The 2015 Manila International Cup is one that will go down in Swannies folklore and for good reason.
The Swannies entered the tournament as massive underdogs, a home defeat to the undefeated Malaysian Warriors (who came into the tournament on a high having also defeated Thailand Tigers and Jakarta Bintangs), the ever strong 5-time Manila Cup Champions the Hong Kong Dragons and the home side, the Philippine Eagles all more favored. While this suited the Swans, they went into the Cup quietly confident of turning Asian Footy on its head.
An unlikely source within the Vietnam committee had given senior Swans players no option but to go into the tournament breathing fire, anything but a win and our beloved treasurer Rowan was leaving his post. He had decided the Swannies had been competitive at the highest levels of Asian footy for long enough and only taking that next step would do.
The senior players not only took on the pressure they thrived on it. They knew this was the best team the Swans had taken to the Manila Cup and never before had a team prepared so well.
Veteran and soon to depart gun mid Mitch Hyde set up grueling twice weekly gym sessions. New Vice Captain Timmy Pickert set up Wednesday night skill sessions. Joe Vile had the Hanoi training scene in order. All the boys worked harder than ever on the track and the leadership group put together a game plan to bring cup back from Manila and put the Swannies up there with the top realms of Asian footy once and for all. When confirmation came that legendary Swan Dave O’Shea was to make his way to Manila to once again pull on a Swannies jumper, all the pieces had come together. Semi Finals wouldn’t cut it anymore and 18 blokes had one mission when they headed for the Philippines.
The day dawned like most in Manila, hot, humid and hectic. The Swans preparation was slightly hampered when it was realised that no whiteboard had made the trip, Precious couldn’t get his hair quite right and Trent Davies was AWOL, but in each case the team adapted and no-one lost sight of the bigger picture.
Round 1: Swans 8.3.51 def Hong Kong Dragons 4.3.27
The first match of the day gave the Swans the perfect opportunity to send a statement. Asian footy powerhouse the Hong Kong Dragons dominate around these parts and for the Swans, anything but an upset would be acceptable to get the day off to the right start. Coach Glendinning would emphasise tackling throughout the day and his players responded with players such as Tuan Nhan and Trent Davies throwing themselves into every contest.
The Swans midfield of Hyde, O’Shea and exciting young Hanoian recruit Tom Doer promised to be our crown jewel but with big Keysy unable to run any further than 20 meters in straight lines without breaking down, James Bairstow nursing a twisted knee, Vaughan Swart required down back to tame opposition full forwards, the big question was who was going to Ruck and will the mids be able to get their hands on it??? Left with no other option, Captain Billy Crang was inserted into the middle to rekindle illusions of former midfield glory. While the old boy may not have had the ‘ups’ of his opponent, his superior body work and the Swans mids superior skill and fitness levels were enough to allow the Swannies to rack up plenty of clearances right from the first bounce.
The Swannies piled offensive pressure on the Dragons and big Keysy and the rest of the forward line obliged. The Swans went into half time comfortably up and the makings of a memorable day started to fall into place. The Dragons came out breathing fire in the second half, getting back 2 of the 5 goals they lost in the first half and causing some nerves before the Swans settled all over the field. The backline being led by Pickert, Swart and the old trusty hand of Dan Morrison rebounded time and time again, the mids kept powering the ball forward and our forward line combinations proved unplayable. The Swans went through the first game comfortable winners and all of a sudden that self belief Rowan had thrust upon the boys was looking like it could work out.
Round 2: Swans 14.8.82 def Barbarians 2.1.13
The Second game saw the Swans playing the Barbarians, a combo of extra Philippine based players and others looking for a game. These guys are always wild cards so the Swans came in cautious. A remarkable early snap goal from the boundary line by a young Philippino had the Swans on their toes but some strategic rotations by white board maestro Timmy Clements leading to some quick replies and gave many Swans a great opportunity to shine. John O’Rourke went to centre half forward and whilst perhaps not the 8 foot presence Keysy had been providing managed to be absolutely everywhere jagging goals from contested marks, leads and on the run. Bart Schneemann went into the ruck and not only got hands on ball in the air but around the ground giving the Swans extra drive. Colum ‘Precious’ John seemed to finally get his hair right and his straight lines out of the back line opened up the whole field turning Barbarian defense into Swannie attack for a comfortable win and seeing the Swannies qualify for the finals in straight sets
Semi Final: Vietnam Swans 7.4.46 def Malaysian Warriors 6.3.39
After a long lunch break the semi’s kicked off with the Swans drawing the form team of AFL Asia the Malaysian Warriors. Boasting quality players across each line the Warriors were gunning 100% for a clean sweep of AFL Asia in 2015. Coach Glendinning reminding his players how close the Swans had come in previous years and just how much heart would be required to make the next step and what this would mean to the Club.
