With less than a month to go until the Euro Cup, the excitement and anticipation is building for the 16 countries that will venture out to our new location in Kiel, Germany, vying for the opportunity of becoming the best country in Europe at Australian Rules Football. In an extraordinary story that will play out across the day, two countries will be looking for a four-peat – an unprecedented feat that may never be seen again. The Irish Banshees, dominant in the grand final last year, will be vying for glory again, but there will be ten other sides hungry to stop them in their tracks. In the men’s side of the draw, the England Dragonslayers will be desperate to repeat their last three contests at the Euro Cup, but 15 determined countries will be fighting for a change at the top.
As is the common approach for AFL Europe’s biggest tournaments, we love to get an insight into the build-up and preparation for the teams competing, as well as the history of these sides, and we begin the Euro Cup proceedings with both Polish sides – the Devils and Angels, as well as the Croatian Knights.
Polish Devils and Angels
The Devils have a short history in regards to this tournament, having their first hit out in 2019 which unfortunately yielded little success. After a learning experience three years prior, they were eager to improve in 2022 and did such, having two close losses against Austria and Netherland, whilst recording their first Euro Cup win later that day against Switzerland. Much like their counterparts, the Angels have only had a short stint within the Euro Cup, debuting in 2022. Unable to secure victories against the Swedish and Dutch teams, their first win came against the Swiss Heidis. With an identical finish to the Euro Cup in 2022, both teams will be hoping to utilise the experience for the 2023 Euro Cup.
The Polish teams are taking a new approach into this year’s tournament, deciding to implement a selection camp where eligible players will train under the head coach of each team, eager to impress the selection committee in hope of a spot in the sides travelling to Kiel. After selection takes place, the teams will then train with each other to understand each other’s style and develop chemistry which has possibly eluded them in previous cups.
The expectation at the tournament with this new approach according to team manager Phil Forbes is to ‘win a minimum of two games each’, whilst also ensuring all players understand ‘the honour and pride’ that comes with playing for the national team.
The Knights come into the Euro Cup with as much history and experience a team can have. Beginning in 2008 before it was even called the Euro Cup, the Croatians were a strong outfit, finishing third in the inaugural tournament. A year later, the Knights were determined to right the wrongs of the previous year and came away victors. These first two years were a key building block in how they were to attack future Euro Cups, and having been competing for 15 years, they have had multiple 2nd’s, 3rd’s and another win in 2016. Speaking with coach Josip Kravar, he maintained that ‘we do not run from being a top 4 team’, having managed this feat in every single Euro Cup. Facing many difficulties in the early editions of the tournament, which involved multiple days travel across several forms of transport including ferries, cars, buses and flights all to get to one location, the Knights coach was adamant that these experiences have shaped who they are as a side today.
One factor Josip felt gave the Knights an advantage over other sides, was the ability to have all three Croatian teams located in Zagreb, giving the ability for the national team to train every single weekend since February. 9 a-side is their regular format of play, and it is the familiarity with that arrangement that the Knights coach was confident gave them an edge coming into the Euro Cup.
To conclude his feelings towards the tournament in July, Josip stressed the importance of not underestimating the competitors involved. Stating the Knights had ‘a huge respect for any opponent we face’, he felt a birth in the semi-finals would be a success but overall they were ‘aiming for the flag’.
- Sam Briggs, AFL Europe