Umpire Spotlight – James Olle

Before this year, James Olle had not umpired since 2003, but his experience and knowledge of the game has allowed him to become a key part of the AFL Europe umpiring team.

As a 14-year-old, James decided to take up boundary umpiring – a common way to begin for many – after seeing some posters at his school in Ararat, Victoria, that was promoting boundary umpiring. As a long-distance runner, James found that he was pretty good on the boundary, and with the fact that he earnt a bit of money plus he found something he enjoyed, it made sense to continue this for a couple of years.

After two years, plus a year overseas as part of a school exchange, James came back to Australia and decided to become a field umpire, going on to complete both the Level 1 and 2 accreditation that allowed him to umpire at a senior level.

James moved to Melbourne from the country for university and in the process, got invited to spend the 2000 season with the VFL Umpire Academy. He, unfortunately, didn’t get a “coveted” VFL appointment but continued for a number of seasons in the Essendon District Football League and Victoria Amateur Football Association.

He then made a decision to follow another interest that he had since his childhood and restarted playing field hockey. As that clashed with umpiring on Saturday afternoons, he put the whistle away in 2003.

James Olle receiving the Golden Whistle trophy at the 2019 Champions League from 2018’s Winner Katrina Stopinski

Photo by Danny Radis Photography

That was a while ago, but the kind of experience James developed throughout his time as boundary and with a number of high-quality umpiring groups means that now he is back on the field with the whistle looking to help assist any up and coming umpires within Europe.

One thing that differs with James to many umpires, not just in Europe, but also back in Australia, is the fact that he is still heavily involved with a club and tries to play whenever possible.

“I am excited to be back umpiring. Last year I was aware of some opportunities but found it hard to stay in the loop so to solve it I started a footy club in Geneva, and this helped launch our new Swiss league and gave me somewhere to regularly umpire,” Olle said.

“I know I am not as sharp or as fit as I used to be, so I think my best days are behind me! Certainly, the desire to umpire big games always remains but after such a long break from umpiring, wherever umpires are needed I’m always eager to jump in. The game is growing so rapidly in Europe, and, with that, the need for a bigger pool of officials. I hope to assist with the development of umpiring in Europe and share my experiences with new umpires.”

James, along with a number of other football fans in Switzerland, started the Geneva Jets towards the end of 2018, and they competed in the inaugural AFL Switzerland League in 2019.

Photo by Danny Radis Photography

Before this year, he had never played the game, but now he plays as often as he can, usually pulling on the Jets guernsey before putting on the fluoro yellow umpiring top as he officiates up to three games a day during the summer for the Switzerland league.

James was involved at last week’s European Championships, running with a number of AFL Europe umpires across a range of disciplines, from field to boundary and goals. He was also fortunate enough to run with AFL umpire Matt Stevic and also attended an umpiring course with Stevic and fellow AFL umpire, Brett Rosebury, an experience that he and his fellow AFL Europe umpires will remember for a long time.

He also umpired at this year’s AFL Europe Champions League, including the men’s semi-final between the West London Wildcats and the Belfast Redbacks, where James was awarded the Golden Whistle.

It appears that James is excited to continue growing the game in Switzerland, where he has lived since 2006, and with his experience not just in umpiring with the game in general, the sport is in good hands and has a bright future ahead with James around.

Angus Boyle – AFL Europe

2019 European Championships Tournament Review

After three days of thrilling football, it all came down to the women’s and men’s Grand Final’s on Saturday afternoon to decide the winners of the 2019 European Championships. In the women’s final, it was the Irish Banshees against the German Eagles, while the men’s draw saw the Danish Vikings battle the Great Britain Bulldogs.

With clear weather on Wednesday and Thursday, the weather took a sharp turn for the weekend’s games as the temperature dropped and the rain started to fall. Despite the weather, all the teams were as keen as ever to play, and it was intriguing to see how the teams adapted to the new conditions.

Every team played a carnival-style format of 20-minute halves on Wednesday, before the men switched to 20-minute quarters for their semi-finals on Thursday, while the women kept playing 20-minute halves.

However, Saturday saw all games played in the traditional format of 20-minute quarters, allowing for one big final day of football at Wimbledon Park to conclude the 2019 European Championships.

Photo by Danny Radis Photography

Placing matches:

Before those two finals took place, the third-place matches were played on pitch one with the Irish Warriors playing the Croatian Knights in the men’s, while the Great Britain Swans played an AFL London team, the Wandsworth Demons, in the women’s.

After just missing out on reaching the Grand Final due to points differential, the Swans were looking to finish their tournament with an impressive performance in this exhibition game.

A young Swans team made the most of their fast start as they quickly gained control of the match and didn’t look back from there as they finished their tournament with a 78-point victory. After their success at the 2016 tournament, the Swans will be slightly disappointed at their performance but will have gained plenty with a young squad getting some valuable international experience.

