With under 48 hours 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 nine 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 14 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 continue our team previews with the Men’s German Eagles, the Swedish Elks and Ulster Macha’s.
German Eagles (Men)
The German Eagles (M) first played at the AFL Euro Cup in 2007, finishing in 2nd place on home soil in Hamburg. They achieved 3rd place at the following three events in Prague (Czech Republic), Bordeaux (France), and Norrtalje (Sweden). At the 2022 Euro Cup in Edinburgh, the Eagles once again reached the final and finished second.
The Eagles men trained together in Dresden for their first 2023 camp, with another camp in Cologne taking place in the last two weeks. The team is an extremely strong one according to all reports, with many other exceptional players waiting in the wings, and so far the preparation is going well – despite a later start to the league season.
The German Eagles men’s team are aiming to continue the team first attitude that they demonstrated in 2022; working hard with and for each other. 2022 provided mixed success on the field, but have an ever-growing work ethic to improve, which should see the team being a strong competitor on the field again this year. In addition, they want to join with the Eagles women and encourage all of the nations to get together on the sidelines to help showcase the spirit of Aussie Rules throughout Europe.
The Swedish Elks have been consistent performers in the Euro Cup for the last decade. The team is a spread from across Sweden consisting of mostly players from Stockholm, Norrtälje and Malmö. Preparation has been tough with international matches scheduled but unfortunately cancelled. Norrtälje and Stockholm have been playing consistently against each other, however Malmö play in the Danish league so it can be difficult to get together and see everyone.
Speaking to members of the team, there is a core of four to five players who have played the last four tournaments, who are great mates and excellent people who create a unifying and welcoming team. ‘It was clear we had under performed in Scotland, finishing outside the top 10…we did not gel early as a unit…this showed losing to a team by one or 2 points then playing them later in the day and winning by over 10 goals’. Getting off to a good start will be key for the elks, who are eyeing off a spot in the top five.
AFL Northern Ireland only gained status as an AFL Europe affiliated partner country in November of 2021. The Euro Cup will see the Ulster Macha’s make history as not only will it be the Macha’s first ever official competition but will also double up as their first ever matches played. What makes it even more special is that for the very first time both of the Irish Teams, North and South of Ireland will be competing in the Euro Cup.
AFL Europe spoke with team manager Gerard Walls, who gave some insight into the side; ‘Ulster is a province that covers the geographical area of the North of Ireland and Macha is a sovereignty goddess and legend has it that she is the only queen in the List of High Kings of ancient Ireland and linked with the province of Ulster and associated with the land, fertility, kingship and war. That being said anyone getting the opportunity to wear a Ulster Macha’s jersey can wear it with great spirit and pride in representing Macha, Ulster and Ireland’.
‘We have a relatively new squad of players, around 75% of our players are first year players either coming of the back of the AFL Ulster Winter league or only picking the game up in the new year and still very much learning the game, but with that comes great opportunity to experience new things and learn.’
‘We have players coming in from the Oilean Hounds, East Coast Eagles, Ulster Kookaburras and Cardiff Panthers, some of the team had the opportunity to experience 9aisde tournament footy at this years Club Champions league in Paris. We know our two Cardiff based players Elise and Caoimhe are working hard and playing games in Wales and our Ulster based girls are holding weekly sessions and playing for the Ulster Kookaburras over the Summer footy season, so hopefully the girls fell fit and ready for the Euro Cup.’
With it being the side’s first attempt at the Euro Cup, Walls has put no pressure on any of the players. With no real expectation for what is to occur in Kiel, the main focus is enjoyment and the ability to express their talents to those in Europe.
- Sam Briggs, AFL Europe