Monday, November 22, 2010


Winning the premiership in the OAFL's premier division is a herculean achievement that requires a multitude of factors falling into place at precisely the right time. There is however one ingredient that has proven key in all 22 premiership recipes so far, and it's not a star Aussie import, super coach or band of Canadian Aussie rules veterans. As they say in real estate, it's all about location, location, location.

The numbers are so clear cut you can put all the teams into clearly defined zones. Around 30 minutes from the heart of footy in Toronto is the premiership zone. If your club is located within this zone it probably already has a premiership flag, 6 of the 7 clubs do. The one that doesn't has made it to the big dance on three occasions. The Conacher Cup has never travelled outside this area in it's entire 22 years of existence. The next zone is located around an hour from the epicentre of the GTA. We'll call it the battler zone. If your club is located here it has a win-loss record of less than 50% over the past five years. In recent times one good year of footy is usually followed by a slide back down the ladder the next. Venture further out, two hours plus and your located in the survival zone. Here the numbers are grim. No team has survived longer than five years in what has become the OAFL's wasteland. A wasteland that is littered with the bones of now defunct clubs the London Magpies and Windsor Mariners.

At the very edge of the OAFL universe, an unprecedented six hours out from ground zero is Montreal. Although still only an OAFL division 2 club the speculation on whether the Saints franchise will enter the OAFL's top tier rages on year after year. The motives behind the young clubs reluctance to roll the dice in division 1 more apparent as the undeniable facts of road warrior teams are slowly unveiled.

There are exceptions to the rule of course. Hamilton were runner-up in '96. And Guelph have had two terrific regular seasons in the past three years despite first round exits in both finals campaigns. Both clubs have had strong 9 win seasons in one of the past two years, the final piece to their premiership puzzle may in fact be the creation of a shared division 2 squad that would help both clubs hopefully maintain momentum on their push for a premiership - not unlike the momentum the Blues have enjoyed and are likely to keep enjoying with their successful division 2 team. But more importantly both teams are also located in the battler zone, not the survival zone.

There is one team that has the unenviable title as sole division one occupant of that survival zone, and yet the Ottawa Swans are likely the best equipped team to deal with the OAFL's uncompromising travel curse. After an expected tough inaugural year that failed to yield a single win. The Swans improvement in 2009 was such that after it's round 11 victory against the Toronto Rebels in just it's second official OAFL year, it was still mathematically in the hunt for a finals position. At that crucial moment when the Swans were ready to thrust themselves forward from pretender to contender they slipped up. Current head coach Chris MacLean was unknowingly handed a leaky ship at the start of the 2010 season. The exit of many of the Swans top line players along with injuries to a few of their stars made even their single victory this year somewhat of an achievement, especially in a season when the team endured many heavy defeats, one in excess of 200 points.

2011's motto for the Swans should be 'All or nothing'. For in the next three years the Swans need to lay down a solid plan that sees the club improve each year and make the finals in year 3. That will be the club's sixth year in the OAFL and a timely announcement that success on the edge of the Ontario AFL's limits is in fact achievable. And maybe, just maybe that the curse of the 'survival zone' is broken.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Former Quebec Saint Cam Stark was superb
 first time out for Canada against the USA in
2009 but missed out on a recall in 2010?
Photo: Rob Colburn
Canada has to make the final four of the 2011 International Cup. Anything less than that will be deemed a failure. For a country that boasts one of the biggest leagues in the world outside of Australia, the next twelve months are going to be the most important in it's 22 year existence. All the ingredients are there for success: excellent junior development out west, solid playing numbers in Toronto and promising satellite programs in Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal. Canada has even already had one of their own make it in the big time. Former Canadian rugby international Mike Pyke's quiet success in a Sydney Swans jersey hasn't been hailed as the start of an international invasion. But despite the fact he didn't come through the Canadian Aussie rules program it should be an indication that ice-hockey loving Canadians have got what it takes to compete with the very best with a Sherrin in their hand. There are however cracks beginning to open up that need to be quickly filled. This weeks announcement that Emile Studham has stepped down as head coach is a massive blow for a squad that is less than twelve months away from their defining moment. Studham, Canadian assistant coach in 2008 had an impeccable coaching record at club level in Canada. But it's not only his departure that has the top brass scratching their head. 2010's defeat to the United States is a clear indication that all countries are raising their game. Canada's record at the International Cup has been one of solid improvement, 9th in 2002, 7th in 2005 and 6th in 2008. The AFL is looking to invest in international footy like never before in the coming years. For Canada to figure heavily in those plans it needs to deliver in August 2011 or risk being put in the international B-grade basket.

How does it all affect footy in Quebec?

The eastern most point of footy in Canada has toiled away for three years building a football program that has gone largely unoticed by the driving force behind Canada's national program. To date, the one male representative the Quebec Saints has had play for the national team no doubt earnt his place on Team Canada wearing a Toronto Rebels jersey in the Ontario AFL. A clear indication that the Quebec program has been largely overlooked. In stark contrast, the Canadian women's program opened the doors to Quebec based players. Working together with Quebec's coaches Northern Lights coach Jake Anson welcomed two of the Montreal Angels best, Margo and Aimee Legault into the team. The result of course speaks for itself. With the Legault sisters in Canadian jerseys the Canadian team were able to defeat the United States for the first time claiming the 49th Parallel Cup. Furthermore both Margo and Aimee Legault were among Canada's best throughout the tournament. A clear indication that something must be going right out east. Cam Stark's shock omission from Canada's 49th Parallel squad was a direct slap in the face for Quebec footy. The Montreal based Stark, who was amongst Canada's best players against the United States in 2009 didn't play as many division 1 matches in 2010, Team Canada never making the time to cast an eye over the talent pool of the Quebec Saints that would breeze through the division 2 competition on the back of mainly non-Australian talent. The irony being that less exposure in Toronto no doubt counted against the dynamic on-baller in the eyes of team Canada, yet Stark was still able to make the OAFL All-Star team. The writing is on the wall now for Quebec's next two Canadian national hopefuls, Chris Lagace and Kyle Graham. Team Canada has shown that playing in Quebec's ECAFL which has developed players such as Cam Stark, Aimee and Margo Legault, two Irish team nationals and three French team nationals simply isn't enough. Perhaps it's time that Quebec footy stopped knocking on Team Canada's door, and they started knocking on ours.