The Cannonball Run is (in)famous in Cambodian/Vietnamese footy circles and for good reason. Just a few hundred kms apart but an awkward 8 hour (depending on border incidents) bus ride separates Saigon and Phnom Penh. Navigating the SE Asian countryside, the bus bonding session and draining match day conditions has proven a challenge for many a year now. 2018 saw the Cannonball come early with home and away legs spread across a fortnight in March.

A great crowd and the return of some of Vietnam/Hanoi's favorite sons in Jake Norris and Luke Philpott were very positive signs at the beginning of the season!

A great crowd and the return of some of Vietnam/Hanoi’s favorite sons in Jake Norris and Luke Philpott showing positive signs at the beginning of the season!

This year the Cannonball Run kicked off in Saigon, with RMIT  a welcome last minute location. There was much anticipation to see if the Swans bounce back from an average 2017 where the Eagles won in Saigon before embarassing us on their home turf.

Questions were also being raised as the how the women fare in their first game in Swan’s club colours, and whether the Angry Swans would be able to maintain their rage and dominance against the pace, fitness and youth of the Khmer & Viet.

Vietnam Swans vs Cambodian Eagles – 56 point win 8 goals 18 (yep 18!) – 66 to 1 goal 4 – 10

Well, when looking for talking points, there’s nothing more obvious than the 18 of them in the scoreline. The Swans overcame their yips, but with the Cannonball being over 2 legs (Home & Away) definitely walked away nervous about the return trip.

The other 3 key talking points of the game were:

The Defense – The scoreline actually flatters Cambodia who had the first goal of the game. From that moment on anything that even threatened to score an Eagles goal was snuffed out by a fierce defense. The half back line featuring James Bairstow and Nathan Milner not only rebounded all day but actually kicked half our goals (3 to Nath – 1 to Jimmy). Deeper English recruit Tommy Holden was a revelation, taking on opponents of all shapes and sizes, consistently hitting the ball hard and dominating every contest. His game sense meant he isn’t just winning the 1-on-1’s, but is producing offensive thrusts for the team. The Swans will be much strengthened in 2018 due to Tommy’s last line competitive abilities and growing AFL awareness!

3 goals and countless interceptions from Nath Milner effectively shut the Eagles out of the game.

3 goals and countless interceptions from Nath Milner effectively shut the Eagles out of the game.

The Game Plan – Coach Rocket White was tasked with forming a game plan that could cater to the wide range of skill levels and experience, new comers to ageing evergreen players such as Andy Glendinning. A challenge that you wouldn’t find anywhere back home, but one Rocket has spent the past 3 months chipping away at. First glance at the new plan leaves a lot to be excited about! A massive crowd at RMIT were treated to a full squad buying into a simple but effective game plan that works to get the ball into hands of players with space who are encouraged to then move the ball fluently into the open spaces.

It’ll keep coming together but everyone should be hitting the track and looking to upcoming games with enthusiasm.

Rocket Rod White (second in polo from left) is ushering in a new brand of footy and the early signs are great!

Rocket Rod White (second in polo from left) is ushering in a new brand of footy and the early signs are great!

The New Blood – New season and the Swans are awash with new talent, Tommy Holden was already mentioned down back but more debutants in Micka Matthews and Aaron “Chuck” Berry Cook ran amuck all day across the half forward line. Micka rampaging through the forward line like a long lost viking, making it impossible for the Eagles defense to keep him out of the game. Some better ball use in the congested conditions, which are typical of Asian footy, could have seen him really add to the Swans commanding lead. The impression left by the young man has seen the coach add Micka’s energy and passion to the leadership group for the season within a few weeks of joining the club.

Micka Matthews has joined the Swans game plan and leadership very smoothly early in 2018!

Micka Matthews has joined the Swans game plan and leadership very smoothly early in 2018!

Maybe the newcomers influence was shining through but even the Swans oldest blood seemed brand new with Andy G and especially AnGUS McEwin turning the clock back decades in splendid performances. Some more new blood was unlucky not to feature in this game due to lack of time on the ground but the huge playing turn out doesn’t mean they won’t get their chances and the evidence of their potential was shown later in the day (read on…).

AnGUS McEwin fires off a handball in one of his many influences on the game including some big contested marks.

AnGUS McEwin fires off a handball in one of his many influences on the game including some big contested marks.

Vietnam Swans Women vs Cambodian Apsaras – 1 point loss 1 goal 5 – 11 to 1 goal 6 – 12

Chia Sabbatucci has stepped up and got the Swans Women's team up and flying. She's leading on and off the field taking up significant roles on the committee at the same time! There's been plenty of player movement between the Bintangs and Swans over the years with the Swans recently gaining the upper hand and Chia is shaping as another highly influential acquisition!

