With the 2018 season fast approaching, we’re continuing to take a look at each of the countries in our AFL Europe community to get a snapshot of how Aussie Rules kicked off in their nation, some of their highlights, and some of their goals for 2018. Next up are champions of the 2017 CEAFL, Croatia. Check out what AFL Croatia President, Josip Kravar, had to say about AFL in Croatia:
What’s the history of AFL in Croatia?
Footy in Croatia started back in 2005 when Kolja Koračak started the first club with a couple of experts. After the Zagreb Hawks were the first club, we found new clubs mainly around capital city (Zagreb). In the first years we recruited students and that was a good move as they lifted this sport. During 2006 and 2007 the Croatian National Team was founded and they played in the CEAFL and 3 nations cup. The first appearance of the Knights on the big stage was at the 2008 Euro Cup in Prague where we ended second behind England. It was a good effort for a first try.
Years after, our league developed fast with new recruits especially from the sport faculty in Zagreb which reflected the Croatian Knights play and results. The Knights have been one of the best teams in Europe in 9-a-side (as it is our domestic game), winning Euro Cup 2 times and being runner up for a couple of times also. In the Croatian League, during the prime years of 2014-2015 we had 9 clubs (7 men and 2 women) but we found out that it is hard to maintain clubs that are 3-5 hour drive from all the other clubs.
Give us a snapshot of AFL in Croatia:
Now we have a steady number of 4 men’s clubs and one women’s club and we are doing very well. Back in 2013 we founded AAFC (Association of Australian Football of Croatia) which is today the governing body for all clubs in Croatia and holder of HLAN (Croatian Australian Football League). All our clubs have around 20 players which are 18-35 years old. We had a couple of younger boys but we didn’t develop the junior program due to problems with our facilities. Clubs in Zagreb who have most potential to start junior programs are still training without locker rooms and after we solve this problem we will be able to start the junior program.
The clubs in Croatia are the: Zagreb Hawks, Zagreb Cvjetno Dockers, Velika Gorica Bombers, Sesvete Double Blues.
All our clubs have good relationships with their older brother clubs and they are the Box Hill Hawks, Fremantle Dockers, Essendon Bombers and Sturt Double Blues.
What were some of the highlights of AFL in Croatia in 2017?
Highlights of 2017 for Croatia in the CEAFL (Central Australian Football League) are that we have Italy and Czech Republic back on track. This league was started by our friends from Graz and us, so that countries that have one club can have some kind of league. After a few years playing we managed to have our friends from Italy and Czech Republic join and we are lucky to have them. The Swiss team will join in 2018 and the CEAFL is moving forward with tournaments in Zagreb in June and Prague in September 2018. The CEAFL Champions were the Zagreb Cvjetno Dockers and the Croatian League champions were the Sesvete Double Blues. Sesvete stopped the Dockers after back to back wins in 2015 and 2016.
Also, Tomislav Cvetko, Zagreb Cvjetno Dockers forward and Croatian Knights captain went to play for Norwood FC in Adelaide. He is the second player after Josip Habljak that is playing in Australia and that is also another step forward for us. Josip is now back in Croatia and he is coaching the Zagreb Hawks and our goal is achieved. We now have more experienced and educated players who can bring knowledge and experience.
What are your top three goals for 2018?
Our first goal is to gain new facilities in Zagreb. The Hawks and Dockers are playing on a rugby ground and the Knights also have a preparation camp there and that is not good enough. We want an oval with facilities and we will gain that from the city of Zagreb. We will try our best. Also, we have like every year a lot of activities and they include the recruitment of players, donation dinners, recruitment of volunteer students for marketing (we have them 5 that are working on social media) and National Sport TV game coverage (I think we are the only one after AFL to have that). It is a very good promotion tool.
We have plans to start a junior program and to invest more in women’s footy. We have one women’s club and we want to encourage other countries in the CEAFL to start women’s clubs and also encourage our own clubs to do so. Also we want to be the host (if we have all the requirements) of EC 2019 as we have experience of hosting 2 Euro Cups.
We will send our national teams (our women’s and men’s teams) to Cork and we will hope for the best. After the success on IC Cup 17, we had a very bad result in the 2017 Euro Cup in Bordeaux and the new coaches will have to work hard to bring our teams back on track. The AAFC committee are having extensive meetings every month and our main goal is to not just to make things work, but we want to build steady foundation for our sport starting with facilities, junior programs and then results.
We know that we know our job very well and we are very motivated to build a sustainable system. We always strive for 1st place and we always will, and along the way we’ll help all our friends as much as we can.
Who is a player to watch?
Josip Habljak is back from Australia and he will play for his former team (Zagreb Hawks). Josip Motik is last year’s MVP of the Croatian League and he is player to watch. We also need to mention that we will watch Tommy at Norwood and hope he will prove the quality of our school.