Euro Cup weekend Belfast
Last Saturday ARFLI hosted the Euro Cup in Belfast at Queens University’s very impressive sports grounds at Dub Lane. The Euro Cup is a 9 a-side tournament for European nations playing aussie rules. This tournament is an annual opportunity for the European AFL community to come together and compete.
Unlike the International Cup where only 5 European nations made the trip to Australia there were 18 men’s teams at this event and 2 women’s teams. This included the whole of Scandinavia, Latinos such as Italy and Spain and sensible central Europeans such as Germany and Austria. I was lucky enough to be involved playing with the European Crusaders. The Crusaders are a mix of players from around Europe that come together for this tournament made up of players not playing for their national squads or from nations that did not send a team to the Euro Cup.
At the start of the day the only Crusaders players I knew were club mate Marty Ryan, Dublin Demon’s David Walsh and Kangaroo’s Pat Leavy. The other players came from England, Wales, Finland and the Czech Republic. Luckily we also had a great manager in Andrew Hickey, a man who guided the Irish Banshees to International Cup success this year.
Our day opened with a pool game against Austria. Having no really tall players I was picked in the ruck against a taller Austrian. However I held my own and we ran out comfortable winners 31 to 2.
Next up was going to be the much stiffer challenge of the Irish Warriors. Although none of the players that competed in Australia were included it was going to be a big game for us against the eventual tournament winners. We competed well although had a significant height disadvantage. Not surprisingly the Warriors had a comfortable 55 to 7 victory. Still is was a good experience for the non-Irish guys on the team to see the level required to compete at the top of the tournament.
After that game we had a break for about two hours. It had been a wet morning and my gear and boots were soaking wet so hanging around in damp gear stiffening up wasn’t the best, however a hot cuppa and a sandwich recharged me for the afternoon. Having finished second in our group we were now in the plate competition. Our quarter-final plate opponents were Germany. I hadn’t seen them in the morning but they looked athletic and had beaten Sweden already that day. We were starting to gel better as a team as the day progressed and won 35 to 14. This meant we were in the semi-final against Spain. We had played one extra game to Spain at this stage as they had a better seeding coming in the plate. On a wet day when it takes it out of the legs this is a disadvantage but we open brightly and led at half-time. However as the second half progressed Spain came back getting some fine wind assisted long-range goals. They were playing just like there world champion soccer amigos playing a possession game and passing the ball around to run down the clock near the end. They beat us in the end by 33 to 23.
We were due one more game to decide 9th or 10th rank position against Russia however Russia had too many wounded players to field so we got the game. Strangely I was glad to stop at this stage as my body was sore by now and was looking forward to a hot shower. So our finally ranking was 9th which I think is the Crusaders best ever tournament ranking. It’s amazing how sport can bond a group of guys that don’t know each other in the morning to great buddies by the end of the day. Although we may not have had the collective skills or fitness of some of our opponents there is no doubt we excelled in terms of courage and commitment.
A special word of thanks to my wife Tammy who turned me from someone who could hardly walk on Friday to someone able to play four tough games on Saturday. I didn’t think I’d make it through the day but thanks to the wonders of chiropractic I did!
As I mentioned already the Warriors won the tournament beating reigning champions Croatia in the final. The Banshees were also there playing Switzerland. It was an easy win for the girls in green against an inexperienced Swiss side. However this tournament wasn’t so much about winning as bringing together people from many different European cultures all passionate about a sport with its origins far away from these shores.