The Vietnam Swans have been unsuccessful in their bid to win an unparalleled fifth straight Indochina Cup title, with an honorable defeat to hosts Thailand Tigers to finish runners up with a 3-1 record. However, it was the inaugural game for the Embers coached Indochina All-stars team that took the headlines in a historic day for the development of footy in Asia.
An exceptional touring party of around 50 Vietnam Swans players, girlfriends, boyfriends, groupies and supporters descended on Thailand over the weekend of 15-16 October for the 9th ICC, one of the club’s largest ever traveling parties. Some Swannies proving their commitment to the cause, going way beyond the call at great financial cost to get there, the Vietnamese aviation authorities apparently not showing much sympathy for late arriving Presidential delegations at Ho Chi Minh airport.
Those that made their flights gathered Friday night with players from the Thailand Tigers, Laos Elephants, Cambodia Eagles and AFL Asia’s newest and best named club, the Myanmar Fighting Cocks, for a couple of quiet powerades at a respectable Bangkok establishment and watch Micky Malthouse blow another head gasket after yet another Carlton fade out.
The excitement was starting to build throughout the night and into the morning, particularly so for some of the younger Swannies contingent, several players making their ICC debuts. The two hour early morning bus to Pattaya allowing a quiet moment of reflection before the intensity and heat of the day ahead.
Swannies firing up for the first game of the day
Vietnam 2.3.14 def Cambodia 1.1.7
The first game of the day for the Swannies but the second for the Eagles, having defeated Laos in the tournament opener. However, it was the Swans that came out the more aggressive team, opening their account through yet another Joe Vile special from deep in the right pocket that he has made his own. An almost uncanny replica of his game opening goal just a few weeks prior in KL.
The Swans feathers had plucked up and they should have doubled their score soon after with a delightful gather and run along the boundary from David ‘SOS’ Skowronski that ended with a his Hanoi comrade Grant Keys and a few others flat on their backs. The big man making a meal of SOS’ unselfish chip to him in the goalsquare, fluffing a great opportunity to put some space between the teams.
Hanoians Joe and SOS happy with their efforts up forward against the Cambodians
Only one goal separated the teams at the half but the Cambodians came out of the halftime huddle the more aggressive team, breaking the goal drought early in the second and just missing another to tie the scores, the pressure right on the four-time reigning champions as their first ever loss to their border rivals became a real possibility.
Enter Mitch Hyde, the midfielder sensing an opportunity to enter Swans folklore gathering the footy right in front of the Swans bench as the clock ticked down, breaking through the pack at full speed, promptly sitting an Eagles player on his arse and proceeding to slot in the game winner from 40 out on the boundary to see the Swans home by a goal. Stuff of dreams really.
Thailand 5.3.33 def Vietnam 2.2.14
The Swannies barely had time to recover from the Eagles scare when they were back on the field against a well stocked and organised Thailand Tigers squad, in what transpired to be the deciding game of the tournament.
The first half was evenly poised with both clubs going in one goal each at half time, Timmy Burdeu with a fine snap that rewarded the Swans for their intensity at the ball. The second half was all the Tigers, opening the second with three straight goals. Another SOS goal bouncing through from a booming center square punt giving the tourists some hope of a comeback before a late Thailand sealer saw them home by a well deserved three goal margin.
The irrepressible James Bairstow giving his all against the Tigers
Myanmar 3.3.21 def Cambodia 2.6.18
Not an official Swannies game but significant and worth recording for the fact it was the Fighting Cocks first ever ICC win with a number of Swannies players in true AFL Asia spirit answering the call to help out the Cocks by pulling on a jumper.
Significant also for Swannie Penny Wilmot, defying the boys club edict that she could not play to not only pull on the boots, but making a significant step forward for equality in Asian footy by contributing well across the ground and kicking an important goal for the Cocks, controversially ending any chance Cambodia may have had of an ICC title.
The Swannies Fighting Cocks
Vietnam 5.1.31 def Myanmar 3.3.21
Another close affair, with the majority of the Swans engine room choosing to line up once again for the Cocks in a show of good will following the Cambodia defeat. However, this provided a great opportunity for many all of the Swans interchange to gain valuable game time, with the Viet contingent of Aaron Mai, Tuan Nhan, Khoi Nguyen Le and Vuong Kim particularly impressive in their first Swans appearance, inspiring all with some aggressive tackling and intent at the ball.
Also impressive was a fired up Timmy Clements, slotted into his familiar full forward position after the coaching staff moved big Keysy up the ground to try and get him his first kick of the day. Full of voice, the Swans were unable to deny him the ball after some strong leads to see him slot home two goals for the game.
Vietnam 5.4.34 def Laos 2.1.13
With Thailand securing their ICC title by defeating Cambodia in the previous game, pride was on the line against a Laos Elephants team who had been impressive all day, beating the Cocks and only loosing to Thailand and Cambodia by a goal.
The game evenly poised at half time, it wasn’t until after a half time spray from Coaches Andy, Bill, Gus and several others reminding the boys of the pride that comes with pulling on a Swans jumper that the boys clicked into gear to put away several second half goals to see them home, a nice over the shoulder snap from young Hanoian Scotty Mills a stand out.
Indigenous All-stars 3-4-22 def Kangaroos 3.1.19
A great end to a fantastic days play at Pattaya with several Swannies making history by playing for and against the first ever all-Indochinese team, coached by former West Coast Eagles champion and Norm Smith Medalist Andrew Embley. The game went down to the wire but much to the delight of the crowd, the local boys holding on for a well deserved victory.
Andrew Embley with the Indochina All-stars Viet contingent
All that was left was the boat race, with Vietnam getting off to a great start, only to be hampered by some terrible beer sipping further down the line. Kelli Trinidad unlikely to get another call up to the boat race squad, who showed some good signs of improvement after their demolition in KL. The squad will be sure to continue to refine its line up and get in plenty of practice before the Asian Champs.
While not able to reclaim the Cup, it was only happy smiling faces over several plates of Pad Thai and Green Curry at a magnificent after game street feed, many staying on an few extra nights to enjoy the magic that is Bangkok.
Big thanks to tour leader Tuan Nhan and to all the support staff that made the trip over for a what proved to be a magnificent weekend for all involved. The 2015 ICC will likely be in Saigon so plenty of incentive there for the Swans to reclaim the Cup, with the 5th victory banners and Cup plaque already printed up thanks to the foresight of Billy Crang and Gussy Mcewin!
All photos copyright of of Kelli Trinidad – Thanks Kel!
More pics on the Swans facebook page