Thursday, September 21, 2017

Myanmar nationals star in AFL debut

After stepping to his mark and smashing a kick through the uprights, Han Tun Aung kept his cool.

Han Tun Aung, left, and Min Thiha Kaung are the first Myanmar players to play AFL Asia. Photo: SuppliedHan Tun Aung, left, and Min Thiha Kaung are the first Myanmar players to play AFL Asia. Photo: Supplied

The rest of the team erupted into triumphant shouts.

Euphoria was to be expected, as the historic goal marks the first ever kicked by a Myanmar national in AFL Asia competition. It was a weekend of firsts for Han Tun Aung and his compatriot Min Thiha Kaung, both playing footie for the Fighting Cocks for the first time.

Kane Prosser, a member of the club, said Han Tun Aung approached the team during outdoor training about a month ago. The young footballer – who says he traditionally plays striker – was curious about the Australian-rules football that the previously-all-foreigners club was playing. They invited him to join in, and he began attending training sessions regularly.

Soon he had been joined by Min Thiha Kaung, and Ye Min Thu, forming a trio of Myanmar AFL players for the first time in the club’s history.

Local development has long been a core goal of the Myanmar Fighting Cocks, which came into existence in 2012. Many similar clubs, such as the Jakarta Bintangs and the Cambodia Eagles, sponsor local players to travel to tournaments such as the Asia Champs, and the Cocks secured a sport diplomacy grant from the Australian Embassy to support their local players on their recent trip to Cambodia.

Han Tun Aung, left, competes with Ye Min Thu for a mark at training. RJ Vogt/ The Myanmar TimesHan Tun Aung, left, competes with Ye Min Thu for a mark at training. RJ Vogt/ The Myanmar Times

When the team discussed travelling with the new recruits, Han Tun Aung and Min Thiha Kaung expressed interest. Prosser and club president Henry Cox helped Han Tun Aung apply for and obtain his Myanmar passport, covering the expenses and booking his flight with the team to Phnom Penh. It was his first time on an airplane.

“I’m not nervous,” he said on July 14, just a day before taking off. “I’m excited [to play].”

Min Thiha Kaung had flown before, but it was his first trip to Cambodia. The two new Cocks enjoyed a day of exploring the city before resting up ahead of the big game.

Though smaller than many of their opponents, Min Thiha Kaung and Han Tun Aung made up for what they lack in body mass with blistering speed. And in the fourth quarter, after Han Tun Aung had pulled away from his defender and marked a kick, he demonstrated the superior kicking ability that has made him a strong footballer.

After the game, team captain Andrew Romanin described the team’s response to the goal.

“We basically came running from everywhere and surrounded him,” he said, laughing. “Han was pretty calm.”

Romanin added that he thinks Han Tun Aung and Min Thiha Kaung will return to Myanmar with good
experiences to share. The new recruits will ideally begin to recruit others, attracting more Myanmar youth to the game and improving local development.

“Hopefully this gives us a bit of momentum with our goal of getting locals engaged with the game and the club,” he said. “We expect they will come back to Myanmar and talk about it with some of their friends and stuff and bring other guys along. Hopefully it just creates a bit of interest for them.”

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