It was a unique off season for GWS defender Nicola Barr.
The 2016 number one draft pick would undertake a once in a lifetime experience, partnering with AFL Europe to go over and observe the game in a number of different countries around the continent.
What she saw would exceed all her expectations and create an excitement about the future of AFL football around the globe.
Wanting to get away throughout her break period, Barr was initially just happy to go over and have a kick with a few teams.
“Through [AFL Europe’s] Ollie Howard, we discussed the possibility of meeting some teams while I was overseas and having a kick.” Barr told AFL Europe.
This small idea of imparting little pieces of wisdom would spark into something much greater, as Barr would end up visiting 12 clubs throughout Europe.
“I basically ended up travelling and going where I wanted and if there was a team there I would go and either participate in or take a training session, trying to learn how that particular club came about and how they go about training and playing.”
Although she says it wasn’t a work trip, much of her time was dedicated to helping out these teams and getting to know how the game is perceived beyond our shores.
The first surprise she encountered would be the heavy local presence at all the clubs.
“It was very interesting to see that a lot of the teams were made up of locals from the area” Barr said.
“I expected there to be a lot more expats, but in places like Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Denmark these teams are made up from people living in those places which was really exciting to see.”
And although she struggled to understand at times, Barr was blown away by the locals interest and passion for the game.
“So many people were interested in everything [about being a professional footballer], what kind of training we did, how often we trained, I was super happy to pass on any knowledge I had and help where I could.”
Along with their interest in the game, Barr was very impressed with the camaraderie between the players and culture of the football clubs.
“That was the thing I loved the most.” She said.
“It was a really nice reminder visiting those clubs, a reminder of why people love football so much.”
“I definitely felt like I was back at a local footy club, but with people speaking a different language, in terms of how they get along and the love they have for the game.”
Nicola recalls an excellent story from her time with a club in Croatia which typifies this passion for the game.
“At one point I was sitting in a car with one of the Croatian teams, and three girls [from the team] were sitting in the back talking about tactics for the weekend, like should we do this or should we do that.” She said.
“It was just really cool to see how passionate these people are about Australian football.”
Along with visiting clubs all over Europe, Barr would also get the opportunity to attend the European Cup in Sweden
“It was really good to see all the teams in one spot” Barr said.
The passion and pride for the games was a particular highlight of the day for Barr, as she observed many European countries coming together to play Australian rules football.
“The Croatian girls were watching their men’s team play and I’ve never heard people yell so loudly.”
“I felt like I was at the MCG”
Playing an AFL 9’s format, the competition would be fierce all day with the Irish and English teams coming out victorious in the respective women’s and men’s competitions.
On a day that meant so much to these players, Barr was simply blown away by the skills on display.
“It really surprised me how developed it is over there.” She said.
“The team that impressed me the most were the German women’s team, they were really, really hard and skilled.”
She was also able to scope out some potential talent for the future, with many talented players having the potential to take their game to the Australia like we have seen many Irish players in recent times.
“It’s really growing over there and getting more popular, so I can absolutely see players from other countries come across and play.”
“It’s very exciting to think it might become more and more international, and I think it will be very good for the game.”
Overall, the trip would be a true eye opener for the 23 year old, as she was able to see the game from an entirely new perspective.
“When you’re in a professional environment football can get very serious and it can become very easy to lose that passion for the game.” She said.
“For me it was really rewarding to get back and see why people really love the game and what it does for their mental health, their friendships and just their wellbeing.”
“It was really important to see that passion and it reminded me why I play football.”
Zac Standish – AFL Europe