The Vietnam Swans have just wrapped up their second series of the 2018 season, this time against the Thailand Tigers. Read on for more from the series!
Kanchanaburi for ANZAC Memorial Game 1/2
The Swans headed to Kanchanaburi to face up to Thailand’s impressive record on Anzac Day. Still on the high of the recent series win over Cambodia a few weeks earlier and the late inclusion of some big names, the boys were pumped for this game.
It’s no secret that the Swans average age has been floating just on the wrong side of 30 of late. If you factor in our elder statesmen (the legendary Kevin Wilkinson), and it may actually nudge the wrong side of 40. Things can change very quickly though: Andy G’s withdrawal after splitting the webbing in his hand in Phnom Penh got us back under 30 for this game… and with the addition of Darcy, Oscar, Reed and Micka, our average age plummeted back into the mid-20s!
Its a good thing too, as Kanchanaburi is renown for baking temperatures and a sapping experience over the 2 hours of a full-length footy game. Running out a full game is a badge of honour up here, where the temperatures are regularly 40+ and the humidity is intense.
The significance of the heat is not lost on the Swans: this series and this trip wasn’t all about the footy. A few hours west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is a town on the infamous Death Railway and home to the Bridge over the River Kwai. The War Cemetery is also the resting place of 1,362 Australian servicemen who died as prisoners of war in the area.
Of course, we took the chance to visit the memorials before kick-off. Shane Wall and Shane Macdonald gave us some moving words and tales of the horrors the POWs endured in the region. For many of our younger players, it was the first time they’d come face to face with the realities that the ANZAC servicemen faced on foreign shores. This is the power of the ANZAC series.
The message clearly got through to the boys: Mark Doherty showed intense courage to jolt the rest of the boys into action, backing into a contest in the first few minutes. It was just what we needed to get rolling.
The game was a very tight contest for the first half. Thailand led into the the first change, but the Swans gathered momentum in the second quarter. With a goal after the siren to Josh Murfet, the Swans went into the lead a few points ahead.
The second half saw the Swans grind out a narrow lead. Dinh Anh shone with some critical tackles and turnovers, one resulting in a goal that shifted the balance of play. The backline was resolute and Thailand’s scoring opportunities slowed to a trickle, Billy Crang going one-on-one with a rotating roster of lone full forwards.
Darcy was increasingly dominant as a key forward as the game went on, but just couldn’t convert, finishing the day with 3 goals, 5 behinds. Playing in his very first game for the Swans, Reed was everywhere through the midfield, and actually matched Darcy’s final tally of 3 goals.
The Swans eventually ran it out 66 (9-12) to Thailand’s 47 (7-5).
After a few lean seasons on the road for the Swans, it was a great feeling amongst the whole squad. Most Valuable Addition to the tour perhaps goes to the oversized whiteboard that Micka sourced from the (top-rate) Royal River Kwai Resort. In the work-related absence of coach Rod White, clear instructions were going to be key. Shane Wall had been tasked with the all important duties of bringing the whiteboard. “The airline wouldn’t let me take it” was Shane’s excuse, until son Sam threw him completely under the bus, telling the full squad that Shane had simply forgotten it. Onya Sammy.
The tour overall was an exceptional success. Thailand put on a great show, from the resort, to the transport, to the game day itself. Highly recommended for any teams considering playing in the ANZAC day games in future years.
Vung Tau for ANZAC Memorial Game 2/2
Vung Tau was the home of many Australian servicemen during Australia’s presence in the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1973. The Vietnam Football League actually ran in Vung Tau between 1966 and 1971, at the very oval that we play on today. Many of the Veterans still make the annual journey across to see the Swans play against a rival in the AFL Asia competition.
The ANZAC Friendship Match is undoubtedly the toughest match all season when it comes to selection. The full Saigon squad becomes available, injuries magically healing overnight and fitness peaking in the absence of any additional training. The Hanoians arrive in droves too, making for a list of almost 50 that has to be culled back to 22. With such a large list, its a real honour to play for Vietnam in the ANZAC Friendship Match.
This year’s selection challenges were no different, particularly after the win in Game 1. We want to thank the many guys who volunteered to play in the curtain raising game between the Al Fresco All Stars and the Lagler Legends. With Thailand suffering from late withdrawals, we also want to thank the guys who generously volunteered to play for the Tigers: Nathan Milner, Sean Milner, Reed Cathcart and Josh Murfet to name a few. The actual names were contentious at the time: Reed was second best on ground in Kanchanaburi the week earlier and Nathan is a previous Swannies Best and Fairest! Throw in guest appearances from some of the Cambodian Eagles finest talent, including the legendary Nas, Oun and Tha, and the game was certainly still to be won.
The game didn’t disappoint of course, delivering a physical contest in front of a healthy crowd. Jake Norris played one of his strongest games for the Club, under the packs all day, side-by-side with Tommy Robinson. Oscar was dominant as a forward, wrestling with the tough cross-ground breeze and tight tagging from Nathan Milner to finish with 2 goals. Tristan Robinson offered valuable support and actually finished with 2 goals. James and Billy linked up consistently from the back line.
Swans winners again, 48 (7-6) to 21 (3-3).
On a day with the themes of Sacrifice and Mateship, there were many deeds that stood out. Little Vinh was chasing and tackling all day, and Sha Mac was knocking guys over before he blew up in the second half.
Tom Holden ironing out Reed Cathcart was perhaps the spectacular highlight of the day. Playing for Thailand, Reed had been an absolute menace who’d run rings around literally anyone. Reed laid down a big step at full pace and “Rugby Tom” didn’t blink. Despite some confusion about the rules (that he keeps completely under wraps) and the occasional throw, Tom has an uncanny knack of being in the right place and the right time, and perfectly executes some of the most advanced skills needed on a footy field.
Breakthrough performance of note was undoubtedly Tom “Watto” Watson. Watto is another rugby convert and has been putting in the hard yards at training. Watto was phenomenal in the ruck, but it was his mid-field transitions and smooth pickups around the packs that really made us stand up and take note.
Thanks to the Thailand Tigers for making the journey across. We’d also like to offer our thanks to:
- The Veterans who manned the gates at the Lord Mayor’s Oval all day. Thanks for their great flyer too.
- The Pullman Hotel for a great function, the McMillan Dinner.
- Matty Francis, ex-Richmond and Collingwood player for providing his thoughts on the occasion.
- Phil “Fabbo” Johns, for connecting the dots between the key concepts that surround each year’s ANZAC Friendship Match.
- Ron and Ailsa Vernon, for their continued support and involvement.
- Glenn and Trang, and Tommy’s Bar for all their support over the years. Glenn and Trang are on to bigger and better things, but their role in creating much of the history of the past years of ANZAC Friendship Matches won’t be forgotten.
- All those who attended the orphanage on the Sunday.
Where to from here?
Our season is going well, with arguably only 10 minutes of coach-less and president-less football at the beginning of a game in Phnom Penh that has been a blight on the record.
The Vietnam Swans are back on the road on May 19, for a game against reigning Asian Champs the Malaysian Warriors, in Penang. This will be a real test for the Swans.
The back half of the season will see the Swans head to the most dangerous place in Indochina to defend the Indochina Cup. We’ll also be looking to Kuala Lumpur for the Asian Champs in October.