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Milwaukee Bombers arrow News arrow Mens Footy News arrow Bomber Sarbacker Impresses Locals
Bomber Sarbacker Impresses Locals
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Milwaukee Bomber and US Revolution player Dan Sarbacker (3rd from right) is spending the "summer" in Australia playing for a country side football team. His experience was recently written up in The Age. Article courtesy of The Age . Photos by Adam McNicol. 

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As he sat in the Mansfield footy club's change rooms last weekend, mud caked on his knees, Daniel Sarbacker watched intently as a number of children booted a small Sherrin to each other.

"I'm sitting here jealous that these kids have been kicking a football their whole lives," he said. ''They kick more consistently than I do.

There's a good reason why Sarbacker's skills are not quite as silky as he would like. A decade ago, the 31-year-old American had never heard of Aussie Rules football, let alone tried to kick an oval ball.

But since being introduced to the game back in 2002, he has taken to it with such gusto that while many of his university classmates are completing internships with world-leading corporations, he is immersing himself in rural Victoria's footy-obsessed sporting culture.

Sarbacker was a talented track athlete and soccer player at school. But because he wasn't an elite talent, America's cut-throat sporting system soon reduced his options.

"Just the way the sporting culture runs, all the sports are really school-centric," he explained. "Most kids will play at high school, then if you're a good athlete you might get recruited into a collegiate program and play at university. Beyond that, there's not much to be had in terms of organised sports.

"For most working professionals, the extent of their participation is in a local recreational competition - what we call 'Beer League' softball. You play for your company team, there's a 12-pack of beers on second base, and it's not all that physically demanding."

Unable to get his competitive fix from that type of casual gathering in a park, Sarbacker craved a higher-standard outlet for his competitive instincts. And it was while he was completing an arts degree, specialising in architecture, at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, that Australian football became an option.

At the urging of some friends, he joined the St Louis Blues, a club that plays in the USAFL.

"It's a real word-of-mouth thing over in there," he said. "We only had two or three Aussies in our club, so when it came to learning the game we were pretty much self-taught. We taught ourselves how to kick and learnt the rules by watching games on video. Straight away I loved the athletic nature of the sport and that's what really grabbed me."

The biggest challenge for football clubs in the US is finding opposition, as Sarbacker soon discovered.

"It wasn't like here in the Goulburn Valley league, where you can drive half-an-hour to a game. St Louis plays against Minnesota, which is a nine-hour drive away. Atlanta is eight hours, Chicago is five, Kansas City is four.

"The guys are pretty committed. You've got to really want to play to do that much travelling. It's a bit crazy. But it means it's still a really pure sport in the States. Guys just play it because they love it. Nobody's getting a pay-cheque to do it."

Within three years of first running out for St Louis, Sarbacker had become one of the best non-Australian players in the United States. This was confirmed when he was selected in the USAFL's team - known as the Revolution - for the 2005 International Cup in Melbourne. He was again part of the US team in the 2008 International Cup.

The trips Down Under inspired Sarbacker to try and play a few games at an Aussie club. And since he lobbed at Mansfield, his new teammates have certainly enjoyed adding some international flavour to their line-up.

"It's like he's been part of the team all year," reserves captain Ben Cios said. "He just fitted in straight away. His accent is the only thing that can cause some funny looks on the field.

"A couple of weeks ago, I was playing in the ruck and I'm looking at the other ruckman when Dan starts yelling out, 'C'mon Eagles let's go'. The other ruckman heard the American accent and he just looked bemused, he didn't know what was going on."

Last weekend, Sarbacker was in the thick of the action as Mansfield's reserves took on Kyabram. Boasting a wiry build, he looked among the fittest players on the park. He started in the midfield and charged into the fray from the outset, laying a number of tackles and firing off some accurate handballs.

"He's never shirked an issue or pulled out of a contest, and he's not a big bloke by any means," Cios said. "His kicking lets him down a little bit, but he's good with his hands, he's a great runner, and he knows where to go. He's a great talker on the field as well. Because of his accent you can always hear him.

"He takes it seriously. He's got the typical American no-nonsense approach. He rocked up for the first game and said, 'I'll play on the wing and I'll run all day'. It's great for the club to have him here. We hope in years to come we might get someone else from out there."

Sarbacker's university commitments - he is soon to finish his Master of Business Administration at the University of Wisconsin - mean he must head home before the finals. However, he might have the chance to make an even bigger impression before he leaves, as Mansfield's senior coach Craig Kelly is considering elevating him to the senior team.

"Mate, he has a red-hot crack at it," Kelly said. "By training flat out with people who can use the ball well, he's really improving. He's strong and he's fit and a super-nice bloke. He'd play a good tagging role in the seniors if we wanted him to. I don't want to do that for the sake of doing it, but it would be really nice if it did."

Regardless of whether that happens, Sarbacker will take with him a great appreciation and understanding of the role footy and netball play in rural Australian life.

"We have nothing like it in the States," he said, while standing by the bar, VB can in hand, watching Mansfield's senior team go around. "Coming into a small town, where the sporting culture is so vital to the community, has been great fun."

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