Blues star leads clinic at world's biggest Auskick centre - and it's not in Australia

THE largest NAB AFL Auskick centre in the world isn't in Victoria. It isn't in Australia, either.

The Singapore Sharks hold the title, with pre-COVID enrolments numbering around 500.

They dipped to around 350 last year, but are on the climb again, attracting a mix of Australian expats, those who were born in Singapore to Australian parents, non-Singaporeans and locals.

Darcy Vescio is seen at a Singapore Sharks Auskick clinic on January 29, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

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An independent group with both a junior and senior program (16 and above), the Sharks use the facilities at the Australian International School, and while a full-sized oval just isn't part of the Singaporean landscape, they adjust to soccer and rugby pitches with AFLX-style rule changes.

In line with the trend around Australia, the number of girls participating is on the rise, and last weekend, they were treated to a special workshop with Carlton star Darcy Vescio and former Blue Jess Jones.

"One of the players up here, their family is related to Jess Jones. They got in touch with her, and she was keen to come and visit," Singapore Sharks president Mark Houghton said.

"She wasn't too sure if she was going to be in contract, so she asked if one of her friends could come. From there, we started to build out the program that we rolled out on the weekend. 

"In a normal season, we'd have just over 100 girls participate across the entire season, and we're still a couple of weeks out, and we had 100 girls come to the clinic, which was great."

Sharks head coach Mick Stones said despite the heavy rain across the day, the girls loved the opportunity to pepper the AFLW players with questions.

"The players came out and did a talk at the school on Friday, and then we ran the Saturday program from about 1-6pm, we ran two sessions. All the girls from all the age groups were just totally fixated on the players," Stones said.

"We ran a Q&A session, we had signatures and selfies and all of that. The two players were just phenomenal in what they gave, really. They gave a lot in terms of the clinic itself, and then the time afterwards, they gave great feedback.

"There were a lot of Carlton jumpers around, and we might even convert a few more."

Darcy Vescio (left) and Jessica Jones chat to Singapore Sharks Auskick participants at a clinic on January 29, 2023. Picture: AFL Photos

The Sharks have been around since 2007, and provide either a link to home or a chance to participate in a uniquely Australian pastime for those from other countries. 

"Because there's not really a competition here to play in, the kids need somewhere to practice their skills. As they get older, the program develops a bit and is more focused on play, and getting these players ready to come back to Australia and fit into a team, or to maintain skills while they're here," Stones said.

"Some are here for three to four years, because their families have transferred up, then others are more long-term, like myself, I've been here for 15 years. 

"My kids have been running through from five years old, and now they're 13 and 11. There's a really big mix of age groups. We run for six to seven hours on a Saturday, so all the way through, and run through all the age groups with volunteer coaches."

Given there isn't a traditional Australian junior football pathway, the Singapore Auskick program is open to those up to the age of 15, upon which players graduate to the seniors squad, which trains mid-week and participates in AFL Asia tournaments around the region.

"When you look at the split of participation, we have participation of over 40 schools in Singapore. So, while we use the Australian International School as our headquarters, and they support us by allowing us to use their facilities, there's kids from over 40 schools," Houghton said.

"The nationalities would easily spread across 15, 20, maybe more, whether it's the Dutch, English, German or American.

"I'd like to put in a vote of thanks to AFL Asia, because we've been very fortunate recipients of grants from the AFL Asia program. One of those was specifically used for this program with Darcy and Jess."