Born and bred Englishman, Dan Evenhuis first discovered Australian Rules when a work friend brought him down to a Wimbledon Hawks training session, in London, a few years back. Instantly falling in love with the incredible sport that is AFL, Dan played a few season with the Hawks before migrating to Australia and joining the Manly Giants. Here Dan found fellow Europeans; Ian Bairds, also from London and previously playing with the West London Wildcats, Jimmy Falstrom from Stockholm, Sweden, previously playing for the Solna Axemen and Dermot Flanagan from Dublin, Ireland. All meeting at the Manly Giants, where they have been accepted with open arms, the boys are kicking goals and improving their skills ten fold. Dan gave AFL Europe an exclusive insight into his experience.
I moved to Australia in November 2014. Playing sport abroad has always been a goal of mine, the plan a few years back was to play a few seasons of cricket somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere; that was until I found footy.
Growing up in London I didn’t have much exposure to Aussie Rules as a kid, except the odd time you’d see it on Trans World Sport and take the mick out of them for playing hot potato. When I went down to my first training at The Wimbledon Hawks and the boys took me under their wings straight away and I knew I’d found a new love. After my 5 years at that great club, and picking up a few serious injuries along the way, I felt confident enough to get involved in Australia. I’d heard about The Manly Giants through an old teammate in Wimbledon who had done the old switcheroo with me; a native from the northern beaches now living in London.
When I touched down in Sydney I made contact with the Giants, and was told about training times and locations. With a promise they take on all playing levels, I thought why not! I was really lucky that my arrival coincided with the start of pre-season training in December. Rocking up on my own was a bit of a daunting experience; similarly to your first day at a new school.
After introducing myself to the group, and the few expected smart arse comments about a Pom playing footy were made, we got on with it. My skills weren’t too bad, fitness not great, but the boys got around us and made us feel really welcome. Names were the hardest thing to keep hold of, behind several pre season torps of course, but my first session was bloody good fun and I knew I’d made the right decision getting involved with the Giants.
It was an a really different experience coming from training sessions with around 20 blokes in South West London, to pre season in Sydney with 70 odd on the track, all looking like absolute guns. I was really impressed with the club’s Head Coach, Leigh Brain, and director of football, Chris O’Sullivan. Despite the huge playing group, they both made sure they knew everyone’s names, including mine, and were always approachable and welcoming. We eventually split into our playing groups, and I began training with the men’s 3rd grade team, who play in division 4 in AFL Sydney.
There were quite a few new faces around, including another European, Jimmy Falstrom from Stockholm, and an old hand in the team, Dermot Flanagan from Ireland who sorted me out a lot when I first got down. Some of the new lads had never played footy before, but all of us were made to feel welcome and before you knew it, a team was starting to take shape. Pre season training was hard but fun, my skills came along leaps and bounds, or “heaps” as they’d say out here, and I took part in drills I’d never seen before and didn’t have a clue about. I realised my fitness was nowhere near good enough to play competitively in Sydney, but with the northern beaches on our door step we took advantage of our surrounding environment and had a lot of hardcore beach sessions – soft sand running is a killer! We’ve also got some great lads in the club who run Code 5, a gym where all club members can train together and get the extra sessions in where needed off the footy field.
As the Manly Giants have links with the GWS Giants of the AFL, we were also lucky enough to be able to use their training facilities from time to time. Pre season testing there included speed, strength, agility and endurance, and getting to use a professional footy clubs state of the art facilities was a real treat, though I didn’t much like their recovery ice baths after! When the season rolled around we had a real sense of unity in our team and all of us were raring to get going. I was quite proud to be named in the starting line up in our first game. We got beaten that day, but showed some promising signs for the season ahead. My first game experience was something I wouldn’t forget in a hurry! I took a few big knocks, but took also a few marks and a few good disposals; it wasn’t a complete disaster.
And so the season rolled on and we started to get a bit of a winning streak under our belts. We were playing our own brand of footy that we worked hard in training to master, and things seemed to click in to place for everyone. We had a couple of big tests against some strong teams, we played on all sizes of pitches, most of them out west, and came up against some interesting looking blokes in the opposition. At the time of writing we’re sitting pretty in the top half of the ladder and in with a shot of finals. Now that would be something…watch this space!
So my experience of Australian Rules in my first season in Sydney has been fantastic. I’ve met a group of blokes I’m happy to now call my mates, knowing full well they’ll go hard at the footy out on the oval, and give it a good crack in the pub after the game as well. The Manly Giants culture is inclusive of everyone, no matter where you’re from, or what level you play at, and I’ve found a great new home away from home. I’d definitely recommend for any young budding footballers in Europe wanting to improve their skills to get out here and get involved with competitive footy in Australia, it opens your eyes to the full beauty of this mental game we’ve all fallen in love with!