While this series has dealt and will continue to write about National leagues as a matter of course, I felt that the Ontario folks were deserving of an article in their own right.
The Ontario Australian Football League is the oldest Australian rules competition in North America and one of the largest regularly held Australian Football competitions in the world outside of Australia.
The League was founded in 1989 as the Canadian Australian Football League. At that stage there were only two teams, today the league has grown out quite some way.
The Director of Development for the OAFL is Morgan King, an Australian now living in Toronto who is now playing footy in his fourth country. In Victoria he played for Yarraville and Sunshine. Its a fair distance to have gone to be a key man with AFL Ontario. This season was his third with the OAFL. He says that a key reason he moved to Toronto was the amount of footy they played there.
The league consists of 10 clubs with 3 divisions, The top division of ten teams plays 18 a side with 6 on the bench. (and of the 8 only 8 can be Australian and only 6 on the field at a time) The second division is a little more flexible and is more about developing new players and getting a game and can run as low as 10 players per game, and as many as 14. There are around 6 teams in the second division.
The Third division is the womens division. King says this is the fastest growing division they have. The womens division plays on modified fields and will play about 10 games a year.
The average distance between teams is about an hour, although the drive to Ottawa, home of the Swans, takes about 4 hours from Toronto. There are three clubs in Toronto itself, with another three in the Greater Toronto area.
The top division plays on a full oval, of which there is one dedicated Australian football field in Toronto, and pretty much all Toronto teams use the one ground. its not uncommon for matches to run from 9am to 4pm on match days – pretty much like you see on suburban fields across Australia on any given Saturday in winter.
The Hamilton side plays in the middle of a racetrack which is shared with soccer, rugby and gaelic footy.. King describes the lack of ovals as one of the biggest challenges faced by AFL Ontario, particularly as demand for land in Toronto is extremely high.
Matches are played weekly throughout the season, generally 14 round seasons, although they only played 12 rounds this season. The season is held during the Canadian summer, as no one really wants to play in the snow and borderline arctic conditions.
King says there are between 650-700 players in the competition, and of that between 35-50% could be Australian. The raw number is double what the league reported in 2006. Rules were introduced to limit the number of Australians in order to encourage the Canadians to develop and play.
Teams from Ontario dont participate in the US Nationals, while teams in the North West competition do, due in part to the competition structure of the league which revolves around weekly matches as opposed to carnivals. Qualification for the US Nationals involves playing in at least 4 carnivals over the course of a year – something the Ontario teams find hard to do and still play a normal season.
The womens Canadian nationals were recently held in Otttawa and won by Edmonton. King says there was 100 women at the event.. The women play an annual game – except for International Cup years – against the United States called the 49th Parallel cup. King says the league is looking to expand this series further.
King went to Dublin, Ohio for the 2012 game, and there were 50 Canadian girls in two teams – the senior side and a development one. ‘it was kind of mindblowing to be in middle america watching 50 canadian girls kick an aussie footy’, he said.
It might surprise some, but Mike Pykes successful AFl career taking of hasnt appeare dot have had much of an impact in Canada, despite the OAFL naming the second division trophy after him. King remains hopeful.
The Hamilton club is running its inaugural indoor football competition starting, well, now. The competition is 8 a side, non contact, with 2x 25 minute halves, with a season running from October 26 to December. There are presently 4 teams and 35 players involved. You can find more information on that here. Ottawa run a far less formal indoor pickup game according to Morgan.
If you want to be involved, whether just passing through or staying in the area, check out the AFL Ontario website at www.oafl.ca. The league is perenially short of umpires.
Another great eyewitness account of the game in the OAFL can be found here.