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Jharkhand emerges double champions at the 9th National Championship

Posted on Sunday, January 28, 2024 by ARFAI,

Jharkhand Crows Senior team with the Trophy

The 9th Australian Football national championship in India, the ARFAI National Championship 2024, hosted by Australian Rules Football Association of India (ARFAI) in association with Odisha Footy Association (OFA), made a triumphant return after a hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with Jharkhand emerging as double champions. With over a decade-long tradition, this annual tournament has become a cornerstone in the Indian Australian Football calendar, and the 2024 edition was a testament to the resilience and passion for the sport in India.

In an exciting showdown, Jharkhand Crows emerged victorious in both the junior and senior divisions. The junior team’s record-breaking win of 16-9-105 to 0-0-00 against Maharashtra Giants showcased their longstanding dominance in the junior division, while the senior Crows secured a commendable victory with a score line of 8-6-54 to 2-3-15 against the West Bengal Tigers.

The tournament, which couldn’t be organised in 2021-22 due to the pandemic, found its way back with the initiation of two regional events in 2023 – the East-North Zonal in Ranchi, Jharkhand and the West-South Zonal in Secunderabad, Telangana. These events paved the way for the grand revival of the National Championship in the small city of Baripada, Odisha. Taking place on the grounds of M.P.C. Autonomous College, Baripada between January 20th to 22nd, the championship saw participation from 10 states, fielding 10 senior teams and 8 junior teams, comprising over 250 players and officials. The participating states, including debutants Uttar Pradesh Hawks, added to the diverse and competitive landscape of the tournament, while Tamil Nadu Kangaroos had to withdraw their participation at the last minute due to unforeseen circumstances.

Day one saw a mix of competitive league matches alongside a few games where some of the more experienced state teams dominated over some of the newer states. The Maharashtra Giants, Odisha Swans and Kerala Bombers played some quality footy, improving their performance form previous tournaments. Uttar Pradesh Hawks, making their debut at the national competition, brought enthusiasm and spirit to the championship.

Day two saw the remaining league matches in the morning, deciding the finalists for the junior division and semi-finalists for the senior divisions. The West Bengal Tigers defeated Maharashtra Giants and Jharkhand Crows defeated Odisha Swans to enter the Senior Grand Final.

The junior Grand Final saw a clean sweep led by the dominating Crows whereas the senior Grand Final saw the arch-rivals battle it out once again for the championship with Jharkhand emerging as comfortable winners in the end. The championship also served as a platform for the selection of the senior ‘All Star 30’ team, who will stand a chance to represent India at the AFL Asia Cup 2024 later this year.

Jharkhand Crows Junior team with their Trophy

The awards were handed out by a number of special guests attending the tournament, including the Chief Guest – Rowan Ainsworth, Australian Consul General, Kolkata; Sarojini Hembram – Former Minister and Rajya Sabha MP, Odisha, Debashish Marandi, SDC Chairman, Mayurbhanj, Odisha and Rakesh Singh, Indian National Congress leader; the 13 Australian volunteers from Bendigo, Victoria and Port Pirie, South Australia; alongside ARFAI senior leadership P.M. Chokshi, Rakesh Ghosh and Sudip Chakraborty.

The return of the tournament after three years resonated with joy and camaraderie among the states. Shane Sayner, volunteer from South Australia praised the Jharkhand Crows for their impressive coordination, going as far as suggesting that they could challenge local club teams in Australia! Indian captain Mahesh Tirkey who represents the Crows at the nationals attributed their success to the training session held by the Australian volunteers, emphasizing the importance of on-field communication. Noteworthy were the outstanding performances of first-year senior division Jharkhand players Deepak Oraon and Bansi Naik, with Bansi Naik earning a coveted spot in the All Star 30 team.

ARFAI is highly grateful to the supporters for the event including, AFL Asia, SEED, PNZ Express, Bendigo Umpires Association (BUA), Golden Square Football Club and M.P.C Autonomous College, Baripada, Odisha.

The tournament concluded on a high with a lively awards ceremony post both the Grand Finals, followed by the winning team’s jubilant celebration, dancing to the tunes of their folk music. It was more than just a sporting event; it was a celebration of resilience, sportsmanship, and the shared love for Australian Football. The 2024 National Championship, with its unforgettable moments and remarkable achievements, etched a new chapter in the annals of Australian Football in India