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by Lisa Albergo reporting for AFANA from Chicago

Essendon already had one player from Papua New Guinea on an international scholarship, 17-year old David Meli, who is playing the juniors TAC competition. Now it is three with the club offering two more international scholarships to Victor Lame and Max Lavai, both 15 years old. The pair spent a week in Melbourne in early May, touring the city, meeting Essendon's senior players and visiting the club's facilities. The pair stayed with Meli and his housemates, fellow Essendon players Jake Carlisle and Anthony Long (nephew of former club champion Michael Long) in a club-owned house. They attended the Round Eight match between Essendon and St Kilda before heading home. They will return to Melbourne for the 2011 preseason.

Faithful followers of the game should already be familiar with Sydney's Tadhg Kennelly and Carlton's Setanta O'hAilpin (Ireland), Eagle Nic Naitanui (parents migrated from Fiji), Port Adelaide's Alipate Carlile and David Rodan (Fiji), and Hawk Brent Renouf (New Zealand), but they are not the only ones. Sydney also has Canadian Myke Pyke on their rookie list. North Melbourne's Aaron Edwards is from Samoa. Brad Moran (Adelaide) and Will Thursfield (Richmond) were born in England. Sudanese-born Majak Daw is also on North Melbourne's rookie list and having quite an impact at VFL level while Seamus McNamara, the first American to be drafted by an AFL club, is working hard in the VFL to make it at Collingwood. The Tigers also have PNG pair Nathan Malbak and Gideon Simon, and two Fijian kids, Solomoni Loki and Inoke Ratu. South African Byanda Sobtwa is playing in the TAC Cup after having been signed by the Greater Western Sydney team.

While there have been previous examples of players born overseas making it in footy, it was rare and viewed more as a novelty. The first well-known international recruit was Irishman Jim Stynes, who went on to win a Brownlow Medal with Melbourne and is now the club's president. Never in the history of the game has there been such an influx from all over the world. It may be just the beginning with the AFL appointing former player Tony Woods (Fitzroy, Hawthorn, and Collingwood 1993-2002) as International Development Manager. His first project is American Footy Star, a reality show which will see talent trials held in Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York this summer. Woods and the organizers hope to attract 5000 applicants. One lucky winner will win a chance to travel to Australia and participate in the October AFL Draft Camp as well as being mentored by Geelong assistant coach Brenton Sanderson and current player Jimmy Bartel.

Melbourne, which has already established ties with China, will play Brisbane in an exhibition match in Shanghai in October with the league hosting a talent camp there in conjunction with the match. Another significant step in international ties is the inclusion of two world teams at the Under-16 Junior Championships this year. The two teams will be Pacific and World. World will include players from South Africa, Canada, England, US, Sudan, Denmark, China, Iraq, Indonesia and Lebanon.

With two new clubs set to enter the AFL next year and in 2012, new sources of talent will be all the more important. This a point which is agreed upon by most, including AFL General Manager of Market Development David Matthews and Essendon Recruiting Manager Adrian Dodoro, who believes looking overseas is a great opportunity. Matthews said that with the expansion teams set to enter the AFL, looking outside the usual pathways will become a necessity for clubs. Some clubs are already looking more and more at the VFL. Geelong's James Podsiadly was a star at VFL level for years before being rookie listed by the Cats last year.

To give an idea of how the game has smashed international borders, consider this. The game is played in 45 countries around the world. There are leagues in Samoa, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, South Africa, Tonga, Denmark, Germany, Britain, and Canada, to name a few. Europe alone has 85 teams while the USA has 40 teams across the country. In recent years South Africa has been a hotbed for footy, with over 15,000 players. St Kilda has held several preseason camps there with players conducting clinics and visiting local townships to spread the footy gospel. The Australian Institute of Sport junior footy team has toured South Africa several times to play against local teams.

A number of AFL personalities support the idea of international games and recruiting. Among them are Ron Barassi, Western Sydney Coach Kevin Sheedy, Gold Coast Coach Guy McKenna, Sydney Coach Paul Roos, former Essendon champion Michael Long, Melbourne president Jim Stynes, Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, AIS-AFL coach and former North Melbourne player Jason McCartney, former Hawthorn coach Peter Schwab, and footy commentator Tiffany Cherry. Kevin Sheedy, Peter Schwab, Tiffany Cherry, and David Matthews have all been in attendance at one or more of the USAFL national tournaments in recent years.

With so many barriers being broken down, perhaps in 15 or 20 years it could be a non-Australian holding up the Premiership Cup as captain of his club, winning the Coleman Medal or even the Brownlow Medal.

As for Victor and Max, Victor is a huge fan of Brisbane's Jonathan Brown for his marking ability and toughness. Max likes Brown's teammate Brendan Fevola. Perhaps the next time they land in Australia, they will get to meet their Brisbane heroes.

Source: theage.com.au, ed. notes

Article last changed on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 8:32 PM EDT


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