Following the women’s third-place match was the battle for third in the men’s between the Irish Warriors and the Croatian Knights. After both teams lost out in the semi-finals, they were hoping to finish their 2019 European Championships with the bronze.

It was predicted to be an interesting clash of styles, with the physicality of the Croatian’s key to the way they play, while the Irish rely on their ball use and direct play.

However, after a demanding couple of days, the Knights struggled to keep pace with the Warriors, as the Irish dominated the majority of the game on their way to secure third place at this years European Championships.

The Irish were hoping to challenge for the championship after finishing second at this year’s Euro Cup but came up against a strong GB Bulldogs side in the semi-finals, so had to settle with third place in the end. However, they will be happy with how they dealt with a number of challenges across the competition.

Photo by Danny Radis Photography

For Croatia, they just couldn’t match Denmark in their semi-final but showed in their pool that they continue to improve as they made Grand finalists, the Bulldogs, work really hard for the win in their game.

Over on pitch two, the sixth-placed German Eagles men’s team took on AFL London team the Wimbledon Hawks as the Eagles looked to finish their tournament on a positive note.

With muddy and wet weather arriving in London on Friday, Saturday’s games were much more contested affairs than the games on Wednesday and Thursday, and in this contest, it was the AFL London team that came out on top.

The Eagles were hoping to finish their tournament on a high, but with a depleted squad as a result of injuries throughout the tournament, they couldn’t match an impressive Hawks team who adjusted to the conditions better.

Despite not recording a win throughout the tournament, the Eagles will have learnt a lot, with a large portion of their squad playing the 18-a-side format for the first time.

In the fifth-place match between the French Coqs and another AFL London team, the Wandsworth Demons men’s, the opening quarter was a physical contest, with neither side giving an inch. However, the running game style and overall endurance of the French team started to show in the second quarter as they gained control and ran out comfortable winners to finish their tournament off with an impressive victory.

The French played some entertaining football, but just lacked a bit of physicality and adaptability to the 18-a-side format in their pool games against Croatia and Great Britain, as they eventually finished fifth following a big win over Germany in the placing match on Thursday.

Photo by Danny Radis Photography

Women’s Grand Final:

With all the final placing matches complete, it was time for the two Grand Finals.

In the women’s, the undefeated Irish Banshees took on the German Eagles as the Banshees were looking to go one better then they did in 2016. After winning the 2019 Euro Cup, the Banshees were also looking to claim all the major AFL Europe tournaments for the year.

Having won all of their four pool games in a comprehensive style, the Banshees were looking to finish the tournament with five wins from as many games, while the German Eagles reached the Grand Final after finishing with one win, equal with the Great Britain Swans, but had a superior points difference.

The Banshees were favourites, but the Eagles were hoping to cause an upset and make their opponents work hard for the title. However, as they had from the start of their opening game, the Banshees dominated this match as their midfield kept winning the centre clearances and managed to lock the ball in their forward half.

Despite a strong defence, the Eagles struggled to create any dangerous attacking play and the Irish defence held strong.

As the game went on, the Irish continued to extend their lead, and when the final siren sounded, they had recorded a 102-point win to claim the 2019 European Championships in style. The Banshees ended up going through the whole competition without conceding a point in what was a perfect tournament for the team.

Photo by Danny Radis Photography

 

Men’s Grand Final:

The final game of the tournament was the men’s Grand Final between the Great Britain Bulldogs and the Danish Vikings, with the Bulldogs looking to go back-to-back after their success at the same competition in 2016.

However, they were coming up against a strong Vikings team that had been impressive in their pool games and their semi-final against Croatia.

The opening quarter was a tough contest, with neither team able to get control of the match in very muddy and wet conditions as the rain continued to fall. At the first break, it was the Vikings up by just a point with both teams kicking a goal each.

In the second quarter, the Bulldogs started to adjust to the weather better than the Vikings and were more efficient going forward, as they kicked two goals while keeping Denmark scoreless to lead by 13 points at the main break.

Just like the start, the third quarter was a battle against the weather as much as it was between the two teams, with both defences standing strong as the Bulldogs were the only team to kick a goal and extend their lead to 23-points heading into the last quarter.

The Bulldogs continued their dominance in this match as they extended their lead in the fourth quarter. The Vikings did manage to get their second goal of the game, but a quick reply from the Bulldogs put to rest any potential comeback, and it was the Great Britain Bulldogs who claimed a resounding 35-point win to claim back-to-back European Championships.

Of course, this kind of event wouldn’t be possible without the support and help from everyone involved, so thank you to all the players, coaches, staff, umpires, medics, volunteers, sponsors and fans for making this year’s 2019 European Championship such a success.

Photo by Danny Radis Photography

 

Final Standings

Women’s Competition:

1. Irish Banshees

2. German Eagles

3. Great Britain Bulldogs

 

Men’s Competition:

1. Great Britain Bulldogs

2. Danish Vikings

3. Irish Warriors

4. Croatian Knights

5. French Coqs

6. German Eagles

 

Golden Whistle – Dan Wild

 

Women’s Team of the Tournament:

Backline: Raffi Jones (GB), Annika Rode (Germany), Maria Quirke (Ireland).

