The 2019 European Championships are just around the corner and as part of the build-up, AFL Europe will be previewing all nine teams involved in this year’s tournament. The European Championship is AFL Europe’s premier 18-a-side tournament, played every three years, and this year will see teams from across the continent travel to London to see who comes out on top.
Our opening preview looks at the Croatian Knights, who are competing in their first European Championships since the 2013 tournament in Dublin. During that tournament, they finished in fifth place after defeating Germany twice but losing to both Ireland and Sweden. That result was identical to their 2010 European Championships, where the Knights coach Josip Kravar recalls beating Germany and Iceland, but falling to defeat against Ireland and Sweden.
“It was (our) first time experience of playing real footy and we loved it,” Kravar said.
At both tournaments, the Knights had a large number of players competing for the first time, but the 2013 side saw “more than 90% of players playing for the first time on an oval.”
For a number of the national teams competing, this can be a challenge that they face during the European Championships, as it’s an 18-a-side format rather than 9-a-side which is played at other AFL Europe events and by nearly all of the leagues across the continent.
However, while it’s a challenge, it’s also a chance for teams to learn, adapt and develop new skills as well as tactics relevant to the 18-a-side game on a full-sized field rather than a modified 9-a-side ground.
“There is a lack of knowledge for 18-a-side, that is for sure for countries like us that only have two major tournaments behind us (playing that format). But with proper training and guidance, I have seen that players can adapt fast enough,” Kravar said.
One of the benefits for the Croatian side is that they have been able to adopt players from other sporting codes such as basketball, football and handball. What Josip has noticed with these players, particularly with the basketball players, is that it takes roughly one year to adapt to Australian football, but once they do, their other skills are incredibly valuable to the team.
So while it may seem like a long process, training and committing to the game in the long term is beneficial to not just an individual player, but also the team, and that leaves the Knights in a positive position heading into this tournament.
With the month of September being dedicated to training and tournament preparation, the Knights are certainly giving themselves a fantastic opportunity to compete highly in London.
“As every year, we have one-month preparation for the championship, starting on September 1st. The team will have three weeks to train,” Kravar said.
One of the players in their team to keep an eye on that will bring a bucket load of experience to the Knights line-up is ruckman Josip Habijak, who has been playing with Sturt Football Club and Unley Jets Football Culb for the last couple of years.
“We are always realistic with our expectations. This year we struggled with numbers in the Euro Cup… We are far away from our strongest team… But we will be there and play and will give our best,” Kravar said.
Despite not competing at the 2016 tournament, they know what is required and they will have spent that time helping players develop their skills with this year’s Championships in mind. Coming up against powerhouse nations in Ireland and Great Britain will be a challenge, but the Knights will back themselves regardless.
Angus Boyle – AFL Europe