Jharkhand Crows take home the trophy; AFL legend Kevin Sheedy flies into West Bengal to identify potential footy talent; Indian team to tour Australia in August for fourth appearance at AFL International Cup
After two days of crunching tackles, breathtaking goals and a constant rush of adrenaline, the Jharkhand Crows defeated three-time defending champions Bengal Tigers 3-3-21 to 2-7-19 in the senior division of the 5th annual National Championship of Australian Rules Football in a nail-biting action-packed grand final.
The National Championship, organised by Australian Rules Football Association of India (ARFAI) was held at the Sailen Manna Stadium in Howrah, West Bengal, in January this year, with the best 200 players from across the nation representing 7 Indian states in 2 divisions.
The junior division saw the Jharkhand Crows defeating the Odisha Swans (who made it to the finals or the first time) 4-6-32 to 1-1-7.This is the third time in a row that the Jharkhand Crows are taking home the trophy.
The major highlight was AFL/Essendon FC legend Kevin Sheedy flying over to Kolkata for the tournament to identify potential footy talent in India, help shortlist the Indian team that would travel to Australia in August this year for the AFL International Cup, and also understand the voluntary work put in by AFL India to grow the exciting Australian sport in India.
ARFAI was also honored to host Bendigo Umpires Association President and Vice President Craig Findlay and Paula Shay, who travelled over from Bendigo, Victoria, as a part of a group of 13 travelers led by Bruce Claridge, AFL Chaplain. Craig and Paula organized a brilliant umpiring workshop with participants from all seven states on the day before the tournament and made sure they executed their learning on the field during the tournament. Craig and Paula ran around tirelessly themselves helping a smooth flow of matches and educating the players when they made mistakes.
“Umpires from Australia officiating the matches along with newly trained Indian umpires made a big difference to the tournament this year,” said Shane Sayner, an AFL India patron from Adelaide, who has been attending all editions of the Indian national champs since 2013.
The first day at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan school ground in Salt Lake, Kolkata, also saw a master-class from Kevin Sheedy where he took all the players through basic skills of the game, which he thought they needed to focus on to get better. This was followed by a skill building and career guidance workshop for participants led by Supreet Khosla, Country Manager–India, OGM Technical Institute, which is one of the longest serving sponsors of AFL India.
The second day at the Howrah Stadium saw the Maharashtra Giants, Odisha Swans, Rajasthan Eagles, Tamil Kangaroos, Kerala Bombers, Jharkhand Crows and Bengal Tigers play the league matches in junior and senior divisions after Sheedy launched the tournament.
The third and final day saw the last couple of league matches in the morning before the Grand Finals in the afternoon in the presence of special guests from Australia and India, sponsors and media along with a number of local onlookers cheering for the teams.
The finals of the junior division saw the Odisha Swans give their best to catch up with the Jharkhand Crows who took the lead from the start going on to win the ARFAI—Global Reach Cup 2017.
The senior division Grand Final was a closely fought game with the defending champions Bengal Tigers unwilling to give up till the end but quite deservingly Jharkhand Crows finally managed to celebrate their first ever tournament win.
ARFAI acknowledges the support of sponsors for the event, including OGM Technical Institute, Global Reach, ANZIBA New Delhi, Golden Square Football & Netball Club, The Telegraph—t2 and of course Essendon Football Club and the AFL who helped make this tournament successful.
The Indian team is now scheduled to tour Australia in August this year and make their fourth appearance at the AFL International Cup (IC17). One would expect a good mix of players from the seven states in India, selected by Sheedy himself, to travel over to India, given ARFAI is able to find sponsors for it.
“The biggest reward for our voluntary efforts to grow the game in India is to have someone like Sheedy, the Pele of Australian Football, witness the efforts being put in India. This can only help our talent get noticed and hopefully also get us more support for continuing the work back home,” said Sudip Chakraborty, founder and Secretary General of ARFAI, who is now working with the Essendon Football Club and the AFL in Australia.
With Sheedy now taking interest in the further development of the game in India, next year could be even bigger and bolder. As he was quoted on the Essendon FC website—“This is a gold mine to be honest. These guys have got speed and skill, and they’ve got talent. All they’ve got to do is be taught.”