Steep learning curve but Panthers up to challenge

LATROBE Valley's first young multicultural football team fought with everything they had at the recent AFL Unity Cup in Carlton against more experienced players on their first ever competitive footy game.

In action: AFL Gippsland Panthers players have a go with the ball against their opponents from Football Integration Development Association. photograph courtesy of centre for multicultural youth

In action: AFL Gippsland Panthers players have a go with the ball against their opponents from Football Integration Development Association. photograph courtesy of centre for multicultural youth

Despite winning only one of the four qualifiers, the AFL Gippsland Panthers considered the games a learning experience as most of the eight-member team had never played football before.

Team captain Takudzwa Gwara, commonly referred to as TK, said the team performed poorly during their first game but gained confidence as they watched other teams play and became more familiar with the game's rules.

"The first game we played was bad but we improved over the day and watched how others were playing and learned more of the rules," he said.

Takudzwa said the team also missed two players on the day and had to ask a sister of one of his teammates to fill in.

He said while they had a rough time competing with four teams during the one-day tournament, they all enjoyed the experience and made friends with other multicultural players.

"We didn't care about losing we're just having fun," Takudzwa said.

The Panthers' performance improved on their third qualifier game when they beat the Football Integration Development Association and got very close to winning their final match against Leader of the Pack.

Takudzwa said the team's confidence was also boosted when some players from Hawthorn came by to show their support for the team and supplied them with custom-made guernseys in brown and gold.

The Unity Cup is an AFL initiative where multicultural teams from the different parts of Victoria come together to play a day of football.

The Centre for Multicultural Youth and AFL Gippsland worked together to sign up young men from migrant and refugee backgrounds in the Valley to form a team for the Unity Cup.

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