A third AFL Middle East title in four years for the Dubai Dragons last month saw them surpass the Dubai Heat as the most successful Aussie Rules team in the short history of the sport in the UAE.
The Dragons roared to an 88-50 win over the BM Bulls in the Grand Final on March 20, gaining redemption for their final defeat to Doha Kangaroos 12 months earlier.
However, the emergence of the Dubai-based Bulls provides intriguing new storylines for the league ahead of next season, and will also breed a new three-way rivalry in the UAE’s second city.
The 2014/15 season was the Bulls’ debut, yet the new kids on the block reached the final and made the rest of the teams sit up and take notice.
The likes of the Kangaroos, 2011 champions Abu Dhabi Falcons and even Dragons will have to be wary of them next season.
With approximate figures of 15,000 Australians living in Abu Dhabi and Dubai alone, it is no surprise that the growth of one of Australia’s most popular sports has manifested itself in the UAE.
Aussie Rules has been played in the UAE since 2006 and the Dubai Dingoes, created that year, are the region’s oldest team.
The Dingoes were joined by the Dubai Heat in 2007 and a combined team represented the UAE at the 2007 Asian Australian Football Championships.
The following year the Heat entered on their own and won the title, beating the Singapore Wombats.
The staging of an AFL exhibition match in Dubai in 2008 was part of a continuing attempt to grow the game internationally and surely assisted in the emergence of the inaugural AFL Middle East campaign a few years later.
The opening game of the AFL’s pre-season 2008 NAB Cup was played between Collingwood and Adelaide at Ghantoot Racing and Polo Club, Dubai, on February 2008.
It was one of few official NAB Cup matches played outside of Australia and the game attracted a sell-out crowd of 6,102.
The curtain raiser for the AFL match was played between the Dingoes and Heat. The Abu Dhabi Falcons and Dubai Dragons were formed in 2008 as the UAE’s third and fourth clubs.
The NAB Cup game may only have been one match but it no doubt had an influence on what has now become a six team competition.
For Dragons and stand-in coach Adam Trzesinski, 2014/15 was a standout season.
Trzesinski, the 32-year-old former Abu Dhabi Falcons player/coach only joined the club on the eve of the campaign, but injured his knee soon after, ruling him out for the entire season.
However, took some time away and he seamlessly filled the void.
“It was quite special to lead the lads past the Heat record and we’re in good shape on and off the field,” said Trzesinski.
“We’re a close-knit club and we’re not going anywhere so I’m sure there are more Grand Finals on the horizon for us.”
One team who might have something to say about that are the Bulls.
Trzesinski had plenty of good things to say about the newcomers.
“The Bulls are the new kids on the block. We didn’t know too much about them but they came on leaps and bounds over the season, they have a few old heads from the Heat in their squad, and to reach the Grand Final was a great achievement for them,” he said.
“The Bulls will only get better next season and there’s quite a competitive atmosphere building in Dubai now,” he added.
“The Dingoes and Dragons has always been a massive local derby. It’s been the biggest game of the season and the Bulls have opened up another rivalry for us now, so that will only grow over the next few years.”
Bulls captain Andy Campbell is also confident that his team can improve on their maiden season, even going so far as to claim his side will go one better and win next year’s Grand Final.
“After such a great debut season the minimum we expect next season is to make the Grand Final again. We’ll win it next year, I’m telling you that now,” said Campbell.
“There’s lots of rivalry between the three Dubai clubs but even more so now and we’re gunning for the Dragons’ title next season.
“We were so stoked to make the Grand Final in our first season, it wasn’t expected,” said Campbell.
“The Dragons have a six or seven year history and we have around five months, so that’s pretty special.”
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