Seize the Day - Day 2 at the USAFL Nationals

“Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” – Robin Williams, from Dead Poets Society.

Central Ohio is really, really flat.  Really flat.  And yet, that point is somewhat ironic considering how many teams have to climb a metaphorical mountain to make it to their respective Grand Finals at the 2014 USAFL Championships.

Forty teams came to Dublin with stars in their eyes.  Some more than others.  But as Sunday at Darree Park Fields wore on, ten teams over the five divisions had the peaks in their sights, the snow in their palms, and their flags in hand to plant at the top.

And when those flags were planted, it was a smattering of new champions, the erasure of bad memories, and the coronation of clubs who were amongst the best in the nation and now had the trophy, or trophies, at least, to prove it.

This is the story of the Nationals, 2014.

DIVISION ONE – Magpies Swoop By Bombers in Thriller

Four years ago the New York Magpies defeated a lot of naysayers, and the Denver Bulldogs, to take home their first Divvy I final.  The 6 time defending EAFL champs had proved to everyone that they were among the best, but would always slip up on Sunday at Nationals, in one form or another.  There would be no such trip ups here, turning aside an old foe in Calgary to get to the big dance on Sunday afternoon.

The Orange County Bombers, meanwhile, had stunned quite a few people, including the Bulldogs and defending champs Austin, to win their pool as well.  Defender Lachie Agars and his backline was busy in the opening pool matches, and they’d have their hands full with the New York attack from the opening bounce.

It would take all of 20 seconds for the Magpies to put their stamp on the game, when Brad Davis picked up a crumb inside 50, then handballed it to Brett Liddell who slotted home a right footed effort that just found space inside the left goal stick.  New York would keep the pressure on through the rest of the half, and eventually built up an 8-0 lead.

The pace was rather slow and, at times, stuck in the mud.  There would be several passages of play that would cause the Bombers to move forward, and eventually they would get their first major off the foot of Scott Leal.  Then, with halftime looming, OC’s goal kicking specialist Kenrick Tyrell booted home a set shot to give his team a four point lead.  Agars and the defenders made some key marks in the shadow of their own goal posts, and it was 12-8 to the Bombers at the half.

But Glenn Ormsby’s side has faced strong teams before, and with their high-flying ball movement reduced to a pedestrian maneuver, they were perfectly happy to try and grind out a win. The play of the second half was just as stuck as that of the first.  Daylight would finally show just past the halfway point of the second stanza, as good ball movement up the right flank saw Paul Guarino center a ball for Marcus Jankie to kick what would turn out to be the winning sausage roll.

Orange County did not give up, much to their credit.  Sebastian Aguiari’s side did not let up at all down the stretch, and although their defense would not allow any more majors from Jankie, Jordan McIntyre and the rest of the ‘Pie attack, they could only muster one behind in the final twenty minutes.  As ballyhooed as the Bombers defense was coming into the match, it was that of the Maggies’ which had won the day. The siren would go, and captain Michael “Magic” Murphy and his charges had their second hoisting of the John Harrell Cup.

"We have always been an offensive minded team, relying on skill and a handful of really good players to just carry us through,” said Murphy, who was chosen the competition’s Most Consistent.  “Over the years we realized that was not good enough. To win it all, we had to assert ourselves as a defensive side first. We knew that in the short games, if we were harder at the footy for longer the scoreboard would take care of itself.

“It was a team effort that won us this flag and I could not be more happy with my teams resolve and dedication to the club."

As for the Bombers, their first DI Grand Final was a long time coming after ascending to the top level in 2003.  Their effort was top notch, and they served noticed that they would be back next year. Kenrick Tyrell was a well deserved recipient of the Paul Roos medal for Best and Fairest, sharing the award with Calgary’s Stephen Beal.

FINAL – New York 2.4.16 def Orange County 2.1.13

WOMEN’S DIVISION – Gimmie 5! Bulldogs Stave Off West Coast Combination for Record Win

The Denver Football Club will tell you that they are, geographically at least, on an island when it comes to the rest of the teams in the USAFL.  They are also on a metaphorical one too, at least when it comes to the number of cups they have won in total.  Once again, it wasn’t a matter of if Denver would get to the Grand Final, but who they would get through to win their 21st straight game and add a ring to their collective thumbs.

The San Francisco Iron Maidens knew this well.  They were swept clean off the ground by the Bulldogs in Austin last year.  This year, they had to battle through a tough group, one that included a very talented Minnesota Freeze side, to get back to the final. This year, however, they outscored their opponents 67-1, and they had the agencies of three Arizona Lady Hawks and two members of the newly formed Bridgetown Banshees from Portland.

The ‘Doggies would jump in front early, thanks to Anna Thexton’s set shot goal.  But the Maidens would buckle down on defense and keep the Bulldogs to just three more minor scores the rest of the half.  Before the siren would sound for halftime, however, they would do something that hadn’t happened in three years; score against the Denver Lady Bulldogs in a USAFL Grand Final.  It would be just one point, but it was an inroad and a glimmer of hope.  9-1 was not a bad place to be with 20 minutes left.

The West Coasters would inch back into the game, and had added another couple of behinds to bring Denver into their front windscreens.  A hint of an upset swirled through the ground.

