Focus on Aussie rules in PNG | Pacific Beat

Focus on Aussie rules in PNG

Focus on Aussie rules in PNG

Updated 16 July 2013, 11:05 AEST

Australian Rules football has a long history in parts of PNG, but for the past decade, the Australian Football League has made a significant effort to develop the game there.

And the focus is succeeding.

Currently nine PNG players, aged 18 to 23 are on scholarships playing around the east coast in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, the Riverina and Ballarat.

There are plans to establish a side in the NEAFL - the new state AFL league with senior division football teams from Queensland, NSW, ACT and the Northern Territory - in either Cairns or Townsville by as early as next year.

And it's hoped the PNG players would form the nucleus of that.

General manager of AFL PNG, Murray Bird is very confident of the ability of the PNG players after the success of the under-14 side in Queensland, winning by nine goals.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Murray Bird, general manager of AFL PNG


BIRD: The boys played in the Queensland state academy championships on the Gold Coast and they won it, so I think they won the grand final by nine or ten goals so they did exceptionally well.
COUTTS: How many AFL PNG players are likely to be good enough to form the nucleus of this team?
BIRD: We could have 20 boys on scholarships in Cairns or Townsville next year between the ages of 17 and 23 that would all either aspiring or capable of playing in the AFL competition. In the past we've had over the last decade probably eight to ten boys that have played at state league level already. So yeah there's plenty of talent here.
COUTTS: And do they go on? I mean they play at state level but do their lives overcome their ability to continue to play AFL football of the eight to ten that you've seen make it so far?
BIRD: Go on in terms of football?
BIRD: Yeah we've got a boy playing on an international scholarship at Richmond football club at the moment, Gideon Simon. So Gideon would be about 20 years of age, and David Meli spent some time at Essendon football club on an international scholarship as well. David's now back playing in the Port Moresby competition though he's injured. So some have gone to the next level and got what's called an international scholarship where they actually train full-time with an AFL club. And Gideon Simon's actually playing for Coburg in the VFL at the moment.
COUTTS: Our listeners will be familiar with Gideon because he's been on the program once before. Now I'm just wondering what's the starting point for you because we know that PNG are passionate about league and union, so how do you get their attention away from that onto AFL?
BIRD: We've got 15 development staff here in Papua New Guinea and currently in Kimbe where we've got two staff that are doing a fantastic job. They've done clinics in the Kimbe-Hoskins area, which is traditional AFL anyway, so there's football ovals here and there's some residue of interest in AFL from old guys that come up to me here and say geez we played in the 60s, 70s and 80s and it's a fantastic sport. So there's residual interest here, but in other places like Mount Hagen and Kavieng, we have development staff. In Morobe we have development staff who do clinics in the schools, generate interest, start primary school competitions and those kids - we then have national championships in September and a talent camp in November - and those kids move into our talent pathway program. 
COUTTS: And is the AFL looking to develop more of these sides because they are looking for more and good players to join the firsts in the AFL?
BIRD: I think part of the AFL's motivation is talent identification and also spreading the word and spreading the great game of Australian football outside of Australia. But talent identification is certainly part of their motive, and there are two Papua New Guinean boys at last year's draft camp; one was Gideon and the other was Brendan Beno from Buka. And we just had a group of 12 boys in Sydney last week at the AFL's under-16 championships, 12 of our boys played in the South Pacific team there. So I think talent identification and getting talent from outside of Australia's certainly part of what the AFL does. 
COUTTS: And the talent camps, do you go directly to the schools, I'm guessing you're going to have to work with the government and the local governments to go into the schools?
BIRD: Yeah, yeah our staff write to local level government, write to the schools, seek permission to go and do clinics, generate an interest for primary school competitions through the clinics. And we never get knocked back, schools always want us to come in, we run what we like to think is a good program where the kids get introduced to basic ball skills and to the game and get to play a game of footy. And if we've got the resources, to start a primary school competition as well.
COUTTS: So what messages would you be liking to get across to PNG now if they're listening, if they're insomniacs and are listening?
BIRD: We know that PNG love their rugby league but AFL's a fantastic option for kids as well. And I think a game that is naturally suited to Papua New Guineas as well. It's free-flowing and much less structured than rugby league and the kids that play it, and the adults that play it, the girls that play it, certainly enjoy it. So if you're playing rugby league you can certainly have a crack at AFL as well. And I'm pretty sure, I'm in Kimbe at the moment, and I'm pretty sure that Marcus Bai played AFL as a kid as well, and I think there's a few of the Kumuls at the moment that played AFL. So it's a game that may help your rugby league as well so why not give it a go? 
COUTTS: Well, will AFL have the same lure that pulling on the green and gold has for so many people around the region?
BIRD: Will it have the same lure, well yeah, I'd like to think so. Our kids are already talking, our 17 to 21 year olds are already talking about the Mosquitoes, which is the PNG open age team and our Flames, our open age women's team, and we'll be travelling to AFL's international cup in 2014. And I know that it's a source of great pride for these 14 year old boys that won in Queensland a couple of weeks ago to represent their country. And yes I think it means something for our participants to play for their country.

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