Hot on the heels of the Lady Swans 2018 #AFLW win, The Vietnam Swans have claimed their first Mens title at the 2019 Asian Champs!
The Asian Champs
Asian Champs brings out the best from the teams of AFL Asia. Its tournament footy! Short halves mean every kick is crucial: four goals is often all that’s needed to claim victory. And one loss can be the difference between a final or crashing out in the qualifying round.
The Asian Champs continues to evolve and 2019 saw the debut of the three-division format. The established powers battle it out in Div 1 while the emerging countries typically occupy Div 2. Div 3 is now home to the more social of teams, meaning the Asian Champs has something for everyone.
A Missed Opportunity in 2018 and a Big Ask in 2019
The Swans had a great season in 2018 and went close in Division 2. Unfortunately, the lads came up against the PNG Maruks in the semi-final. The Maruks rolled the Swans in the second half and went on to win the Division in convincing fashion, with many tipping that the Maruks would have gone the distance in Division 1.
With strong results in 2019, the Swans got a wake-up call to their Div 2 aspirations in early August: the rampant Cambodian Eagles handed out a thrashing in Saigon only a few weeks from the Champs. With a few big outs from the squad (Vaughan, James, Niity and Tommy Delaney), there were a few questions being asked. AFL Asia even went as far as to name the Thailand Tigers the home-town favourites for the division.
Coach Rod ‘Rocket’ White, leaders Micka Matthews / Oscar Silk (in the South) and Jake Norris / Luke Philpotts (in the North) got hard to work to put a competitive team on the field in Pattaya in only 2 short weeks.
In the absence of a few key ‘6-foot+ key position players’, the Swans had turned to big Adam ‘Tractor’ Bodey, Thomas ‘Watto’ Watson and long-time Swanny stalwart Mitch Hyde to fill the gaps. With the late inclusion of a couple of rugby/gaelic players, numbers were looking… passable.
Settling in to Pattaya: Qualifying Rounds
The squad arrived at the grounds in Pattaya to find a howling wind blowing to favour one end of the ground. The half spent going against the wind would be key: breaking even was enough to put huge pressure on the opposition.
Despite some horrid luck in the coin tosses, the Swans survived the early rounds to top the Division 2 table:
- Round 1: Vietnam Swans 3.3 (21) vs Thailand Tigers 1.1 (7)
- Round 2: Vietnam Swans 5.2 (32) vs Indonesian Volcanoes 0.0 (0)
- Round 3: Vietnam Swans 5.4 (34) vs Japan Warriors 1.1 (7)
The qualifying rounds saw some critical games. The Swans upset the favourites Thailand early while Cambodia had a disastrous Round 2 game. With the Swans victory over the Warriors ensuring maximum points from the qualifying stage, it was down to percentage to decide the other finalist between Thailand, Cambodia and Japan. Thailand got the nod.
The early victory over Thailand had given the lads some confidence, but our terrible luck with the coin toss continued: we’d be heading into the wind for the first half and the Tigers were all warmed up after their demolition of Cambodia.
The first half was tight. The Tigers were unable to capitalise on the strong wind and a late goal to the Swans was critical. The game was tied at half time with rain threatening. The battle for the Div 2 Champs title was on!
The Swans broke out in the second half, piling on three goals from a dominant ruck and on-ball brigade. Oscar grabbed a few marks to solidify his claim to leading goal kicker.
The Swans ran out winners, 26 to 7.
Coach Rod ‘Rocket’ White was elated:
A great day for the team! Huge individual and team effort by the entire playing squad. Incredible what the right attitude, and effort makes!
We basically won the quarters into the wind and then kicked on with it. The on ball brigade was huge – Will Sullivan, Jake Norris, Tommy R and Micka, with Tractor and Watto. Irish Jason was arguably find of the tournament, pressuring intensely and even sneaking a goal.
Pommy Tom bought the golden fist and Budd Norris was handy. Tommy Sullivan and Andy did some important things at critical times, while Toddy Donavan kicked a crucial goal in the final against the wind to be level at half time.
Oscar dominated the final in the 2nd half with some huge grabs & goals!!!
This win meant a lot! After the disappointment of 2018, there was a real danger that the mens team’s recent progress would pass without a key win at Asian Champs.
Read on for the reaction from players:
Very proud to be apart of something special, with such a great playing group, will be a day to remember for years to come.
Winning this title is something amazing but not surprising with our endless efforts in building good teamwork culture on and off the field in the past few years. Well done Swannies, I’m happy and proud to be a part of it!
A great day for me to see the moment we held up the championship trophy. That is an unforgettable memory of my life! Thank you Swannies!!
I’m very proud to be a part of a the team, the first time the Swans have won the Asian Champs! It seemed like an enormous achievement.
It was an awesome team performance with amazing pressure applied by the Swannies all over the ground.
One of the best parts about living in Vietnam is being able to play amongst such good blokes and more importantly taking out the champs. The memories will be forever.
Being a part of a team like this is a privilege that I’ll continue to cherish. To live in a place like Vietnam and enjoy such great sportsmanship and quality of the game: I couldn’t ask for anything more.
It’s my sixth season with the Swannies and I couldn’t be prouder to part of this fantastic team. Div 2 Champs and, I think, the best lead & coached team at the tournament. I’ve heard it said that the difference between good teams and great teams is how well great teams develop the bottom of their list… and as the Swannies official “pensioner” and last man on the bench I can say this is a great team.
A unique moment in everyone’s career! An Asian Champs win is just like a Grand Final win at home, taking a year to prepare. The great difference with winning a Champs is the friendship you have with your team mates living abroad. The well wishes and congrats have flooded in from all our mates that are now back in OZ, and I’d like to thank our leadership group for making our weekend /year special.
The Asian champs forms the focal point of every season in Asia. Bringing this all together in 2019 means that the hard work everyone has done over the decade I’ve been here building a club culture with wins and losses along the way now has an exclamation point. It also earns us the opportunity to, if we’re good enough, stamp ourselves amongst the top shelf of Asian footy in 2020. This is something we’ve strived to do since our Manila Cup and Indochina Cup wins. I’d like to thank the current leadership team lead by Rod White who’ve built this base and look forward to what the Swannies can do next!
Jake Norris (Co-Captain)
The Asian Champs is the pinnacle of footy in Asia. I’m immensely proud of the efforts of everyone involved for us to finally win in this tournament. It’s a triumph owing to the hard work and commitment of everyone past and present; the playing group, board and members.
Our club is very special in terms of our unity and to be apart of this special moment will live long in memory.
I look forward to what the future has in store for our club and I hope to continue to be apart of Vietnam’s growth in the game.
Micka Matthews (Co-Captain)
From a playing group perspective we show great pride in what we have achieved. It has come through a lot of hard work, facing many challenges head on in preparation for champs.
To all past players, sponsors, committee members and Swannies family new and old, we say thankyou. It takes a lot more then winning games of footy to keep a club afloat.
As a playing group we look foward to working hard as we look for further success for this great club.
Lastly to our coach, Rod White a.k.a Rocket Man, you’re a true leader and mentor. Lets keep cracking on!
On to the next.
Eric Kerrison, President
I’m extremely proud of the club and the development both on and off the field over the last few years. The win for the men, coming off the back of the Lady Swans victory in 2018, caps off what is arguably the most successful period for the club.
This success has come about from hard work from a committed core group within the club that drove the vision forward. This win isn’t just about those who took to the field, it’s also about those that are there week-in, week-out. And we couldn’t have had the success we have had in recent times without the continued support of our sponsors.
To all Swannies past and present, enjoy the ride!