While the eyes of the football world will be firmly fixed on this weekends’ blockbuster AFL Finals action in Melbourne, the European spotlight will shine some 16,000km away from the MCG on Dresden, Germany, as the Hamburg Dockers and Berlin Crocodiles clash in the main event on AFLG Grand Final Day.
With the premiership flag and a highly sought-after spot at Champions League 2019 on the line, the reigning premiers from Berlin face the unenviable task of curtailing a Hamburg side that has blitzed its way through the AFLG in 2018, losing just one game on its way to the minor premiership.
The two sides may have shared the spoils with one victory apiece from their two home and away season meetings, but it will be the Dockers who surely take the greater confidence from their match-ups, after Hamburg responded to their heartbreaking one-point loss at the hands the Crocodiles in round seven by monstering Berlin to the tune of 107 points just two games later.
Whilst admitting that defeat was a wake-up call for his side, Berlin’s Chris Woods said that match has been a catalyst for a turnaround in form in the latter stages of the season.
No strangers to Grand Final Day, Berlin has the chance to go back-to-back in 2019
“We were given a big reality check after we were beaten handsomely by Hamburg in our last home game of the season… since then we have had a good win against Dresden and produced, what we think, was our best game of the year against Munich in the Semi-Final,” Woods said.
“Hopefully this will give us some momentum coming into the game on Saturday.”
Berlin secured their chance to defend their title and a third-successive Grand Final appearance with a 40-point semi-final victory over a red-hot Munich Kangaroos side in Cologne, a result that was considered an upset by many after they had been beaten by the Roos at both times of calling throughout the regular season.
The win was borne from a dominant first-half performance that put a 39-point buffer between the two sides by the main change, with the Crocs then able to hold Munich at arm’s length for the remainder of the match as Josh Bolleymer starred with eight majors.
Woods said while it will require their best effort to go back-to-back on Saturday, the club is excited and “very happy to be there again.”
“We lost a few key players from our inaugural premiership side last year, but we have had a number of new players arrive to rejuvenate the list, and allow us to have another crack at the flag.”
One of those players who was absent in the 2017 Premiership side was club stalwart Haroon Yousufy, who arrived at the Crocodiles 15-years ago as a refugee from Afghanistan believing he was coming to train with an English-speaking soccer team.
“You can imagine that he was very surprised when we showed him the shape of the ball,” Woods said.
“He has been a steady improver over the years and has developed now into a very strong forward pocket for the club. Unfortunately, he missed the premiership last years through injury, but he is eager to get involved this year.”
Hamburg’s spot in the Grand Final had seemed all but assured throughout the season and was duly confirmed as they continuing their stellar year by romping to a 134-point victory against the Rheinland Lions in the semi-final, with Kaden Fletcher kicking 6 and Kenneth D’Arcy & Sean Gilbert booting 4 each to book their place in style.
Captain Coach Pete Ritchter (right) leads the Dockers onto the ground
With an average winning margin of 95-points from their ten wins so far in 2018, the Dockers could be excused for having one eye on the European stage already, but playing coach Pete Richter says there has been no complacency for the purple haze in their two-week layoff.
“We have been slowly building since the semi0final, we’ve had seven training sessions in the two weeks break. Everyone is obviously excited for the weekend and fully fit and ready for the game,” Richter said.
“Since Berlin defeated us at home in June we have planned heavily around certain ways we want to defend and carry the ball… we knew heading into our last clash that we had more on the line as we were desperate to avoid the Crocodiles in the semis, and we were able to break away in the second quarter and win convincingly.
“The Crocodiles had some key players injured that were either missing or clearly playing injured, so we know they will be much better condition for this game
“Berlin boasts arguably the two best players in the competition in Rowan Miegel and Josh Bolleymer, we know we won’t be able to shut them out completely but limiting their influence will be one of our main focuses.”
The day will also provide a glimpse into the future of AFLG, as the German Eagles women’s national side take on a collaborative ‘challengers’ line-up made up of players from Denmark and locals in the curtain raiser before they embark on their maiden Euro Cup voyage to Cork in October.
The exhibition will highlight the talent in the women’s game ahead of the 2019 launch of the AFLG Women’s competition, with those fixtures set to take place alongside the men’s gameday’s to allow shared travel and reduced costs for clubs and players.
In a busy time for Australian football in Germany, AFLG President, Fabian Cordts, is hopeful that the foundations laid this year will provide a lasting platform for growth.
“We may have finally found a league structure in AFLG that benefits all clubs, allows small clubs to be competitive during the regular season… while not limiting the bigger clubs too much on their march towards September,” Cordts said.
“Bringing in a 50% quota of non-Australian grown-up players meant that especially smaller clubs have somewhat of a chance to be competitive, and while further development of the rule is needed, in the long-term we need local players to help grow the game and love the sport.”
AFLG Grand Final
Hamburg Dockers v Berlin Crocodiles
Road to the Final
- Def Rheinland by 74 points
- Def Frankfurt by 98 points
- Def Württemberg by 57 days
- Def By Munich by 7 points
- Def By Munich by 4 points
- Def Rheinland by 23 points
- Def Hamburg by 1 point
- Def Dresden by 80 points
- Def By Hamburg 107 points
- Def Dresden by 45 points
- Semi-Final. Def Munich Kangaroos by 40 points.
- Def Dresden by 87 points
- Def Munich by 12 points
- Def Frankfurt by 84 points
- Def Dresden by 110 points
- Def Frankfurt by 57 points
- Def Württemberg by 122 points
- Def By Berlin by 1 point
- Def Rheinland by 128 points
- Def Berlin by 107 points
- Def Rheinland by 113 points
- Semi Final. Def Rheinland by 134 points
Riley Brettell – AFL Europe