Middle East Grand Final Preview: the one day in March

Today (Friday 25th) )is the biggest day of the year for AFL in the Middle East. The Abu Dhabi Falcons have made it through to the last Friday in March (LFIM, apologies Mr. Mosig!) with no defeats although have been put under pressure at times during the five round games. The Doha Kangaroos have earned the right by defeating the Dubai Dingoes last weekend. So they know a bit about pressure as well. They had to win by a comfortable margin to make it past two teams still in with a shot.

The Kangaroos are bringing a stronger team to Abu Dhabi than that brought for the round game where they were done by about 40 odd points. The main question is; will it be enough to bridge the gap? The Falcons are down a few from that game as well. Scott (Scoops) Cooper has a broken collar bone, Mark Deverall (ruck/forward) is recovering from a life threatening illness and Jim Hanusek (fullback) has returned home to the USA. These three have played significant roles in getting the Falcons through to the final and will be missed.

Doha, like most teams in the ME-AFL, bump up their numbers with blokes from the Gaelic Footy club. In the previous game, one of their best was a classic example. As ranga as Ling, built like Hocking, definitely a footy player. As Aussie Rules has been played in the region for about five years now, (since the inaugural Dubai 9s), the Irish and others have had more exposure to, and development of, the key skills of the game. The ‘ring-ins’ are no longer just filling a space on the field, they are key contributors. The Abu Dhabi Gaelic crew are crucial to the structure of the team. The Falcons will have three Irish in our team for tomorrow. Each of them has played a key role as back up defenders or mid-fielders through the year. Johnny O’Neill also managed to kick a few goals after much practice.. We also have an English/French hybrid in Sami who will get a run up forward at some stage.

The strength of the Falcons this year has been based on fitness and even-ness of the team put on the ground for each game. There are some absolute guns, but many of the bench players would be first 9 for most other teams. There is also the element of team spirit. At times through the season, things haven’t gone to plan, quarters have been lost and questions have been asked. Each time, the talk from Coach Dan has reminded the team of what needs to be done and how we have done it before. We have not lost two consecutive quarters in any game this season.

The Falcons team has been selected based on attendance at training and commitment to the games. There are a number of players unlucky to miss out, mostly as a result of work duties preventing them from making the required number of games, (minimum 2), to qualify. While some skilled players aren’t playing their replacements have done the hard yards and I for one am happy to see a coach who doesn’t make hollow promises to those who turn up week after week.  I’ve been given a spot on the bench as the back up ruck. I’d like to think it is deserved, but the reality is there aren’t many tall blokes left standing.

I’m as jumpy as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. (I don’t like cats that much, but like that as a metaphor). Two nights ago the family made a pilgrimage to the newest and largest Ikea store in the Middle East. A dodgy piece of chicken has left me a couple of kilos lighter, which may yet be a good thing. My body weight is the lowest it has been for at least four years and you can almost define muscles on my endomorphic frame. Training on Monday felt good; I’m slower than a wet week, but the long term upper left hamstring strain was barely noticeable for a change.

I think it is the unknown that concerns me. The two games I missed were against Dubai Dragons and Doha so they are an unfamiliar opponents. I’d like to think I am an analytical ruckman, but they are bringing a new one this time by all accounts, so not much to go on. We did them up pretty well in the first game mainly by dominating the air and run in the middle. The mid-field is crucial in 9s because moving the ball only about 15m from the centre means it is within the scoring zone.

As it stands the Falcons are going in firm favourites, knowing if they play as they have all year it will bring home the bacon. Yet there doesn’t seem to be any feeling of cockiness in the camp. More anxiousness to get out there and get on with the game. Doha are optimistic they will improve on their last effort in the capital. Doha are bringing in some new players, Abu Dhabi are missing a few, Doha have flown in this morning so might not be too fresh especially after playing a game last weekend, home ground advantage to the Abu Dhabi. Lots of questions will be answered by about 5pm this afternoon (local time).

Russell Yule

Grade 5 Teacher

Raha International School


About Russell Yule

Indogus is the alter ego of Russell Yule. He has retired more times than actually played games, although is completely retired now in order to live vicariously through his children's sporting proclivities. Given any available space in a conversation, he will regale you with boring stories about his exploits with the Bali Geckos or Abu Dhabi Falcons, of which he is extremely proud.

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