Two Gunnedah schools have earned their place at the finals of the inaugural Sam Naismith Cup.
The qualifying round of the North West secondary schools AFL competition was held in Gunnedah on Wednesday.
Eight teams from across the region featured in the carnival named after Gunnedah’s own Sydney Swan star, Sam Naismith.
The competition decider at Inverell (May 26) will feature St Mary’s College Gunnedah in the open division while Gunnedah High will tackle fellow finalists in the under-15 division. Also qualifying for the finals were Tamworth outfits Carinya Christian School (opens) and Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School (U15s).
Tournament and AFL NSW development co-ordinator Matt Crawley is thrilled to host a strong Gunnedah presence at the finals.
He described Gunnedah High, which struck with a 20-6 win against Farrer in round one, as the competition wildcards.
“They did really well,” Crawley said. “I think they even surprised themselves.”
He commended all teams on their enthusiasm in the unfamiliar football code.
“Their skills came a long way, all players had improved by end of the day,” he said.
“They could see they were actually good at it and they could transfer their skills from other sports.”
St Mary’s College coach Mr Neader said despite the carnival being the first Aussie Rules exposure for many of his players, all were quick to assimilate the rules.
“Only one has played before, the rest have other football backgrounds,” Neader said.
“But they have all picked up the basics fairly quickly.”
Neader, who plays with Gunnedah Bulldogs AFC in Saturday’s senior Greater AFL North West competition, hoped the experience would encourage juniors to further their interest in the game.
“Hopefully it gives them a bit of a taste,” he said.
St Mary’s walked in a 60-3 drubbing of Farrer in its opening match of the day.
Also encouraged by the school participation was Bulldogs AFC spokesman John Woolaston.
“It’s really good to the interest and players giving it a go,” Woolaston said.
Swans star Sam Naismith said the game had evolved considerably over the years.
“AFL was growing when I was back there,” Naismith said.
“But over the four to five years that I’ve been here in Sydney, it’s just blossomed even more and it’s just great to see everyone embracing it.
“Hopefully now with this new competition it promotes some more interest in the sport within the region, and more junior clubs can grow from that.”