Half Back Line: Lottie Colquhoun (GB), Katherine Franklin (GB), Elisabeth Maxeiner (Germany).

Centre: Michelle Farrell (Ireland), Mairead Coyne (Ireland), Chloe Hall (GB).

Half Forward Line: Mairead Seoighe (Ireland), Marie-Louise Winkler (Germany), Denise Heckmann (Germany).

Forward Line: Ionna Kapasaki (Germany), Kate Flood (Captain, Ireland), Maria Byrne (Ireland).

Followers: Aine Tighe (Ireland), Theresia Meißner (Germany), Dervla Higgins (Ireland).

Interchange: Marie Keating (Ireland), Jen Taylor (GB), Joanne Doonan (Ireland), Martha Williams (GB).

Coach: Michael Currane (Ireland).

 

Men’s Team of the Tournament:

Backline: Niall Down (Ireland), Kasper Jonck Hjuler (Denmark), Myles Hudson (GB).

Half Back Line: Andrew Cochran (GB), Florian Naumann (Germany), Owain Ryland (GB).

Centre: Martin Shannon (Ireland), Mikkel Kjoge (Captain, Denmark), Clement Decaux (France).

Half Forward Line: Arnaud Uzabiaga (France), Josip Habljak (Croatia), Jack Coughlan (GB).

Forward Line: Michael Sharp (GB), Mikkel Broe Hjerpe (Denmark), Phil Evermann (Germany).

Followers: Paul O’Halloran (Ireland), George Dibble (GB), Mathias Bernfried Biron (Denmark).

Interchange: Liam Burns (Ireland), Josip Karadza (Croatia), Aksel Wedel Bang Jensen (Denmark), Dino Sulic (Croatia).

Coach: Dean Thomas (GB).

Angus Boyle – AFL Europe

2019 European Championships Day 2 Recap

Day Two of the 2019 European Championships decided the final standings for the women heading into their Grand Final on Saturday, while in the men’s competition, the semi-finals took place to decide both their Grand Final and final placing matches.

With an early start for some teams there was some sore, tired bodies entering Wimbledon Park it seemed, along with some dewy grass on a brisk October morning.

This wasn’t noticed right from the first bounce of the women’s game, with all players going just as hard at the ball as they did on day 1 and both the men and women showing great skill by hand and foot.

Women’s

Just like yesterday, each team played the other team once, so after the two days, each team have played four games and these pool games have now decided the top two sides who are set to contest in the Grand Final on Saturday.

First up today saw the Great Britain Swans play the German Eagles over on pitch one, where after a great performance on Day 1 from Germany today the Swans came back with revenge and gained an important victory.

Using their strength and long kicks, the Eagles looked in control at times and are an exciting team to watch in their Euro Champs debut.

In this game, however, the pace and quick hands of the Swans got the better of the opposition and started Great Britain off to an enjoyable start on Day 2 winning 8-1.

After that, the Swans finished off their pool matches against the Irish Banshees.

The Swans battled hard and through their tackling pressure were able to gain mainly holding the ball calls against the Irish and held down well in defence early.

Despite a strong display of effort from the British girls the Irish Banshees were again at their classy best.

With countless inside 50’s and shots on goal, Ireland controlled the game in their forward half and as the game went along their accuracy improved leading them to a large 58 point victory.

The final pool match in the women’s draw saw the German Eagles play against the Irish Banshees as the Irish Banshees were looking to continue their unbeaten run and the Germans eyeing off a spot in the women’s final.

The Eagles used their spirit and support from their loud men’s team to go hard at all contests and played some eye catching footy at times in this one.

Although a valiant effort from Germany they were outshone by the class of this Banshees side who made it straight through to the European Championships final, while the Eagles will join them for an exciting rematch.

Day 2 was an eventful day for the women’s competition, involving chase down tackles, snap goals and big marks, was a great standard and spectacle.

Expect more of the same in day 3 this Saturday to find out who will take home the 2019 European Championships trophy.

The GB Swans will take on the Wandsworth Demons at 9am, with the showdown between the Irish Banshees and the German Eagles for top spot taking place at 1pm.

Men’s

The men’s side of the competition turned up the heat, with the shorter games of Wednesday now into full match length of 20 minute quarters.

Each of the men’s sides battled it out using their fitness across the longer format in a game each on this Day 2.

First up for the men were the in form Danish Vikings, taking on the brute strength of the Croatian Knights.

Holding their own in defence and use of body in the midfield, Croatia kept the game on level terms to start.

The Vikings soon got on a roll with quick clearances in this one and never looked back.

The Vikings overcame the Knights 59-4 in the end asserting a real statement win for the men’s division of the competition.

