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International Cup stirs pride and passion

AFL IC17 stirs pride and passion Meet some of the players taking part in the 2017 AFL International Cup
Action from the Australlian Football International Cup 2008 Grand Final match between New Zealand and Papua New Guinea at the MCG, Melbourne.
New Zealand and Papua New Guinea always fare well at the International Cup

PASSIONATE sportspeople the world over are looking forward to a taste of AFL culture this month, as the sixth AFL International Cup provides a prestigious stage for around 1000 volunteer team members from five different continents.

Indeed, the Grand Finals for the men's divisions and the women's competition will take place at the MCG, Royal Park and Etihad Stadium respectively.

For those involved, the carnival will mark the culmination of three years of fundraising and preparation. 

For the first time, one round of games will be played at schools across the state, giving pupils from Mount Eliza to Ballarat an opportunity to watch the action. 

Players from the China Dragons have already spent time at Plympton International College in South Australia as they tour the country. 

The community round, introduced in 2014, will also see matches staged across Melbourne's suburbs and country Victoria, with the India-Pakistan game set for a floodlit St Patrick's College in Bendigo.

This standout fixture, more commonly associated with a small red cricket ball than a Sherrin, first featured in 2014 when Pakistan made its debut in the AFL International Cup. 

The Pakistan 'Shaheens' boast a women's team in this edition, too.

The eight-team women's competition will also feature three other new teams: the Great Britain Swans, Papua New Guinea Flames and European Crusaders. 

The Crusaders are the first combined team to play in the women's competition, with the squad made up of players from Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Scotland.

It is not the first time a combined team has entered the International Cup, with a Peace Team representing Israel and Palestine in 2008 and 2011.

The men's competition, which dates back to 2002, has been won twice each by Ireland and reigning champion Papua New Guinea, with New Zealand victorious in 2005.

This year, Croatia, Germany and Sri Lanka will make their debut in a new-look two-tier system that ensures a more even playing field. 

Ireland won the inaugural women's competition in 2011 and Canada took the title in 2014. 

"This platform provides a genuine opportunity for AFL and AFLW teams to look at talented footballers from around the world," AFL head of community and international development Grant Williams said.

"But more importantly, we are providing a wonderful opportunity for volunteers, who play, coach and administer the game overseas, to send a team to Australia and embed those it touches in the Australian Football culture. 

"Most people who watch the International Cup are blown away with the passion towards Aussie Rules."

The AFL International Cup starts on Saturday with the official launch and parade of nations kicking off at Government House. Two of the three Grand Finals will be played as curtain-raisers to round 22 matches at the MCG and Etihad Stadium.

For more information, including fixtures and live streams of round one, four and five matches, go to afl.com.au/internationalcup.