While the AFL season and football in Australia may be over for another year, next week the United States will play host to an annual event that is the largest Australian football tournament in the world.
More than a thousand players from the US and Canada will be involved in the 2015 USAFL Nationals, held in Austin, Texas.
To explain how it all works, I sat down with Brian Barrish, media manager for the United States Australian Football League.
The national championships were first held in 1997 and have been run annually ever since. Denver has won the competition the most with eight men’s championships, and five women’s championships.
This year’s event will be held at the Onion Creek Soccer Complex in Austin. It’s a two-day event which features both 18-a-side and 16-a-side competitions on ovals marked out across a number of soccer pitches. This is the third time Austin has hosted the event, after previously hosting in 2011 and 2013.
Barrish informs me that pretty much every USAFL competition has been played across a soccer complex, due to a lack of oval grounds in the USA. Worse, the competition needs five fields for the weekend, and finding a cluster of oval grounds is near an impossible task.
This year is the largest competition field in terms of teams competing. There are 45 men’s and women’s teams from 40 clubs in the United States and Canada. These will play in six divisions, including four men’s divisions. For the first time there will also be a second women’s division.
All teams in all divisions are subject to the 50-50 rule, that is, no more than 50 per cent of a team’s players on the field can be from outside the United States or Canada.
Of particular note this year is the 10th anniversary of the women’s competition in the USAFL. Brian says the women’s competition has been incredible over the decade, having started with just 30 women from three teams in 2005, to 170 women representing 15 clubs across the country in 2015.
With more than a thousand players involved, and many teams will bring more than one side – some will bring one or two and half sides, with the extra players merged with another side. These half-half teams compete in the men’s fourth division and the women’s second division. The USAFL won’t turn away anyone who puts in the effort to turn up to nationals to play.
The nationals competition runs from October 17-18 and teams will play at least three games in that period, with a grand final on the Sunday afternoon. The women’s competition is a little different with the winner being awarded after a round-robin series of four matches each, and no final.
Each match consists of two 20-minute halves, and the average person can expect about a game and a half of footy.
In addition to premiership medals, awards are also given to outstanding players in each division. The Paul Roos Medal, named after the former AFL player and coach and former US Revolution coach, is awarded to each division’s best and fairest.
The Coopers Medal goes to the most consistent player in each division, while the Geoff Cann Medal goes to each of the grand final MVPs. The field umpires of the grand final are also awarded medals, receiving the Hayden Kennedy medal.
Barrish says Division 1 is a tough group with last year’s winners, the New York Magpies, and last year’s runners-up, the Orange County Bombers, taking on all comers, including home side Austin and former winners Denver. Barrish believes that all sides in that group have the talent and ability to take out top spot at this year’s event.
For the women, the Denver Lady Bulldogs are looking for their sixth national championship, having won 21 consecutive games at the national. Barrish says they are deserving favourites, but if anyone is a chance to beat them it’s San Francisco, while Minnesota always supply a strong side. New York could be a dark side in the women’s division, enduring their best season ever.
Barrish says that the USAFL is trialling a College 10-a-side game at this year’s event, with a hope to expanding on that concept at a later point. The USAFL have seen some regional 10-a-side events, but for the time being the nationals will remain a strictly full size competition.
Riddell Umpires will be sending 16 umpires to the event to conduct an umpiring clinic, as well as doing some of the umpiring at the event. They will also provide some feedback on the umpiring at the event. Barrish says this has been in the planning since the last International Cup.