Contributed by: Matt Morris Wednesday, January 18 2006 @ 11:59 pm ACDT
Melbourne daily newspaper the Herald Sun reported on January 16th[*1] AFL club Essendon are considering sending one of the Japanese players training with them over summer to its VFL feeder team, the Bendigo Bombers.
22-year-old Michito Sakaki and 23-year-old Tsukoshi Kase were invited to train with the Bombers until February, Sakaki having so impressed the club that he is a chance to move to the Bombers' Victorian Football League affiliate Bendigo.
Both boys have been playing Australian Football for five years in Japan and are both apart of the Japanese National Team.
Rebecca Williams reported the two may also play in Essendon's annual pre-season exhibition match against Sydney at North Sydney Oval. Although Essendon have at times in the past been unable to field international scholarship players in the North Sydney match for paperwork reasons, Bombers coach Kevin Sheedy said "It's not without the realms of possibility if we speak to Sydney and also the AFL," Sheedy said. "It's great for some of the countries to have the opportunity to send their kids over and learn by coming here and training and playing with AFL clubs."
There are still details to be worked out before the Bendigo Bombers would field a Japanese player, but the opportunity is definitely there. "With Bendigo, we've got to make sure that we get every kid opportunities here," Sheedy said. "But if some of the boys don't want it and aren't dedicated enough and this young man did, we would look at that."
There is also the option of the pair staying in Australia to play Melbourne suburban football with St Bernards, a traditional power club of the Victorian Amateur Football Association.
Sheedy said it was just a matter of time before a player from Asia broke into the AFL. "Sooner or later that's going to happen," he said. "Obviously we've done quite well with the boys from Ireland, but their game is a lot closer to our game than other sports."
Essendon FC CEO Peter Jackson also commented on making a target of Asia for boosting the club's brand, saying "If we can improve the awareness of the AFL as a sport, we can use it as a vehicle for business activity".
Essendon has created a name for itself in international experimentation, with a number of USAFL rookies training with the Dons over the years, as well as the trials of Ethiopian Goaner Tutlan in 2004.
WFN recently spoke with Japan AFL stalwart Troy Beard to find out whether Sakaki is a special case or whether his surprising form is indicative of footy in Japan. Troy was enthusiastic that more talent is on the way, but conceded that Sakaki has been remarkably good considering the small (but growing) player base in Japan.