In one of the most thrilling matches of the men’s competition thus far, the Irish Warriors and Great Britain Bulldogs battled it out in a close match.

Hard at the ball and with quick hands, the Warriors through string defence kept themselves in the game, while also playing exciting footy.

While the Bulldogs, with their pace and marking ability were able to gain countless inside 50’s, putting real pressure on the opposition.

In a real body on body affair and some big hits, the Bulldogs found a way to convert when heading forward and with a real lifting victory for the side prevailed over the Irish by three goals, 48-30.

The final game of day 2 showcased some very talented players and a chance for both the French Coqs and German Eagles to finish off the competition on a high.

The Eagles showed they were up for a challenge early using their size and strength factor over the French and had many great intercept marks with many balls heading forward.

Although an effort filled German team was on display the speed and overall fitness of the Coqs helped them create a great amount of inside 50’s and convert well on the scoreboard.

Finishing 5th overall in the competition, the French Coqs ran away with a huge 63-2 win, putting Germany in the 6th place spot.

With extreme amounts of big hits, quick clearances and sublime foot skills day 2 made for great viewing in the men’s competition and come day 3 on Saturday all six teams will be fired up for their final matches.

The 6th placed German Eagles and 5th placed French Coqs will take on AFL London outfits the Wimbledon Hawks and Wandsworth Demons at 9am and 11am respectively on Pitch 2.

The Croatian Knights will take on a strong Irish Warriors squad at 11am on Pitch 1, before the reigning champions the GB Bulldogs take on dark horses the Danish Vikings in the Men’s grand final at 3pm.

Liam McAllion  – AFL Europe

2019 European Championships Day 1 Recap

The 2019 European Championships kicked off today at Wimbledon Park in London with nine games taking place across the day. The opening day was played with the carnival format with all games being played with 20-minute halves.

This tournament is AFL Europe’s premier 18-a-side competition, and it took some teams a little while to adapt to the different field size and numbers on the ground compared to the 9-a-side format which is more common across Europe.

However, once the teams blew some of the cobwebs out of their system, the football was thrilling, with every team played two games each.

Women’s

In the women’s draw, the three teams competing played each other once today as the Great Britain Swans look to retain their title from 2016. For the Irish Banshees, they are looking to make it two from two at major AFL Europe tournaments this year after claiming the Euro Cup back in June, while the German Eagles are looking to close the gap between the top three sides and after a strong Euro Cup where they claimed bronze, they will be quietly confident of causing an upset with plenty still left to play for.

The first match saw a rematch of the Euro Cup Grand Final as the Great Britain Swans took on the Irish Banshees and it was the Banshees who dominated from the first bounce. With fast ball and clean ball movement into their forward 50, they made the most of their opportunities in the first half., kicking eight goals from 10 scoring shots. The Swans battled hard but just couldn’t match the Irish. The second half was a tighter contest, but the Swans couldn’t close the gap as the Banshees ran out winners by 70 points.

Following that, it was time for the Eagles to play their first game as they played the Swans. After the result in the opening match, this games final score could prove to be pivotal to the final standings ahead of Saturday’s Grand Final. In a back and forth match, with both defences standing strong in windy conditions, it was the Eagles who made the most of their chances to record a seven point victory that may be crucial to the final standings.

To close out the day, the Banshees were back in action against the German Eagles, and the Irish continued their form from their opening game. The German’s, however, made the Banshees work hard for the win, but a couple of changes by the German coaching staff at half time, they couldn’t prevent a strong Irish side from eventually winning by 57 points.

Men’s

Pool A

Over in Pool A of the men’s, the Irish Warriors, Danish Vikings and German Eagles battled it out on day 1 to determine who would reach tomorrow’s semi-finals matches. Following their silver medal at the Euro Cup, the Warriors would have been keen to get on the field, and they did just that with their opening match against the German Eagles who, just like their female counterparts, are looking to take a step closer to the main contenders in AFL Europe.

This match started off at a high intensity, but after that, the Irish Warriors gained full control of the match, as their midfield and forward line were too strong for the Eagles. Germany fought hard to reduce the Warriors impact, but couldn’t convert their on the scoreboard, and when the final siren sounded, the Warriors had opened their European Championships with an impressive 70 point win.

Next up in Pool A, it was time to see the Vikings take to the field in an AFL Europe tournament for the first time this year, as they took on the Warriors. After a big win in the first game, the Irish were hoping to carry that momentum into this match, however, this game saw the Vikings dominate as they restricted the dangerous Irish team to just two behind. The Vikings were too fast and efficient with their ball movement for their opponents, on their way to a 26 point win to start their tournament.

To finish off the day in Pool A, the Eagles returned to the ground as they battled against the Vikings, with the Eagles needing to win to make the semi finals. The first half was a battle between the two half back lines, as both team struggled to get a clean entry into their forward thanks to some impressive defence from both teams. However, the class and experience of Denmark shone through in the second half as they ran out winners by 24 points winners in the end.