Chia Sabbatucci has stepped up and got the Swans Women’s team up and flying. She’s leading on and off the field taking up significant roles on the committee at the same time! There’s been plenty of player movement between the Bintangs and Swans over the years with the Swans recently gaining the upper hand and Chia is shaping as another highly influential acquisition!

The past two months has been very successful for AFL women’s development in Vietnam, and thanks to the passion of Chia and her band of dedicated players, we have hit the ground running.  The club started women’s training on a weekly basis, building on the strong base that girls already have with playing Soccer, Gaelic and Rugby. The Vietnam Swans have made it their goal in 2018 – 2019 to focus on promoting Aussie rules football as a key sport in Vietnam and working on providing AFL clinics as means of health and fitness in Saigon and Hanoi to orphanages, Local Schools and training institutions.

Despite being the first offical game in swans colours the girls skills are already impressive and will continue to develop with a busy 2018 playing calendar already in place.

Despite being the first offical game in swans colours the girls skills are already impressive and will continue to develop with a busy 2018 playing calendar already in place.

A huge milestone for AFL in Vietnam was the Vietnam swans Lady’s first official AFL game Saturday March 10th 2018 Verse the almighty Cambodian Asparas, The Cambodian ladies team being established for the past 18 months having developed a strong knowledge of the game & a skill set to go with that. The Vietnam lady swans committed to the ball and proved to be an equal match on the day against a much more experienced opponent. Coming home strong the girls were unlucky to fall to the Cambodian team who were victorious by 1 point.

Heather Turkle has long been a source of strength for any Saigon women's sports teams and it appears AFL may just be the sport that best suits her skills. Watch out rest of Asia!!!

Heather Turkle has long been a source of strength for any Saigon women’s sports teams and it appears AFL may just be the sport that best suits her skills. Watch out rest of Asia!!!

The Lady swans didn’t go down without a fight; being the first game for most of our girls, we had to learn to play as a team our communication on the field has room for improvement, but in saying that it is a skill that will develop the more the team plays together. The girls commitment and effort to the ball was inspirational as was the teamwork and co-operation across the course of the game, which improved immensely as the girls gained more conficence and understanding of positional play and field positioning. The first half saw the girls being called for a few too many throws and holding the ball, this will reduce with time and practice. 

The girls next opponent is Malaysia in May, and we are sure after a few more trainings and scratch matches, they will no doubt continue to develop and be able to take it right up to the Malaysians on their first official tour in Swannies colours.

Khmer Viet Locals and Lifers vs The Angry Swans (won by the Khmer/Viets)

The Angry Swans are coming together to provide some of the old boys with an opportunity of still getting a kick, but this was not the case as the start of the year has seen impressive numbers of players available selection, so is now also providing an avenue for those missing selection in the main game an avenue to showcase their skills for the coach.

On paper there was plenty of quality throughout the Angry Swans lineup with many of the squad simply too new to VN, or not having been able to get the recent time on the track to crack the early game. The Khmer/Viets jumped out of the block and although the Angries frequently levelled the younger/faster/more conditioned team won out in a highly entertaining clash.

Physical Assets – These 2 teams couldn’t have come in with more different approaches. The Angry Swans average player age definitely heads North of 30 with plenty of size both in terms of height and bust in some cases but there was plenty of quality through the ranks, thanks again to the huge player turnout on the day.

The Khmer Viet  boys bring something to the game that most seasoned AFL veterans have never encountered. A player who will punish the smallest mistakes with lightning pace, different route running and increasingly sharp skills and game awareness.

The local players bring different challenges to Asian Footy. As numbers continue to grow their danger and influence over the game will continue to grow!

The local players bring different challenges to Asian Footy. As numbers continue to grow their danger and influence over the game will continue to grow!

Debutants – As in the first game, one of the outstanding factors of the day was the emergence of players who will be a force for the Swans for along time to come. Oscar Silk lived up to his name showing class that will be part of the main squad for a long time. Another, as yet unknown volunteer James, stepped up for the Khmer/Viet team during the first quarter and was another revelation. Despite his unassuming approach his amazing foot skills set up several goals, the first seeming a tad lucky, but repeated doses showed James definitely has skills he has honed back in Australia, if he pops his head back up he could be an outstanding addition to the Swans depth.

Cambodai's Nas, one of the poster boys of AFL Asia's continuing local development success stories continues to prove a handful for any team he comes up against. Cambodai’s Nas, one of the poster boys of AFL Asia’s continuing local development success stories continues to prove a handful for any team he comes up against.

The Development Direction – The final result was fitting, the game swung quarter by quarter often the Angries came out early in a quarter and took the lead before their fleeter footed opponents could re-group and get the swarm and run going, moving the ball effectively in a manner their opponents simply couldn’t cover. It was the much vaunted pace and poise of Cambodia’s Nas that proved the difference, just as he has in several Eagles v Swans games over the years. The success of all the Swans and Eagles local development players, proved once again the dividends the direction can pay, not just for on field results but for the clubs greater diversity and connection to our respective homelands.