AFTER several months of competitive footy being put on hold, countries finally saw a return to action last Saturday, 26th of September.
Partnering with National Australia Bank, AFL Europe’s Festival of Football invited the governing bodies of AFL in Europe to host matches with their local teams in a city of their choice.
The format and organisation for each differed; some playing single matches, others hosting tournaments with up to four teams.
But for the ten countries and almost 40 teams participating in the Festival of Football, one thing remained the same, all were back playing the game they love.
Austria were graced with plenty of sunshine on Saturday after a cold and wet day prior. Participants travelled to Graz to compete in a mixed match that was made up of players from the Styrian DownUnderDogs, Vienna Galahs and plenty of first-timers including three women; forming Team Edelweiß and Team Enzian.
The match went for the full four quarters as Team Edelweiß ended the day victorious.
“We had a great day and had a lot of luck with the weather… it was great to be able to enjoy the day outside and celebrate a little all together,” said Martin Schittegg.
At just 15 years of age young gun Bennie was voted best afield, competing against players almost triple his age and earning himself a Player of the Tournament guernsey provided by AFL Europe apparel partner, O’Neills.
Sofia Magpies have taken their first win in the inaugural Australian Football match between two Bulgarian sides.
The Varna Demons fell just short in what would have been their dream debut, losing to the Magpies by three goals.
The first half saw both sides taking turns kicking with the wind, resulting in level scores at halftime.
“It was a great day overall… Magpies used their greater experience to keep ahead in the second half and took home a three goal win; 13.10. 88 to 10.10. 70,” said Atanas Kirachin.
Best on ground in Aksakovo was awarded to Petar Petrov, who kicked five goals despite playing on the wing for most of the game.
Both player-coaches for the Magpies and Demons (Kirachin and Jon Zophoníasson) were the two umpires for the game, each alternating quarters.
In Croatia, the Sesvete Double Blues, Zagreb Cvjetno Dockers and Zagreb Hawks played each other once to make a mini three-team tournament.
Game number one was a close match for most but saw the Double Blues eventually break-free and lead by four goals with just minutes to go. Despite a late surge, the Hawks could not recover a win.
The Hawks stayed out on the field for game two to face the Zagreb Dockers. The Dockers were ready to go right from the first bounce and became too much for the Hawks, kicking three goals in the first four minutes of the match.
This momentum for the Dockers would continue into the final match of the day against the Double Blues.
Leading by five goals at halftime, the Dockers went on to finish the tournament undefeated and become champions in Croatia.
Following the men’s tournament, the Sesvete Redlegs and Zagreb Panthers went head-to-head for Croatia’s women’s match.
It seemed to be all smooth sailing for the Redlegs, who led by three goals at halftime. However, the second half was a completely different story with the Panthers edging back into it and the final result being decided in the dying seconds.
“The final 2-minutes were played in front of the Panthers goals and they turned out to be the most exciting of our whole Festival of Football tournament,” said Dinko Irsag.
“With the Panthers leading by 2-points, a free kick was awarded to the Redlegs 30-seconds before the end.
“The crowd was going wild… but unfortunately for the Redlegs, the kick was missed.”
Congratulations to Josip Karadza in the men’s and Matea Sedlacek in the women’s for being awarded Player of the Tournament, as well as Dinko Irsag for winning Umpire of the Tournament.
The Helsinki Heatseekers, Turku Dockers, Uusimaa Kangaroos and Waasa Wombats ventured to the town of Paimio for Finland’s participation in the Festival of Football.
Finland’s tournament ultimately decided the champions of Finland AFL 2020, as they were unable to go ahead with their season earlier in the year.
Along with Poland and Russia, Finland held a total of eight games in which all teams were able to secure a win.
Helsinki took the first victory of the day against the Roos and did not slow down, lasting the day undefeated including a 38-point win in the grand final over the Dockers.
To make the grand final, Turku had to beat Uusimaa in the final round of the day in which they did so very narrowly, by just 3-points.
Before the grand final, Uusimma and the winless Waasa Wombats played off for third place.
Unfortunately for the Roos, inaccuracy in front of goal proved costly and they lost by less than six points for the second game in a row.
Finland enjoyed a very successful day in Paimio with the four teams and a fantastic group of umpires officiating the games.
In Berlin, the North Berlin Crows, South Berlin Giants and West Berlin Eagles each played two games and recorded one win each.
Further south, Germany’s women’s held a tournament in Leipzig that invited the Berlin Crocodiles, Hamburg Dockers, Rheinland Lions and Allied Giants into town to face off in a four-way tournament.
Unfortunately, heavy rain became too much in Berlin and Leipzig, forcing the tournaments to stop halfway through.
Less than six points decided the outcome in each of the games in Berlin, as the Eagles were crowned champions due to maintaining the highest percentage.
Congratulations to Luke Quinn from the Crows for being awarded Player of the Tournament.
Experience played a big part in the matches in Leipzig as the teams fought through the wet conditions, but without finishing the tournament, the day was judged as a four-way tie.
A best and fairest player was announced from each team as recognition was given to all coaches, umpires and helpers of the tournament.
“We had many first-time players in the combined Allied Giants and it was great to see some strong tackles and muddy smiles,” said Emily Flanagan.
“Planning an event during a global pandemic proved quite challenging; however, everyone pulled together to create a successful day. Hats off to our three rookie umpires who were confident and spent the day in the rain.
