Posted by: keepfishing | October 5, 2009

Wishing for a place far away

As I write, in a country far far away from me, men from 12 nations across europe, are kicking and punching balls towards upright posts, whilst simultaniously hitting each other as hard as they can, in their quest to be the best country in Europe at Aussie Rules.

That’s right, today (or yesterday, depending on when the internet will allow me to upload this), is the EU Cup 2009, held near Zagreb, Croatia, and I am suprised at how disappointed I am not to be there. Yes, I know I’m in a phenomenally beautiful country, getting to do a multitude of exciting things, but there’s something unique and special about getting to play for your country, not matter how obscure the sport.

This time last year, the Scotland team ventured into the tournament for the first time and we hit Prague full of good intentions to train hard and prepare fully for the tournament. In reality, this meant spending the Friday wandering the sites of the city whilst kicking a footy around and trying not to get caught by the police. The England team on the other hand, many of whom arrived on the same flight as us, had a little more forethough, and arrived with 2 coaches, a manager, and a team physio. They had also managed to book the pitches to have an afternoon training session. Scotland, on the other hand, had resorted to recruiting my particularly English former flatmate John, who’d never touched an Aussie Rules ball in his life, in order to flesh out the squad, and were still 3 short. Oh well, at least we were the cultural winners.


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Training hard outside the castle.

Saturday morning came around, and clearly the fixture organisers had a sense of humour – first game up was England vs Scotland. After the hooter, it took a full 6 and a half seconds of game time (I’ve studied the video hard) before I’d caught the ball and smashed my left cheek into someone’s knee. Slightly stunned, without much awareness of what happened, I carried on and over the course of the tournament, had to visit the first aid lady no less than 4 times to spray some freezy stuff on it to stop the swelling obliterating my vision.

Anyway, the game. In short, we lost. England had many better players and a lot more experience than us. But we gave them a good game, and were probably at least drawing at half time. Next up were the locals, the Czech Republic, followed by the Dutch. We comfortably beat the Czechs, and needed to beat the Netherlands to ensure we finished second in the group and reached the quarter finals. With only two minutes to go, there was merely one point in it, but somehow, we pushed ahead and won by two goals.

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Getting hit. Hard.

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The quarter finals found us drawn against the Croatians, a squad essentially comprised of several very large, shaven headed men, who spoke Croatian with Australian accents. My only real memory of the game is catching the ball from the first bounce, immediately being hit very hard, dropping the ball, and the guy who hit me picking up the ball and scoring a goal. We lost, rather heavily. And then were immediately required to drag ourselves onto the adjacent pitch to play France in a game to decide some final positions. By now, we could barely put out a fit team, and having to play a game so soon against an opposition who’d had a full hour’s rest meant we lost again, but only narrowly. My biggest memory of that game is being wrapped up by some giant who looked like the French lock Cheval, and finishing upside down with my head inches from the floor in some kind of pile-driver move.

We forfeited the final 7th/8th play off against Catalonia, due to lack of players.

But we had a lot of fun. And I managed to play well enough to be selected in ‘Team Europe’. Ultimately, England comfortably beat Croatia in the final, and so it seems that sometimes preparation does pay off.


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Team Europe

In the intervening year, Scotland have improved massively. Several new local players have developed well, and in August we were able to have our first ever national trials. So we’re taking over a much much stronger team this year and, despite living it up on the East African coast, I would give almost anything to be there. But hey, there’s always next year, right?

UPDATE: It was actually Monday before I could get online to post this. But word has filtered through that we managed to win ‘The Plate’ and finish 5th. The placing of things somewhat resembles rugby 7s and I’m still not quite sure how we finish 5th and yet still win a trophy, something those who finished 4th (I think it was Spain(!)) failed to do. Maybe someone can enlighten me. Congratulations should also go to England, who won back-to-back titles.


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