For the past five seasons, the Australian Football Manila Cup has left the Philippines. This time, the cup stays home. The Philippine Eagles won the 2013 Manila Cup in dramatic fashion. It is the first piece of silverware for the Eagles in 10 years of existence.
The Philippine Eagles represent the Philippine Australian Football League (PAFL) in international competitions. The team had a great debut in 2004 when it defeated the Hong Kong Dragons, then reigning Asian champions, by 26 points. The Dragons sent a team to Manila in October of that year upon invitation. The year after, the Philippines hosted the Asian Australian Football Championship. Owing to inexperience and the superiority of other teams, however, the host team was eliminated early. The Eagles would not play in another Asian championship until 2012 due to a limited number of players who could travel abroad. Those who could were absorbed by other competing teams.
Because the aim of PAFL was to develop a team for international competitions and funds were needed to do so, the idea of an annual invitational tournament came into being. Thus, the Manila Cup was born. It was first held in 2008 with the Hong Kong Dragons sweeping all opponents convincingly.
Home field advantage counted little in the Manila Cup. The Eagles could only beat the Darkside Dragons, the Hong Kong Dragons B Team, for the first three editions. On the fourth year of the tournament, the Hong Kong Dragons finally lost a match in the tournament. It was in the hands of the Eagles. However, the Eagles could not win any more games and they finished with the wooden spoon.
In 2012, the Eagles finished third by winning two games. A one-point loss to the Jakarta Bintangs denied the Eagles one of the coveted top two spots, which meant a place in the grand final. This was the first tournament graced by the AFL Premiership Players Club. They were impressed by the passion and competition of the tournament. The group came back the year after.
The 2013 Manila Cup was the biggest one in the tournament's history to date. Eight teams played and the biggest Australian Football legend, Ron Barassi, came for this tournament. The Eagles finished in the top two of their group to enter the semi final. They met the Vietnam Swans, who were making their tournament debut. The Eagles won by four points to make it to their first final. They met the Singapore Wombats, which had won the Asian championship when it was held here in 2005.
The 2013 Manila Cup Grand Final was played with two 20-minute halves. The Wombats scored the first goal but the Eagles immediately hit back with a goal. The Eagles then dominated possession and scoring opportunities. However, they could not get away from the Wombats by more than three straight kicks. Squandered scoring opportunities resulted in the Eagles taking just a seven-point lead at halftime. Eagles' supporters knew that getting a couple of goals to start the second half would mean that the cup was in the bag.
In the second half, the Eagles were able to lead by as much as 14 points but it could have been more. Inaccurate kicking allowed the Wombats back in the game. With the fewer chances they got, they were able to capitalize. The Eagles were dealt a blow about midway through the second half when Allan “Hollywood” Sharman accidentally collided with teammate Travis Bull in going for a mark. Bull was able to kick the ball to another teammate waiting in the arc when play had to be stopped. Sharman was down on the the ground and a stretcher was needed to take him out of the field. When play resumed, the Eagles struggled to kick goals and the Wombats were able to overcome the 14-point deficit to lead by four points. With less than five minutes left in the game, the Eagles were able to get a point back to make the deficit three points. The ball went back and forth between the two teams. The Wombats were hoping to hold on while the Eagles were trying desperately to score a goal. Eventually, the ball got kicked into the Eagles' attacking arc and it was caught uncontested by Travis Bull, which meant that he could win the cup for the Eagles with a straight kick between the posts.
Before Bull could take his kick, however, the siren sounded. As such, he was allowed to compose himself before taking his shot at immortality. He then kicked the ball straight and true to win it for the Eagles. As the ball went through, his teammates and Eagles supporters swarmed. It was fitting that the best player of the game would win it for his team. The final score was 8.6.54 to 8.3.51 in the Eagles' favor. Tears of joy were visible in everyone barracking for the Eagles. Hollywood was able to rejoin the team in the euphoria with a bandage on the right side of his forehead. He was teary-eyed to know that the carried on without him. The AFL Premiership Club looked on as they were treated to a feast of Australian Football.
The trophy presentation was delayed as the Eagles, their staff, and supporters were relishing what had just happened. Eventually, the team had the trophy presentation and photos. Supporters of the Eagles got their photos with the perpetual trophy soon after.