2019 Champions League Teams Previews: Part One

The annual AFL Europe Champions League is returning to Amsterdam once again for what is set to be a competitive day of football as the best club teams from around Europe battle it out.

This will be the fifth time the tournament has taken place, as this year will see all the games take place on Saturday the 6th of April. As part of the buildup, AFL Europe will be previewing all the teams competing. To start off with, we will begin by previewing the Belfast Redbacks and the Copenhagen Giants in the Men’s side of the draw, and the Hamburg Dockers in the Women’s.

 

Men’s Competition:

Belfast Redbacks

Conor Mallon – Belfast Redbacks team manager

How did you qualify for this year’s Champions League?

2018 was the best season the Redbacks have had in recent years. We went undefeated through the entire season to finish top of the table before becoming AFL Ireland Premiers after defeating the Galway Magpies in the Grand Final. We also defeated a national team for the first time in the club’s history when we played against the USA Revolution as part of their 2018 tour of Ireland.

Have you been involved with any pre-season tournaments? If so, how did that go? If not, have you had the chance to play any other teams recently in preparation?

To help with our preparation for the Champions League we have played two games against the Irish National Team, the Irish Warriors, and we have a third game to play on the 9th of March. We narrowly lost the first game by a point but we won the second so we are looking forward to the third game in the series. We will also host our pre-season friendly tournament, the Leprechaun Cup, on the 23rd of March in Belfast which will certainly help with our preparation for the Champions League.

What can we expect to see from your team this Champions League?

The Redbacks played some great footy in 2018 with a good mix of new and experienced players. We have been training hard in the winter months and are looking forward to taking on the best teams in Europe.

Where do you rank competing in the Champions League in the AFL Europe calendar and what does it mean to the team?

Having only competed in the competition once before (in the inaugural 2015 tournament), the Redbacks are very much looking forward to competing at this level of footy. The club has been taking preparations very seriously and the tournament was never far from our lips since the Grand Final last August. It is great to be involved and to have so many guys travelling to the tournament.

Copenhagen Giants

Simon Malone – Copenhagen Giants team manager

What will your team bring to the Champions League in 2019?

A mix of experience and youth, and a love for the game. We have one of the most experienced players in the Danish Australian Football League (DAFL) history, who has played over 200 games and has caps for three different national teams in Europe. We also have the last two winners of DAFL’s best first-year player award. Amazingly, we’ve managed to get 16 great players ready for the tournament, with only four Australians. And of course, probably the best Mathias in the world.

What are you hoping to get out of the experience as first-time participants at the Champions League?

Unfortunately, we missed our last chance, in 2016, because of issues with player commitments, so this time we are extra motivated to do our very best. The core of the team has played more than 100 years of football in DAFL combined, while some only have a few years experience. It’ll be a great opportunity for some of our less experienced players to see football outside Denmark for the first time, and hopefully, tie their hearts even closer to our great sport! Also, gold medals.

Where will the opportunity to play in the Champions League take the Giants in the upcoming season’s?

After a rocky start as a breakout team from Farum Cats, the most successful team in DAFL history, we see this as, so far, the most definite milestone as a team to be reckoned with, and one that won’t fold from one season to the next. Two flags in three seasons are, of course, great, but now we are really seeing a team of Giants, not a team of former Cats with some new blood sprinkled in. Also, more gold medals.

How has the club promoted playing in the Champions League to help its growth?

We will do posts on Facebook throughout March, counting down to this event, that nobody in Denmark has heard of yet, but at least our fans will be sick of come April. Also, we will use our great Photoshop skills to make amazing art for our road to Champions League!

Women’s competition:

Hamburg Dockers

Lisa Wilson – Hamburg Dockers team manager

How did you qualify for this year’s Champions League?

To support with the launch of women’s footy in Germany last year, the Hamburg Dockers were offered a wild card place at the 2018 Champions League, as a representative team of all the girls playing across Germany. Following the tournament, women’s footy in Germany saw huge growth with a number of exhibition games being held in different cities which has lead to the first-ever Australian Football League Germany Women’s league being created that will kick off in summer this year. Two of the exhibition games last year were between the Hamburg Dockers and Berlin Crocodiles. As Hamburg won both of these games, it was decided they should be offered the Champions League place.

Have you been involved with any pre-season tournaments? If so, how did that go? If not, have you had the chance to play any other teams recently in preparation?

As of yet no, however, nine of the girls will be heading to Paris this weekend to play in a mixed team at the Gallia Cup. On the 23rd of March, we will be hosting the Odense Lions and North London Lions women for a tournament that will get us prepared for the Tournament!

What can we expect to see from your team this Champions League?

The Hamburg Dockers Women’s values are fun, positivity and support, so all three of these values will be on show from all our girls. Teamwork will be a key focus so there will be lots of shepherding, lots of pump up talk and lots of high five’s and bum taps, regardless of the results! As our men’s team won their league last year they will also be in attendance, therefore expect to see a purple army on the sideline cheering us on.

Where do you rank competing in the Champions League in the AFL Europe calendar and what does it mean to the team?

Over the last 12 months, we have welcomed a heap of brand new girls to the club, with many of them quickly becoming addicted to the sport. We started the 2019 season early in mid-January to get prepared for Champions League and recruit new players, so we’ve already started to build a strong community. Champions League will be the first real taste of European Footy for most of the girls so there is still an element of the unknown, but a lot of excitement.

Do you have any extra bits of information about the club, like past years funny/interesting stories?

As we are still quite a young team there aren’t too many shareable stories yet but we can guarantee our men’s team will make up for that in their preview. A couple of facts though, the team will be made up of players from 6 different nationalities, the age difference between the youngest and oldest player is 15 years and six of the girls represented the German Eagles in their debut at the 2018 Euro Cup.

Angus Boyle – AFL Europe