’t forget “le petit passe” which I presumed meant handball.
    The lesson was well learned, and from quarter time the French were really good at creating the loose man running into 50.

  3. The speccie was Adam Nash – and shortly after he took just a slightly lesser grab in the goal square that wasn’t paid – but I got a pic of it that you can see on flickr via Worldfootynews.
    Big Neil Casey in the ruck was imposing – his marking and ruck work was massively impressive from a guy with limited footy (hurling background). Kolwinski was handy as a high forward and Nathan Strom was impressive too – made the world team along with Casey.

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