The Swannies midfield came out of the blocks providing the Swans forwards with more quality footy seeing the Swans steal a few early goals to take the early lead. The Warriors inevitably kicked into gear and responded well to go into the half time sheds up a goal and a half ensuring another boil-over semi final for the Swans to make a maiden Grand Final performance.
After half time the Warriors started to find space putting the Swans backs under the pump even further. The Swans big 3 defensive line of Swart, Pickert and Morrison with help from many others working hard to drop back and lend a hand stood firm, saving goal after goal with pace, strength and acrobatics managing to quash multiple Malaysian attacks and keeping the Swans hopes alive. Second by second the Swans pulled themselves back into the game. James Bairstow went into the center bounces and got some hand on ball, Dave O’Shea was popping up everywhere and the Swans forwards began to be rewarded for getting in front controlling the contest.
Going into the final few minutes the Swans were still a goal down, had the momentum and all the possession but just couldnt find the answer with a couple of narrow misses, surely they wouldn’t go down at this stage by less than a kick again, surely… Enter Bart Schneenan, playing across the forward flank Bart managed to get onto the end of a Swannies attacking effort and casually go back and slot it right through the centre off one step to give the Swans the advantage by two points with not much remaining.
The Warriors would win the next vital center clearance and push forward but could only find a behind to close the gap to one point. The crowd was on the edge of their seats as Mitch Hyde took control of full back duties to pump the ball to the midfield boundary towards an advancing Keysy who stuck the ball in his big mitts after running over the top of a few smaller players. Another deep kick along the boundary line to the Swans forward pocket and almost out of bounds, Sha Mac gathered and with seemingly nowhere to go, linked a handball back inside to Joe Vile who found Bart running down into an open goal to into kick the sealer. FINALLY the Swans had progressed to the finals stage in a top flight Asian Footy tournament, however satisfied with the amazing victory the players knew this wouldn’t be enough for Rowan back in Saigon… not yet!
Grand Final: Vietnam Swans 6.2.38 def Philippine Eagles 6.1.37
It was uncharted territory for the Swans but never before had the Club had such a great opportunity to take home some major silverware. With the home crowd behind them and a desire to get overturn their 2014 Manila Cup GF defeat, the Eagles started the better and more confident of the two teams going into the half 4 goals to 1 up, with the Swans mids just not finding the space they had been used to all day.
With emotions being tested, rather than going negative, Coach Glendinning went Zen at the half, urging his players to relax, breathe and play the footy they had been playing all day. It was just the tonic the boys needed and before long the Swan mids had several more possessions racked up, Timmy Pickert gobbled up mark after mark that came his way, Keysy had another couple of goals to his name and the Swans were right back in it.
The Eagles to their credit would never surrender and just when the Swans looked like they would run away with the game they responded to make it neck and neck right up until the final siren. If not for an inspirational Vaughan Swart smother that will be sure to be recalled for many years at the Cow, it may have been a Philippines victory. The final siren sounding with the footy deep in the Eagles forward line much to the relief of the Swans, giving them their first Manila Cup.
Emotional scenes would follow at the Manila Polo Club, with many years of effort and toil finally being rewarded. “The Boy from Bunbury” Jimmy Bairstow’s inspirational efforts to push through several injuries (and perhaps a friendly lunchtime chat) being rewarded with the Player of the Final and Tom Doer’s consistent play throughout the day, including several memorable on the run goals at crucial points in the game giving him the Player of the Tournament.
It was a great day for Swans footy which the boys would relish well into the night, never so proud to be a Swan with their medals firmly around their necks and the multitudes of well received congratulatory messages flooding in from current and former Swannies across the globe.