Season 2009 got underway in the midst of one of the most severe global economic crises of the past 80 years. As a team based in a major international financial centre, the threat of a mass exodus of players loomed large but failed to fully materialise. While a few players were lost to the faltering employment market, the Dragons admirably managed to retain and even bolster their all-important sponsorship arrangements.

With the off-field conditions under control, thoughts turned to breaking back into the top tier of Asian football that had seen the UAE win their first Asian Championship in 2008 and Singapore loom as their biggest threat.

The mission got underway in earnest in May, after a very solid lead-up on the training track from early March. The Manila Cup had cemented itself in the annual schedule and proven hugely popular. The Dragons again sent a large squad and, adopting a revolutionary two-team rotation policy, managed to retain the Cup while giving all players the opportunity to play in the top side. The second team, the Darkside Dragons failed to win a game but the entire squad enjoyed solid and valuable match practice. To win the cup, the Dragons overcame the home side, China and a gallant Malaysia.

As in previous years, the worsening shortage of grounds in Hong Kong rendered impossible the prospect of hosting an international. A long summer ensued built around Sunday training sessions at a myriad of grounds. The closure of home base Happy Valley for much of the season exacerbated the ground shortage but the committed membership remained undaunted. Training was well-attended from Ho Man Tin in Kowloon to Sandy Bay. Added variety came in the form of gruelling midweek boxing and fitness sessions.

A team comprising a record eight tour debutants and a string of other first-year players ensured the 2007 Asian Champs title was now a distant collective memory. Lacking key position players, enduring untimely injuries, but boasting an impressive brigade of midfielders the Dragons headed to Malaysia in September with premiership hopes afloat. After hard-fought but sound wins in the preliminary matches against Thailand and Jakarta, the UAE effectively sunk those cup hopes. A semi-final still beckoned against Singapore but the four goal loss to the Heat was eclipsed by the Wombats. Seven goals to seven points told some of the story, but inaccuracy was only part of the tale as the Dragons were outclassed. The UAE in turn dispensed with Singapore with similar ease in the Grand Final.

A season-ending trip did much to alleviate the anguish of the Champs. A match against the Beijing Bombers for the China Cup in November represented Asia’s first-ever tour to the mainland capital. A hugely entertaining weekend saw the Dragons emerge victorious in cool conditions. Noteworthy was the fact the game was played in visibility so poor the backline could barely see the forward line. The game also featured on television news reports across Asia and the Pacific.

Off the field, a highlight was the joint Dragons-AustCham dinner with an inspirational AFL legend Kevin Sheedy as special guest. Throughout the year raffles were held during Friday Night football at base camp Bulldogs, with new sponsor contributions on offer. A boisterous Awards Night featured club founder Ray Wood flying in to present the Best and Fairest medal that bears his name. Race days, junk trips, hikes and a host of other events helped ensure the Dragons retained their unchallenged position as the best place in Asia to play Aussie Rules footy.

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