Pool B

First up in Pool B were the reigning premiers, the Great Britain Bulldogs, who are keen to retain their title. They took on the French Coqs who have had a successful year, having beaten the Australian Spirit in the ANZAC Cup before finishing 4th at the Euro Cup, just falling short in a thrilling 3rd Place Match against Germany.

In a match that saw two traditional rivals battle against each other, it was the Great Britain Bulldogs who gained the upper hand in Pool B. The first half was a tough contest, with neither team able to gain real control of the game in the midfield, but the class of the Bulldogs started to shine through in the second half as they fought their way to 32 point win against a valiant French side.

The next game saw the Croatian Knights get their tournament underway against the Bulldogs, and in an extremely physical match, both teams were at it from the start. The Knights had a number of chances early but couldn’t convert, allowing the Bulldogs to gain control and eventually run away with the game as they won by 19 points to finish the top of Pool B.

Closing out the opening day on pitch one, the Coqs played against the Knights in a key battle to determine who would reach the semi-finals tomorrow. This was one of the tightest matches of the day, and it was in the balance until the final couple of minutes as both teams fought for that crucial semi final position. When the final siren sounded, the reactions of the Croatian players told the story, as they secured a 13 point victory.

2019 European Championships Preview

The 2019 European Championships are finally here as six men’s teams and three women’s teams will battle it out at Wimbledon Park in London to see who will be crowned champions of Europe in the 18-a-side format.

Some of Europe’s best players will travel to London with their countries to compete in the tournament which takes place every three years and will see the Great Britain teams aiming to retain their titles.

In the 18-a-side format, as opposed to 9-a-side used by many countries across Europe, teams will have the opportunity to develop new tactics and play a number of debutants so there will certainly be plenty of excitement for all the teams as they look to battle for the title as well as prepare for the 2020 International Cup.

As champions from the 2016 tournament, the Great Britain Bulldogs and Great Britain Swans will be the teams to beat, but there will be plenty of competition from the other teams which is likely to provide an action-packed three days of football.

With games taking place on the 9th, 10th and 12th of October, fans will have plenty of opportunities to see their team in action with two different formats taking place.

On Wednesday 9th, all games will be carnival-style, with 20-minute halves, while Thursday 10th will see the men play 20-minute quarters and the women continue with 20-minute halves.

Finals Day, on Saturday 12th, all games will be 20 minute quarters with the women’s Grand Final kicking off at 1 pm before the men’s at 3 pm.

Joining the nine national teams on Finals Day will be the Wimbledon Hawks and Wandsworth Demons from AFL London who will play against the sixth and fifth-ranked teams in the men’s as well as the third-ranked team in the women’s.

While Great Britain and Irish teams are regular contenders, there will be plenty of competition from the rest of the sides.

Both German Eagles squads showed their potential at this year’s Euro Cup in Sweden and will aim to go even better this time, while the French will want to finish a successful year on a high.

In their first AFL Europe tournament this year, the Danish Vikings will be hoping to find the form that saw them win the 2018 Euro Cup. For the Croatian Knights, despite a challenging year, they could be a dark horse and will be looking to follow the success of fellow countryman Ivan Soldo after his premiership with the Richmond Tigers.

These matches will be streamed live by AFL Europe through on our Youtube channel as well as the AFL Europe Facebook page so make sure you head over to these links to catch all the action.

AFL Europe will be updating scores and pictures on our social media platforms throughout each days play so head to @afleurope on Instagram, @AFL_Europe Twitter and AFL Europe Facebook page to keep up with all the highlights.

So don’t forget to stay across the AFL Europe website at afleurope.org or head to the AFL Europe Facebook page.

2019 European Championships squad preview – Irish Warriors

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.

In our final 2019 European Championships preview, we look at the Irish Warriors who will be itching to get out on the Wimbledon Park grounds in London as they aim to reclaim the European Championships.

After winning the inaugural tournament in Dublin back in 2013, the Warriors were defeated by their arch-rivals, the Great Britain Bulldogs, in the 2016 Grand Final so the Warriors will be hoping to go one better this time around.

Their side will be ready and raring to go after a busy year for AFL in Ireland. At this year’s Champions League in Amsterdam back in April, the Belfast Redbacks finished second, only just falling short against the hosts, the Amsterdam Devils. The Redbacks then went on to win back-to-back premierships in the AFL Ireland league, but not without being challenged by the likes of the Galway Mapgies and Leeside Lions.

While there are a number of quality Redback players in their European Championships squad, the competitiveness of their local league will have helped strengthen the team, knowing they have the standard required to battle for the European Championship.

At this year’s Euro Cup, the Irish Warriors made it all the way to the final in Sweden, but lost to the England Dragonslayers so they will use the motivation from that result to also push them towards success this week.

Their ultimate goal for the European Championships will be to win it, while also playing an attacking and exciting brand of football.