“It was great to have the Germany women’s community together again. Bring on the 2021 season!”
Ireland’s involvement in the Festival of Football was two games in two different cities.
Game one saw Leeside Lions take on the UCC Bombers in Cork. The Bombers were off to the perfect start with two quick goals, but it didn’t take long for the Lions to retaliate as they went on to kick the next six goals in the first half and lead by 21 at half-time.
The Bombers came out of the main break ready to go, pressuring Leeside all quarter and keeping them scoreless for the entire third term. With that, the Bombers managed to kick two of their own, ending the third down by just 7-points, 38 to 45.
The final quarter had it all and for the first time since the opening minutes of the game, UCC had hit the front! Speckies, run-down tackles and nifty goals kept it even throughout the fourth quarter until Leeside broke away in the final minutes.
Congratulations to both teams on a great match and to the Lions for winning 10.14. 74 to 8.11. 59. Conor Nagle was awarded best on ground.
The second game in Ireland was in Belfast as an intra-club match with the Redbacks.
In sunny conditions, it didn’t look like any ordinary practice match between the Redbacks and White Tails as both teams displayed great skills and gut-running.
In a close fought battle, the White Tails ended the intra-club victorious.
Best on ground was voted as Dean Skinner for the White Tails, and David McElhone for the Redbacks.
Just a week after their 2020 grand final, AFL Netherlands were back out onto the park for the Festival of Football.
Last Saturday looked a little different to their grand final, as they played non-contact footy and mixed the men and women players in the Netherlands into three teams of the Blues, Devils and Llamas.
Whilst line-ups may have differed, the results didn’t, with the Devils able to make it through to the grand final in consecutive weeks and become victorious yet again.
Well done to all for organising a successful tournament just a week after the Netherlands grand final.
A total of eight matches were played in Wrocław which started with the intra-city rivalry between the Warsaw Boars and Warsaw Saints.
In wet weather, the Saints recorded the first win of the day which later on proved to be vital points to qualify for the grand final.
The rain cleared for the second game where the two teams on debut went head-to-head. The Lions made a big statement and comfortably defeated Fort Nysa.
Fort Nysa showed great improvement throughout the tournament, from not kicking a goal in their first game to kicking three in their final match.
“A historic day for the growth of footy in Poland, not even a torrential downpour would stop four Polish teams competing in the Festival of Football,” said Geoff Puzzi.
The sun parted the clouds for the grand final and the crowd roared as the Saints hoped their experience would get them over the line against the Lions.
Undefeated heading into the final, the Lions kept their momentum rolling through the first all-Poland Australian Football tournament and defeated the Saints 5.4. 34 to 1.1. 7.
Congratulations to Paweł Łysy from Fort Nysa, voted Player of the Tournament. An exceptional accomplishment for a player that had only been training for five weeks.
Another congratulations goes to the Umpire of the Tournament, Roger Scott, who did a fantastic job umpiring all games bar one.
Baltic Hawks, Northern Tigers and Moscow Bears were up early to kick off the first tournament in the entire Festival of Football.
Enjoying the St. Petersburg sunshine, each team would go on to play four games to determine who should make finals.
The Bears started with the first win of the day but unfortunately it was to be their last. This meant that they would miss finals as the Hawks recorded their second victory against the unbeaten Tigers, putting them just ahead of the Bears and into the grand final.
The final brought out the very best of both teams, becoming the highest scoring match of the day as the 2020 SPAFL premiers proved they were the best team all year, defeating the Hawks by 11-points.
Umpire of the Tournament was awarded to Viacheslav Belov, while Evgeny Trofimov took the Player of the Tournament honours.
The tenth country who participated in the Festival of Football were Sweden with five teams.
Norrtälje Dockers made their way to Limhamn Australian Football Ground in Malmö as favourites in both the men’s and women’s competitions, lasting undefeated all year.
The Dockers would go on to play the Port Malmö Maulers in an 18-a-side game to start things off for the day.
In an epic match, the home-side were pleased to end their drought and overpower the Dockers by more than ten goals.
In the women’s and along with the visiting Dockers were the South Stockholm Giants. The Giants were the least experienced side of the three with majority of their players making their Australian Football debut at the tournament.
The round robin between the Port Malmö Lynx, Giants and Dockers had some terrific talent on display as the Lynx and Dockers made it through to the grand final.
Undefeated all day, the Dockers looked ready to take their fourth victory and win Sweden’s tournament before a huge three goal second half by Lynx player, Alannah Ni Fhinn put the girls well ahead, beating the Dockers by 23-points and for the first time in 2020.
Congratulations to Lynx player Sammy Vallgren and Maulers player Daniel Peters who each won Player of the Tournament in the two competitions.
AFL Europe would like to thank and congratulate each country’s event organisers, committees, players, umpires, supporters and all volunteers who helped get each tournament up and running in a safe and successful manner.
It was great to see the AFL Europe community all out playing and enjoying some fantastic games of footy.
Our thoughts are with those that could not participate on the day. We hope to follow the progress of you all through the winter and to see you back playing games in 2021.
A final thanks goes to Festival of Football major parter and official ball partner of AFL Europe, National Australia Bank, for your ongoing support of Australian footy both in and outside of Australia. The day could not have gone ahead without you.