|AFL Quebec Round 2: Laval Bombers v Montreal Demons|
After an initial three years of promising growth, the Montréal based Québec Saints slipped backward in 2011. The team withdrew from the Toronto based OAFL division 2 competition, their 9-a-side development league was reduced to just two teams and the women’s program failed to play a single stand alone game for the year. The impressive individual performances of the eight Québec players and coaches at IC11 (with both Canada and France) would offer up the only shining light in what was a disappointingly dark year. But just as footy in Montréal seemed destined to spiral down further, the four remaining committee members; Margo Legault, Neil Koch, Tim Nixon and Frenchman William Teissier drafted a bold new plan for 2012.
Recruiting went into overdrive during the winter offseason and the committee relaunched the 9-a-side league as AFL Québec. The four team competition boasted three with official backing from AFL clubs. Under the guidance of newly arrived Matthew Payne, a Team Canada member originally from Vancouver’s impressive Wolfpack juniors program, the West Island Eagles became the first independent AFL Québec team to conduct separate training sessions and establish their own home field. The transformation of footy in Québec continued as the Montréal Angels underwent a complete rebranding, retiring the iconic royal blue Québec flag jersey they shared with the men’s team in favour of a unique purple, white and black strip they could call their own.
Using the league’s marquee invitational event – the AFL Québec Pre-Season Cup – as a springboard for the season ahead, the league also shifted its focus from Toronto partners five hours to the west to United States affiliates to the south, namely Boston and New York. With six men’s teams, three women’s sides and close to 100 participants the Pre-Season Cup was a raging success. The resurgence in Québec footy had not gone unnoticed in the local media, several newspapers running stories on the Aussie game being played in the heart of Montréal and the West Island media adopting the Eagles as ‘their team’ with front page coverage. CBC Radio also decided to get in on the act after they caught wind of the game from the land downunder, sending a roaming reporter down to training to conduct interviews with the French-Canadian Aussie Rules converts.
2012 has been an outstanding success thus far and has seen the Angels form a close bond and exciting new tri-city rivalry with New York and Boston, Montréal players feature prominently with partner club the Ottawa Swans in the OAFL and the team reintroduce the time-honoured tradition of the footy ‘road trip’, ticking off Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, Calgary and Ottawa on their list of destinations players have travelled to all in the name of fun and a game of footy.
Québec footy has its mojo back and the future is looking brighter than ever. In the coming months several young Québec-based Canadians will be pushing for selection on the national team and plans for expanding the league yet again have already begun. And while there is no disputing the mantra has, and always will be ‘Montréal is hockey’, as those thousands of hockey players twiddle their thumbs during the summer looking for a way to keep fit, the free flowing, 360 degree game of Aussie Rules that has plenty of goals, big plays and big hits might just be a match made in French-Canadian heaven.