But Denver had been here before, and they had some of the best players in the country at their disposal.  Twannia Clark, who would be named Best and Fairest, would be her normal speedy self, knifing through the West Coast defense.  Lindsay Kastanek, a veteran who played one of her best tournaments this year in Ohio, nailed home the dagger from a close in shot with nine minutes left.

Number Five was just as sweet as the others, if not a little more so.  And captain Hallie Adrian, who has been there for them all, was gracious in yet another victory.

“That grand final game represented everything I wanted to see in women's AFL in the United States and even North America,” Adrian said.  “The game was tough, fast and featured the growth of the game in many new talented athletes. San Francisco has grown a phenomenal club in a short period of time that I know has inspired other growing clubs to go home and step their game up. Besides our fluke of a first Championship in 2010 versus Calgary, this was the toughest final I have experienced.

“I am so proud of my team for fighting through the end after some seriously respectable contests prior to the Grand Final.”

The Iron Maidens’ effort was again suprerb and defeat, with Jessica Estrada and her club again winning respect of a good deal of observers.  While the 5th title was secured eventually by Denver, the efforts of the Maidens and the Montreal Angels showed that number 6 will be even more of a challenge next season.

FINAL – Denver 2.3.15 def San Francisco/Portland/Arizona 0.4.4

DIVISION TWO – Third Time Charm as Dragons Roast Jackaroos

Los Angeles’ frustrations at Nationals have been well documented.  They entered the USAFL in 2011, and after a strong but unsuccessful showing that first year in Austin, the Dragons made it to the D-II Granny only to fall twice.  This season, LA cruised to the Final behind a 176-24 effort in Pool A, scoring a tournament high 27 goals.  Led by Robert Chisolm, they went in with hunger, determination, and a bit of a chip on their shoulder.

Their opponents had a similar chip on their shoulder, for two reasons.  The Columbus Jackaroos, led by Revo Chet Ridenour, wanted to repeat as Div 2 champs, and wanted to do so at home.  It came down to a fierce virtual preliminary final on Sunday against the Houston Lonestars, but the Jacks prevailed 27-22.  Columbus’ appearance would be their third in a row as well, finishing as D-3 runner up in 2012.

Columbus kept the game close for the opening stanza.  The Jacks’ defenders tried to neutralize Chisolm and Jeffery Robinson, and for twenty minutes, they succeeded.  But in the second half, L.A. cranked up the goal-scoring machine, and it started spitting out goals.  Adding 11 more majors to their total, the Dragons output of 69 points equaled the second most points in a D2 Grand Final, behind only Calgary’s 74 points on Minnesota in 2010. 

Chisolm’s tenacity was rewarded with both the Roos medal for Best and Fairest, and the Cann medal for Grand Final Best on Ground.

FINAL – Los Angeles 11.3.69 def Columbus 1.0.6

DIVISION THREE – Suns Get Redemption, Burn Hawks

It had been nearly 360 days since the Suns fell to the Houston Lonestars in last year’s Division 3 Grand Final, a match that was skewed by the fact that the Lonestars had two extra men on the field; a fact that wasn’t discovered until it was too late.  This year, Matt Bishop had is team poised and focused on a return.  They went into Sunday needing a win to get back to the Granny, but a 7-7 draw against Des Moines sufficed nicely too.

In Pool B, it was the Philadelphia Hawks who were in prime position to advance to their first Grand Final of any kind in nine seasons.  They took to the field against the Fort Lauderdale Fighting Squids on Sunday morning needing a win, and they took apart the undermanned Squids 72-9 to go on through.  For Veterans Jon Loring, Ryan McGettigan, and Dan Milbourne, it would be their first Grand Final in their long tenure with the club.

The ease with which the Hawks’ found attackers in their first three games disappeared quick, fast, and in a hurry.  Saleh Tyebjee, Sacramento’s big forward, got open and on top of the Hawks half back flank with some regularity, and his teammates just took it from there.  The Suns built an 18-1 lead at half time, and though the Hawks would get the ball in their offensive half in the second term, the damage was already done. Seven goals on eight scoring shots was the best performance in D-3 Final history.

For Matt Bishop, the dream of hoisting a cup for his new hometown of Sacramento had come true with their 38 point win.  For Loring and the Hawks, they could take consolation in having gone farther than they had in nearly a decade.  McGettigan became the second Hawk in six years to take home the Roos medal, while fellow Revo Tyebjee was awarded the Cann Medal.

FINAL – Sacramento 7.1.43 def Philadelphia 0.5.5

DIVISION FOUR – Tigers outlast PowerDogs Combo for First Flag

Though the North Carolina Tigers have faded to the bottom of the EAFL over the last couple of years, they have always played with courage and with a great deal of pride.  Here, facing a balanced side made up of Denver reserves and members of the Kansas City Power, the Tigs got up and paced themselves to a hard earned 14 point victory. 

The sixteen men who came to Dublin made history for one of the oldest clubs in the competition, as captain Nick Camilleri raised the first cup in the team’s sixteen year history.  Head coach Wes McCallister, one of a handful of American skippers in the competition, took home the Cann Medal.

FINAL – North Carolina 7.2.44 def Denver B/Kansas City 4.6.30

And so, another year of footy comes to a close.
Where we’ll be next year, no one yet knows.
But one thing is certain; the trees will turn ochre,
Keep training all winter, we’ll see you in October.


Posted in