AFL Japan has endured State of Emergency restriction measures since April earlier this year and will finally get an opportunity to launch their 2021 A.LEAGUE season this weekend, after restrictions were lifted nation-wide on October 1st.

The A.LEAGUE kicks off this Sunday with an absolute blockbuster clash between the back-to-back premiers, the Tokyo Goannas and the youthful University-outfit, the Senshu Powers at the 私学事業団総合運動場陸上競技場. Meanwhile, GAA newcomers, the Japan GAA Wolfhounds have joined the A.LEAGUE and will make their much anticipated debut the following Sunday on September 19th.

The Tokyo Goannas have been an enviable force throughout the course of AFL Japan’s history, collecting an impressive 11 premierships since AFL Japan’s original league was first launched back in 2004.

The Senshu Powers have also had their own period of sustained success over the past five seasons, including playing in four consecutive Grand Finals between 2016-2019, achieving the ultimate glory with premiership success in 2017 & 2018, whilst finishing a gallant third last season.

This game shapes up as a classic encounter to kick off the season and is a must-win for both teams, given there’s only two minor round games in this year’s shortened season, plus a new finals system that will feature all participating teams for the very first time.

During a normal/pre-pandemic season the 5-team league would essentially play each other twice during the season, before 2nd and 3rd on the ladder after the minor round season would play one another in a Preliminary Final, with the winner gaining an opportunity to play in a Grand Final against the minor premiers.

Given it’s a shortened minor round season, there’s a new finals system which will see 4th and 5th on the ladder play against each other on the first weekend of the finals series in a sudden-death Qualifying Final, with the winner to take on the top of the ladder team in a Semi Final clash, whilst 2nd will take on 3rd in the other Semi Final clash.

Both Semi Final winners will obviously advance to the big dance and a have an opportunity of tasting premiership success on A.LEAGUE Grand Final day, which is the last Saturday before Xmas on Saturday December 18th.

This season’s 5-team A.LEAGUE will feature the Tokyo Goannas, Eastern Hawks, Senshu Powers (University team), Kanazawa Magpies (University team) and the GAA newcomers, the Japan GAA Wolfhounds, and will see each team predominantly play against the two teams that finished closest to them on the ladder at the end of the 2020 season.

Due to the pandemic restrictions placed on the majority of their players last season by their employers, the Tokyo Bay Suns merged with the R246 Lions (GO.LEAGUE team) and became the Echidna Blues during their maiden 2020 A.LEAGUE season.

Unfortunately, both the Tokyo Bays Suns (2013 & 2014 premiers) and the Echidna Blues won’t be returning to the fold in season 2021, however the R246 Lions will be focusing and concentrating their efforts on their 2021 GO.LEAGUE (Development League) campaign.

Despite the Tokyo Bay Suns and the Echidna Blues withdrawing due to the aforementioned reasons above, it’s created an opportunity and an opening for a new team in town – The ‘Japan GAA Wolfhounds’!

The Japan GAA Wolfhounds are a GAA-based team and will be a welcomed addition to the A.LEAGUE in season 2021, as they’re currently unable to travel overseas for any GAA Asian-based tournaments, due to the obvious travel restrictions.

Plenty of GAA-AFL cross code players have tasted both team success and individual accolades as Tokyo Goannas players, Japan Goannas players, as have a plethora of other cross code players scattered throughout Asian footy clubs.

Their transferable skillsets, invasion game background knowledge, and their passion and hunger for the contest, enables them to fast track their skill development and game sense understanding of our great game and allows them to become quite natural players, who can quickly hone in on their craft.

AFL Japan President Hideki Miyasaka expressed his gratitude and excitement that football is returning in Japan and welcomed the Japan GAA Wolfhounds to the A.LEAGUE;

“We are pleased to announce the start of the 2021 A-League season.Since the state of emergency has lasted for several months, it will be a short season of just two and half months including the final series.”

“However since we are expecting a Gaelic Team, the JAPAN GAA WOLFHOUNDS, joining the competition and also introducing a new Finals System, we are very much excited for commencement of the season.”

“Finally, we are hoping that the infection of the COVID will be resolved soon and have a normal “Footy Season” back not only in Japan but also in Asia and the World.” Miyasaka said.”

AFL Asia would like to wish AFL Japan and it’s five A.LEAGUE teams and their players all the very best for the season ahead and we look forward to providing plenty of online presence and exposure of the A.LEAGUE season on our social media and digital platforms throughout the season.