Kirk the Aussie Rules missionary
Brett Kirk and Piripi McIntyre Clere at a training session in Ganeshpuri in India. Pic: Second Nature Films

For football to have united a group of young men in a region devastated by constant war, Brett Kirk can see no limits to the global revolution of the game he loves.

Sydney's 2005 premiership captain, now Fremantle assistant coach, said he was "blown away" during a unique around-the-world trip which included Israel among a list of 30 destinations, by just how far the AFL's reach had spread since he retired in 2010 after 241 games in 12 senior seasons with the Swans.

As the AFL's international ambassador in 2011, Kirk embarked on a football journey which took him from India to Iceland, Toronto to Times Square and beyond.

It is brilliantly documented in a film titled "Aussie Rules The World", which will screen at Northbridge's Cinema Paradiso on Monday night.

But it was eclectic gatherings such as the "Peace Team", comprised of both Israelis and Palestinians, which had Kirk most aghast.

For them, even going to a regular football training session meant a long and arduous process to get through border security checks. When fighting escalated, the sessions had to be cancelled.

"You talk about what footy can do and what a game-changer it can be," Kirk said.

"Here's a team with half Israelis and half Palestinians … these warring countries. I remember the first night I was there, footy training was delayed an hour because the guys got stuck at one of the check points, but they still got there even though it took two or three hours.

"The one thing that really stood out to me was that they started to respect each other and respect each other's opinion. There's a great quote in the film where one of the guys says, 'If the world was one big footy field, everything would be all right'.

"If you look at the Peace Team concept and what it was able to do for 20 young men, who knows what the game of AFL could do."

Kirk is unsure how strongly placed the AFL is to halt the invasion of other international sports, particularly after soccer's recent World Cup, but says he has been enlightened by the game's growth.

He agreed with his former Sydney coach Paul Roos' assertion in the film that the AFL should have started an international expansion many years earlier, but believed the time to build on new frontiers had not gone past.

"I don't know the answer as to whether the market is out there," he said.

"But what I do know is that I've been out there to many countries and I've experienced the passion for the game.

"I just wanted to go out there and share it because footy has given me so much and I wanted to give some of it back."

Kirk, one of the AFL's most spiritual characters, said he would cherish the "memorable experiences" he had during his trip which he shared with wife Hayley and their four children, then under the age of six.

A sojourn into South Africa was particularly moving, not only because of their superior football skill to those in other parts of the world, but because of the emotion behind their pursuits.

"The kids dropped their bags from school and took their shoes off," he said.

"The boys took their shirts off and away they went. All of a sudden there is handball and kicking and goal kicking going on.

"I was joining in one of these handballing drills and all of a sudden the kids started tribal singing. It was like, 'Wow, this is so cool'.

"The essence of footy is like that real joy of just being out there and playing. You could just tell by being out there and playing that game, they had no care in the world. It takes them away from whatever else is going on for them."

Kirk said he had been given an introduction into how the AFL could transcend its traditional boundaries through former Sydney teammate Mike Pyke, a former Canadian rugby international who was a key part of the Swans' 2012 premiership team.

But the AFL has stretched so far to the point that there are now 120 ovals spread across Papua New Guinea, 20,000 players across South Africa and more than 4500 Europeans playing in 178 teams across 20 different countries.

On retirement, Kirk had planned a caravan trip around Australia with his wife and children, but the AFL came calling, recognising his deep passion for Australian Rules as a weapon in the international broadening of the game's horizon. He hailed the initiative as a remarkable family bonding and learning experience.

"I think the poverty in India was the most confronting thing," he said.

"I remember coming out of the airport and it was sort of a sensory overload of the smell and the sight and the sound. There were people begging on the side of the road, kids the same age as our kids.

"But I love getting out there and experiencing different cultures and meeting different people and finding out how different people live and their beliefs and all those types of things. I was out of my comfort zone a fair bit at times.

"But it's good to be stretched - when you're out there on the edge and looking over, it's a good place to be because you're growing."

Growing up in the NSW Riverina town of Burrumbuttock, Kirk's AFL dream was delayed by those who initially thought he did not have the playing tools to make it to the elite level. But he needed to look no further than his father, Noel, who charged through his career despite having lost his left hand in a farming accident at the age of four. The story is told in an emotional segment of the movie.

"I idolised my dad as a kid," Kirk said.

"He played for the Burrumbuttock Swans out in the country and that's where I got my love of the red and white from a young age. He was a hard man and there was never any challenge that he couldn't get over or under or through.

"I think one of the greatest values he taught me by watching the way he went about his footy and life, was resilience and never giving up. It's something I held really strong in whatever I did. I copped a few kicks around early days, but that never-give-up attitude was something that lives with me and still does."

Most of the teams featured in the film will be part of the AFL's 2014 International Cup, which will take place for men's and women's teams in Melbourne next month.

The West Australian

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