With a number of debutants, they will also be looking at preparing a number of players in the 18-a-side format ahead of next year’s International Cup in Australia.

It looks like the Warriors have a number of targets for this years tournament, from transitioning a number of young players into their talented squad, but to also play so impressive football along the way, and to win.

The Irish will have a great opportunity to do so, but will also be challenged by Germany and Denmark who are both in Pool A along with the Warriors.

Their key motivating factor for their more experienced players returning for another AFL Europe tournament will be to beat the Bulldogs shall they meet in the final, but coach Brian Currane will be expecting them to play a certain style of football that he will hope will take them all the way.

That particular style has been evident in the past to those who have witnessed the Irish play and Currane will be expecting them to reach their prime at the perfect time.

In the bigger picture, the experience for this squad at the European Championships will be invaluable ahead of the International Cup next year, where the Warriors will be hoping to reach the Grand Final after they finished third in 2017.

By having a combination of new and eager players as well as an experienced core group, the Warriors have the squad needed to go all the way at this year’s European Championships. They also have the motivation to do so, and with a well drilled attacking but physical game style, expect to see them battling it out in the final match on Saturday.

Angus Boyle – AFL Europe.

2019 European Championships Squad Preview – Irish Banshees

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.

In this edition of squad previews we take a look at one of the most successful national sides in recent AFL Europe history, the women’s side of the Irish Banshees.

The AFL Ireland Women’s league has had a successful season and with the addition of several new clubs, there are plenty of new Irish women picking up the game domestically and the standard continues to grow.

With the Great Britain Swans taking out the European Championships event in the last outing back in 2016, Ireland are looking to turn that around this year and be the current holders of all major AFL Europe event trophies.

In the women’s division, Ireland are currently reigning champs of every international tournament, except this European Championship.

They’ll be out for redemption to complete their current collection of the Fitzpatrick Cup with UCC, the Champions League with the West Clare Waves and the Euro Cup and International Cup from their national Banshees side.

In the most recent of these, the Euro Cup, the Banshees showed just how dominant they can be, displaying some high scoring performances and even winning the final by 30 points over a strong England Vixens side.

They will be the side to beat this year and coming off a dominant Euro Cup display, will show plenty of confidence and flare in their game style.

Crowds at Wimbledon Park will flock to this side, as they play risky, through the corridor footy and with their pace and willingness to play on, this Irish side will put the opposition on the back foot for some eye catching game play.

Changing from 9-a-side to an 18-a-side format for the first time since 2017 will be challenging, but this Banshees side have proven in the past that they can use their fitness and skills to fit any occasion.

Playing in the 18 a side format in the International Cup in Melbourne in 2017, the Irish women’s side beat the powerhouse of Canada to take out the cup.

This experience at Etihad Stadium, under all types of pressure, will help many of their side mentally for this tournament and will go a long way towards their success in London next week.

Focused on a successful tournament and the thought of taking out all major AFL Europe trophies on all the players and staff members minds, this tournament is also great preparation for bigger times ahead.

With the 2020 International Cup in Australia not far away, this tournament will give the Banshees a chance to prepare and get used to the 18-a-side format again and put them in good stead to take out any tournament that comes their way.

Showcasing some of the best players Europe has to offer, the Irish Banshees will come out strong and play an exciting brand of footy.

Expect to see them in a good position come finals time and to be a real threat to take out another major AFL Europe trophy.

Liam McAllion – AFL Europe

Irish Watch Season Review – Part One

Irish Watch Season Reviews – Part One 

What a season it was.

27 weeks of action packed footy led to the Tigers claiming their second premiership in three seasons, demolishing the young GWS Giants on Grand Final day by a whopping 89 points.

Richmond wouldn’t be the only success story however, with the rise of the Lions and Dogs filling the league with excitement whilst the Teague Train saw belief finally restored at Carlton.

In what was a fantastic season, another fascinating but often overlooked sub-plot was the continued development of the AFL’s international players.

2019 was a groundbreaking year for football’s foreign players, with its Irish contingent in particular experiencing a number of breakout seasons.

From the run and dash of Conor McKenna to the grit and determination of Mark O’Connor, we saw a new generation of European football stars come to the fore.

This season saw eight Irish players feature at AFL level with four managing to put together 15 or more games.

Along with these eight a number of other players managed to have an impact at state level, placing further demands on Irish talent moving forward.

Let’s go through them one by one and analyse how they went in 2019.

Callum Brown – GWS Giants

Coming over from Ireland in the aftermath of the 2018 season, it’s been a period of growth for the 19 year old from County Derry who excited many in his first season at NEAFL level.

Featuring 19 times in the Giants reserves side, Brown would show excellent improvement throughout the season with his pace and athleticism particular highlights of his game.

Starting the season as a half forward, the young Irishman would be moved to defence at the midway point of the season, as the Giants looked to use his athleticism and speed to give them that run and dash off the half back flank.

The quick utility would average a respectable 10.8 disposals and 1.4 tackles throughout the season whilst also slotting seven goals.

