Ahead of this weekend’s historic game in China, Aflplayers.com.au takes a look back at the inaugural AFL game in Asia.
Just two weeks after Collingwood defeated St. Kilda in the Grand Final replay in 2010, the Brisbane Lions and Melbourne Demons were playing the first exhibition game in Shanghai.
Initially, both teams had some hesitations playing the game so close to the end of the season.
Brent Moloney, who captained Melbourne on the day, looked back on the trip with fond memories of the game as well as the cultural experience.
“I really wasn’t that interested in going, but once the club gave us some insight into what it was all about then I was in 100 percent and couldn’t wait to get over there,” Moloney told Aflplayers.com.au.
The teams embarked on a two-week journey in China where Moloney says he gained an appreciation for the culture and helped build a stronger bond within the club.
“The trip was great, basically the whole club got on board. It wasn’t just the players and coaches, everyone from in and around the footy club came along, board members, ex-players like Robbie Flower came along and we got to spend time with some legends of the game which was amazing.”
Moloney said one of his highlights were the clinics in schools in Shanghai.
“We were teaching young Chinese kids who and had never even heard of AFL before and didn’t speak any English, how to play our wonderful game was great fun.”
Despite the short turnaround, when it came to the match, which was to be played as a 16 a side game, Moloney was ready to play.
“I can’t speak for Brisbane but in the lead up we were all business.”
“We were ready to play when it came to game time, once the ball was bounced we went straight back in to footy mode. We were trying to win every contest; I wasn’t going to go soft.”
James Polkinghorne, who was playing for Brisbane in the game says that they approached the game with the same attitude.
“Once the ball was bounced it all came back to us, we had the same umpires and the same ball, so our young side had a real crack and wanted to impress the coaches. We certainly didn’t go over there to take it easy,” Polkinghorne told Aflplayers.com.au.
“Playing 16 a side was new for us, it made for a very free flowing, open game with lots of young kids and fast legs.”
The game wasn’t without it’s trials, being the off-season and with so many injuries Brisbane, in a struggle for numbers, had to call on a member of their administration team to play.
“We had to call Adam Spackman in who had just been de-listed and was working for the club still. He was super fit so he pulled on a jumper and slotted back in for the game,” Polkinghorne recalls.
“The temperature wasn’t a concern for us, I remember it being warm but nothing we weren’t used to in a Brisbane pre-season… the smog in the air was something we definitely noticed but it wasn’t too much of a concern once we started playing.”
Brisbane, coming off a strong season, shot out to a lead and were up by 28 points at three quarter time.
“I remember being up by a bit with Daniel Rich and Tom Rockliff leading the charge for us but Melbourne’s more experienced squad really started to stand up in the final quarter, Brent Moloney and Colin Sylvia started to get on top of us which allowed the brilliance of Liam Jurrah to shine through and he kicked a bag, including one on the siren to give them a win.”
Jurrah was instrumental in the win for the Demons who overcame a 31-point deficit in the final term to take home the Kaspersky Cup.
Jurrah kicked five goals for the match, including one after the siren to give the Demons a five point victory.
Results aside, both players described the Shanghai experience and the AFL’s first venture into Asia as a success for the clubs and the game.
“I think the game was really exciting because we’re taking the game across the world and putting on a show for a bunch of people that know nothing about it.” Polkinghorne said.
“Showing them what it’s about over there, we were entertainers and not just footballers, we were putting on a show.”
The trip also provided a rare opportunity for the players from both clubs to get to know each other off the field.
“It was great to get to have dinner with the Melbourne guys after the game and there is lots of strong relationships that came from that trip.”
“It was great to get to know the Brisbane players, it was a bit like the old days of footy, we all got to have dinner together and to catch up which the players don’t get to do much in this day and age.”
On reflection, the game and the trip hold special significance for Moloney.
“Looking back, being able to have that experience with Dean Bailey is something I look back on fondly, there is a picture of Dean and I holding up the cup that I really like. He was like a father figure to me; he cared so much about all of us as players.”
“It was so sad to see him go, we stayed in touch and spoke on the phone every week after he left Melbourne and stayed really close, so winning in Shanghai is something really special to me.”