The Swannies watch the Grand Final of the Manila Cup played between the Philippines and the Singapore Wombats on Saturday.

Matt Natalotto is a former resident of Vietnam and ongoing Swannie who just happens to live in Manila.

He played for the Swannies in the weekend’s Manila Cup and has prepared the following tournament report.

All football tours offer something different. The 2013 Manila Cup provided the opportunity for the Vietnam Swans to induct a couple of new players on their first international tour (Josh Daly, Trent Davies and Tray Fallon (?)), to have a genuine attempt at acquiring some more silverware and a stage to say farewell to their dominant captain and club legend, Luke Creamer, club leaders and inspirational players Dave O’Shea, Ryan Evans, Nick Moger, Marty Beecroft and Brian Farrell.

The stage was set and the team congregated at the impressive Manila Polo Club early morning Saturday in anticipation of their first game against long time rivals the Hong Kong Dragons. The Swans arrived quietly confident knowing the team had a solid core group who had now racked up many international wins together over the past few years.

GAME 1 – Vietnam Swans Vs Hong Kong Dragons

The three group games began at 9:15 am and it was the Swans who jumped the Dragons to achieve an early 4 goal lead! Andy Glendinning (Coach) had masterfully applied a strategy for the short ground and to accommodate the rule of only being able to shoot goals from inside a 35m arc. This involved pushing a defender into the middle which ensured numbers at the ball and gained the Swans important mid field dominance early in the game.

But the Dragons are a very skilful and experienced team and late in the first half they began to push back and managed a couple of late goals. The Swans held the Dragons thoughout most of second half with some incredibly skillful and damaging plays starting with Bill Crang pushing out of defense, linking up with Dukesy and Dave in the midfield who then fed Revo and other forwards to keep the scores ticking over. The guys deserved the lead and deserved to win – but a couple of missed opportunities and an accurate Hong Kong allowed the Dragons back into the game.

With just seconds to go, the Dragons kicked what would be the winning goal. The siren sounded at the following bounce down and the Swans were denied any chance to recapture the lead. A heart breaking loss after such a dominant performance.

Game 1 Result: Hong Kong Dragons def. Vietnam Swans 7.1. 43 to 6.2. 38 (TBC)

GAME 2 – Vietnam Swans Vs Alabang

The Swans entered Game 2 in a must-win scenario and played with a must-win attitude. From the outset the Alabang Team were under constant and extreme pressure and this time the Swans made it count on the scoreboard. Nathan and Sean Milner attacked the ball with even more ferocity than ever, Marty in the ruck and the midfield team went on a field day and Revo and Timmay converted.

The Alabang team comprised a base of local rugby players so although they were a fit and strong group they lacked the knowledge and skill of AFL. A big win was recorded but the Swans were not getting ahead of themselves.

Game 2 Result: Vietnam Swans def. Alabang (final score tbc)

GAME 3 – Vietnam Swans vs Barbarians

The final Group Game against the Barbarians went a similar path to Game 2 with the Swans dominating from the outset. If at all possible the intensity lifted as the Vietnam boys smelled and secured victory to contemplate a semi final appearance.

The 2 Group stage victories lifted morale and the boys went into the lunchtime break with confidence and no fear no matter who their opponent might be in the semi final.

Game 3 Result: Vietnam Swans def. Barbarians. Score TBC

Semi Final – Vietnam Swans Vs Philippine Eagles 

Vietnam faced the host nation after they successfully accounted for the defending champs, Malaysia, in their group stage.

The importance and urgency of sudden death stage was not lost on players from either team and an increased determination and desperation was visible from the outset. Before the game, the Swans team had the privilege of being addressed by (former Essendon and North Melbourne Great) who emphasized the importance of getting to the ball first and not playing from behind. His words were not lost on us and the efforts of New Josh Daley and Nathan Milner have to be recognized for their incredible work load in this game.

On a dry, hard and dusty center square they threw themselves under the packs on countless efforts. Their work, along with their midfield associates began to pay off as Vietnam skipped to a small lead. However the Eagles were also starting to link up and in a super tough first half, it was the Philippines team which held a small half time lead.

However, not done with, the Swans came out in the second half with a do or die determination. A fantastic display of team work the Swans kicked two early goals to reclaim the lead.

The Philippine Eagles celebrate after taking the Final against the Singapore Wombats.

In one of the most intense games I have ever been a part of, the lead changed hands several more times before the Swans goaled and appeared to have claimed victory with less than a minute on the clock remaining.  But football can be a cruel sport sometimes and the cruelest of twists was yet to come.

The Eagles made one last push and a turnover from the Swans was all they needed to again snatch the lead. This time there was only seconds left once the ball was returned to the middle and the siren sounded to break the hearts of all the Swannies players and supporters present and abroad.

I had joined the team on this day knowing a sense of sadness would be present at some point with this overseas competition being the last for Dave, Dukesy, Revo, Moggy, Brian and Lurch. However I did not anticipate this cruel blow. We all felt the pain. It hurt bad. However the pain was soon replaced by a sense of satisfaction and overwhelming pride as the game caller and much of the crowd commended the Swans players on a valiant effort. We couldn’t bring home the Cup but we held the Swans flag very high and importantly maintained the high level of respect the other Asian footy nations now hold for the Swans.

Semi Final Result: Vietnam Swans def. by Philippine Eagles. Score TBC

The Final – The Philippine Eagles Vs Singapore Wombats

The Philippine Eagles went on to win the cup, again by a late goal – this time after the final siren to defeat Singapore in a thrilling final! In fact the sporting world has a new reference for  “Thrilla in Manila”. In their 10th year the Man
ila Cup is the first ever victory for the Eagles in any completion.

To see video of the goal after the siren in the Grand Final, .

Well done Eagles.

To see photos: .

Tourers: Luke “Dukesy” Creamer, Andy Glendinning, Dave O’Shea, Bill Crang, Ryan “Revo” Evans, Paul “Mr Powell” Koch, Sean Milner, Nathan Milner, Phil Ghasseb, Tra Vy Fallon,  Josh Lee, Josh “Newer” Daly, Brian Farrell, Nick “Moggy” Moger, Matty Natalotto, Trent Davies, Mike Weissbluth and Rodney “Rocket” Gillett.