He would also produce one of the highlights of the NEAFL season, as in a match on the Gold Coast he would pick up the ball across half back, receive a one two handball and go on a booming run through the middle of the ground before slotting a goal on the run from 50 metres out.

It’s moments such as these that have the Giants extremely excited, as he looks to develop into an AFL quality talent in the coming years.

Stefan Okunbor – Geelong Cats

Another exciting youngster, Stefan Okunbor produced some eye-catching performances in the VFL this season with his speed and class particular highlights of his very raw game.

Recruited by the Cats at the end of 2018 as a Category B rookie, Okunbor has not put a foot wrong in his brief career, jumping head first into his development into an Aussie rules footballer.

Playing a host of different roles, Okunbor would settle into the side playing in eight VFL matches in the back half of the year.

This would include a strong performance in round 15 against Sandringham where he would recognised in the bests for the first time in his short career.

He would then go on to register his first goal just three weeks later to cap off a solid debut season as a professional footballer.

Darragh Joyce – St Kilda

It was a solid third year for key defender Darragh Joyce, who after making his debut last season was able to add three games to his AFL games tally in 2019.

Playing as a tall down back, Joyce showed great promise with his defensive work all season, as Sandringham (St Kilda’s VFL affiliate) looked to him as their primary stopper on some of the VFL’s best forwards.

Along with his work down back, St Kilda looked to use him as a swingman at stages towards the end of the VFL season, as he managed to kick five goals in the last three games showing his verstality.

His consistent VFL season was rewarded with a strong poll in the side’s Best and Fairest count, where he finished third, further re-affirming his potential as a future contributor for the Saints.

When playing in the AFL, Joyce showed good signs is in his three games, playing his role well and seeming assured at the level.

In a small sample size, Joyce would average 14.7 disposals, 1.7 marks and 1.3 inside 50’s across his three games, playing as a third tall in the Saints backline.

Joyce’s solid season would see him rewarded with a new contract that ties to Moorabbin until the end of 2021.

Conor Nash, Hawthorn

After playing the final five games of 2018 there were high hopes for Conor Nash heading into the 2019 season, as the Hawks looked to rejuvenate their forward line with young, developing players.

Beginning the year as that third key forward, it was a struggle at times for the young Irishman as he had problems really hitting his gear and finding his feet at the level throughout the first six weeks of the season.

This would see him lose his place following the Hawks Easter Monday loss to the Cats, as he had only registered eight marks and two goals in six matches.

With his season at the crossroads, Nash would show his determination and fight, responding strongly from losing his place in the side.

Playing four games with Box Hill through the middle of the year, the Irishman went back and really honed his craft as he really began to take control of games and build his confidence.

Nash would return to the Hawthorn team in round 15 and hold his spot for the rest of the season, as he managed to translate his good work from the VFL into his AFL game and really cement a spot as the third tall in Hawthorn’s forward line.

His Round 21 match against the Giants in arctic conditions in Canberra was a testament to his hard work, as coming in as a late inclusion he commanded the Hawthorn forward line and ended up with a career high 16 touches and a goal.

A very athletic and raw talent, this was very much a learning year for Nash as he averaged 8.9 disposals and 1.6 marks whilst showing glimpses of being an exciting prospect for years to come.

Conor Glass, Hawthorn

The second Irishman on Hawthorn’s list, running defender Conor Glass added seven matches to his AFL tally in 2019 as he continued to grow as a footballer.

Blessed with excellent skills and an incredible running capacity, Hawthorn mastermind Alastair Clarkson looked to utilise the 22 year old in a number of different roles this season as the club began moving in a different direction.

Starting his season in the VFL, Glass would put together a string of good early season performances to earn a senior call up in round nine.

Putting together a string of seven games through the middle of the season, Glass would average a respectable 13.6 disposals, 3.6 marks and 1.4 tackles spending time down back, on the wing and even up forward at times.

He would also enhance himself as one Hawthorn’s best ball users, going at 78% efficiency over his seven matches at AFL level whilst becoming a lot more damaging averaging 244 metres gained a match (up from 196 last year).

The highlight of Glass’ season would be his performance in round 14 against Sydney, where he gathered a season high 20 touches playing across the wing and through the middle of the ground at times.

Similarly to Nash, it was a building year for the 22 year old as he developed into more of a utility and learned a variety of new skills which will without a doubt put him in good stead moving forward.

Part two coming soon…

Zac Standish – AFL Europe

Umpire Spotlight – Dan Wild

After being recruited into umpiring by Kevin Smith, the last person to run a one-person (field umpire) AFL Grand Final, Dan Wild has seen himself umpire in one of Victoria’s leading Australian Football competitions, and has just finished his first season in AFL London.

With his first AFL Europe tournament just around the corner, Dan is looking forward to umpiring different players from different countries and seeing first hand the growth of the game on the continent.

