KEVIN Sheedy will lead a contingent of Essendon officials to India as the Bombers seek to tap into the growing Indian community around the club and, longer term, eye hosting an AFL game on the subcontinent.
The Bombers' party will fly to Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, where they will attend the Indian AFL national championships, after which Sheedy will select the team that will represent India at the International Cup in Melbourne from August 5.
The four-time Bombers premiership coach told AFL.com.au Essendon and the AFL had a great opportunity to grow Australian football by spreading the gospel to Indians, both in Australia and their homeland.
"We have a lot of Indian people out in the Essendon catchment area who barrack for the Bombers, they've come out here to live and they've fallen in love with our game. When you look at that happening you've really got to support that," Sheedy said.
"I was reading the other day the numbers of Chinese and Indian people wanting to come to Australia, and also wanting to live in Australia, have really spiked.
"We should welcome that and make sure that they feel every part of living in Australia and, of course, in enjoying our great Australian game."
Sheedy said it would be exciting to see the best Indian players in action at their national championships, which will run from January 15-17 and feature teams across two divisions.
Long one of the game's true visionaries, Sheedy is dreaming big about the inroads the AFL can make in India, the world's second-most populous country behind China.
Sheedy believes a good number of India's 1.3 billion residents could embrace Australian football and hopes the Bombers can eventually host his former club Richmond in a game there.
"To me, you've got to get there now and inspire people, get people to want to be involved in the AFL and help (them) enjoy the game. It's a great opportunity not just for Essendon but the game in general, but Essendon are going to lead the way," Sheedy said.
"When [Indians] get the passion to love a sport they could really get to love AFL. They're not really big into soccer, they're not into rugby league and rugby really, so we've got a great opportunity here and we should nail it and get on top of it right now.
"My last trip into that Asian region was when we went to Shanghai to see whether there was an opportunity there and, of course, the AFL has a game there this year.
"Hopefully it is the forerunner to a game in India. I would love to see the Tigers and the Bombers in India one day, maybe the Bombay Bombers and the Bengal Tigers play each other."
Essendon will sponsor and support the Indian team when it travels to Melbourne for the International Cup. The Indian team will wear Essendon jumpers, train at the club's Tullamarine headquarters and receive coaching from its AFL coaches.
The Bombers have two players of Indian origin on their list, Alex Morgan and Ben McNiece, while the club most recently travelled to India in October 2014, when Dyson Heppell, Zach Merrett, Joe Daniher and David Zaharakis took part in a cultural exchange program.
The International Cup is played every three years. No expatriate Australians are eligible to play. Teams are comprised solely of amateurs who must be nationals of the countries they represent.
In 2014, there were 25 teams (18 men’s and seven women’s) that represented 18 different nations. Papua New Guinea won the men’s final while Canada won the women’s final.