Toronto Dingos celebrate 15 years of Aussie Rules
There have been Dingos in the downtown for 15 years now.
Back in 1989 when Australian Football League teams Essendon Bombers and Hawthorn Hawks played at the once-named Skydome, several footy fans formed a Canadian version.
For the Dingos, spelled sans E, they’ve been tackling the game since their inception by Mark Jones in 1996. They would be the eighth team in a Canadian league and was composed of players from other teams.
Fast-forward 15 years, and now the league has expanded to 10 teams, including rosters from Hamilton, Guelph and Ottawa.
Current Dingos president Craig Stewart, emailing from Australia, joined the squad in 2000 and recalls the dominance the wily canines had back then.
“The club really took off on the field this year as we managed to secure many quality players, and we ended up winning the OAFL Grand Final for the first time,” he said.
The Dingos have won three premierships since 2000, including a three-peat from 2003-05.
“We have had many up and downs throughout the years,” Stewart said. “We have missed out on the finals only once since 2000 so we have always been a fairly successful club.”
Now the goal is to start a woman’s team to compete with Central Blues, Toronto High Park Eagles and Etobicoke Kangaroos.
The men’s Division 1 team coach Chris Buczkowski says there’s a lot of interest and it’s just a matter of time before a bench boss is brought on.
“We’re just putting the coaching in place for the women’s team so they can continue on recruiting,” he said. “Right now a lot of the current players have been recruiting women who are interested in trying it out, whether they’ve played other similar sports in the past.”
The women trained alongside the men at Upper Canada College in late January, and the members of the organization are deeply entrenched in the community, holding events at the Sports Café on St. Clair Avenue West for 11 years and also spending summers practicing at the Rosehill Reservoir at David A. Balfour Park.
Though rugby is the closest sport to Aussie Rules, Buczkowski is quick to correct some folks’ misconceptions.
“If I say I’m playing Australian Rules Football, they’ll say, ‘Oh you’re playing rugby’, so I always have to correct them and tell it,” he said.
Similarities include the full-contact sport without equipment and the ball is of the same oval shape.
“In rugby you have to be onside with your team, in rugby with Aussie rules there is no offsides,” Buczkowski said. “You lineup around the field like you would with soccer with forwards, midfields and defence.
“You advance the ball by kicking it while you’re running, that motion is similar to a punter or a soccer goalie when they’re dropping it of their hands.”
The nuances make the game unique, Stewart adds.
“It is very addictive once people try it and learn the game the correct way,” he said. “The women’s game has modified rules to protect the players.
“The Toronto Dingos offer free clinics all winter for women and men, and these clinics are a great way for new players to learn the sport and hopefully continue to play for years to come.”