“It will be good to experience different players from different countries playing AFL… So far, the experience [umpiring in AFL London] has been a very welcoming and fun time,” said Wild.

Coming from the Eastern Football League, one of the leading leagues in Victoria, Australia, Dan has plenty of experience in the game and sees the opportunity to umpire in Europe as a great chance to help pass on some valuable knowledge that he has gained from others.

Photo by Chris Powney Photography

“I’d love to umpire in a few different countries and meet a like-minded group of people who also love AFL football. I also like teaching so it would be a good opportunity to pass on the knowledge I have gained to others who haven’t had the same learning opportunities that I have,” said Wild.

For a number of umpires across Europe, they have had to learn a new game, along with the rules and positioning, from scratch as opposed to someone like Dan who has been involved with the game since school. The pressure that comes with umpiring tends to put people off from taking up the role, however, Dan believes the rewards are worth it.

Just some of the benefits that umpiring provide are the opportunity to meet new people, improve fitness, develop a number of skills relevant to everyday life, and even the opportunity to travel around Europe for major tournaments.

“In the UK, a lot of people have not had as much experience with the game so you can look at it from a learning perspective. It is always challenging to learn something new, however, the rewards you can get from being part of a team and being out exercising can be really fun,” said Wild.

Just like being part of a football team is the reason why so many people play the game, Dan’s favourite aspect of Australian Football is the camaraderie and being a meaningful part of a sport he has grown up with – without umpires there is no game.

While he hasn’t umpired in an AFL Europe tournament yet, he has already umpired a number of thrilling games, including a nail-biting game in AFL London.

“The closest match I have umpired was between Wandsworth Demons and North London Lions, which ended up being an exciting one-point win to the Demons. This was only the second or third game I had umpired in London and the crowd really dialled into the intensity at Motspur Park for the Wimbledon Hawks Ladies Day event,” said Wild.

On top of plenty of new experiences on the other side of the world to where he grew up, Dan says one of his favourite experiences so far was umpiring an AFL Masters game between Australia and Great Britain.

“In that match, Brent Staker (former West Coast player) was playing and showed his experience at the highest level of the sport with silky smooth skills, strong marking and running,” said Wild. “I have built up a great group of friends here in London and look forward to the many years to come.”

Angus Boyle – AFL Europe

Belushi’s Presents: Player Spotlight – Gavin Murray

Each week, AFL Europe in combination with Belushi’s will take a look at one of our star players competing in fixtures across the continent in Player Spotlight. 

Irishman Gavin Murray always kept a close eye on the AFL in Australia and jumped at the opportunity to join in on the game in 2012.

“I had always had a keen interest in AFL and used to watch all the weeks highlights here, in Ireland, on an all Irish speaking TV channel called “TG4″. It is pretty similar to GAA apart from the ball so the transition across isn’t too hard for a Gaelic player but trying to run and bounce a Sherrin footy took a bit of getting used to,” said Gavin.

Gavin’s footy career began at the South Dublin Swans in 2012, which he was introduced to through a mate.

Gavin picked up the game quickly, and found that his Gaelic skill were easily transferable to AFL. Once he got started, a passion for the Australian game was born and Gavin has played consistently ever since.

Not long after joining the Swans, Gavin moved to Sydney, enhancing his love for the game even more where he played for the UTS Bats.

“The differences I noticed, when in Australia, was the speed of the game, obviously most of the players there were brought up playing the game but while playing in Europe, I noticed that players that weren’t technically as good would put their bodies on the line for the team and were always super eager to learn and get better at the game,” said Gavin.

Gavin has since progressed to playing all over Europe and has a long list of accolades in his footy career.

After returning from Sydney, Gavin joined the AFL London competition in an effort to continue playing 18-a-side football – a rarity in the AFL Europe leagues. Since playing with the Wandsworth Demons, one of his highlights over the years as a Demon was winning the 2018 AFL London Grand Final by a single point.

Representing his nation on multiple occasions for the Irish Warriors, Gavin has been around the world for major international tournaments and with his team first attitude is always one of the first picked in the side.

His regular appearances at Euro Cup, Champions League, European Championships, and the AFL International Cup make Gavin one of the most experienced players Europe has to offer.

Photo by Danny Radis Photography

Gavin has even played for the Perpignan Tigers in France, saying “this was my favourite place to play in Europe, such a great team and beautiful location.”

Known as a player than can punish you in the ruck and on the scoreboard, Gavin uses his size and strength to his advantage in games and is an exciting talent to watch.

Improving each year to become one of the top players in Europe, Gavin is happy with his progress and thrilled to see the direction of AFL in the continent.

“AFL is such a great sport but nowadays it isn’t just an Australian sport. The fact that it is growing so much across the globe shows that. Thanks to AFL I’ve had so many opportunities to travel, meet new people and make countless amounts of new friends,” said Gavin.

 

Special thanks to Belushi’s for helping grow the game in Europe

Liam McAllion – AFL Europe