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Rheinland Lions win their first-ever German premiership

  • Tuesday, September 04 2007 @ 05:30 pm ACST
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The Cologne-based Rheinland Lions have broken through for their first-ever flag in the AFL Germany, with a triumphant 48-point win over German powerhouses the Munich Kangaroos at the 2007 AFLG Grand Final carnival - final scores Rheinland 13.7.85 to Munich 5.7.37. The win not only marked the first premiership for the Lions, it was the first for a team with a majority of German players on the pitch.

In the playoff for third prize, the Hamburg Dockers comfortably accounted for the Frankfurt Redbacks 8.12.60 to 2.6.18. The third match for the day saw German wooden-spooners the Berlin Crocs join with the Flying Dutchmen of Amsterdam for win in a friendly match against the Rheinland reserves team.

The following report comes courtesy of Lions coach Robert Cannon, via the Australian-German online forum.

"17 minutes into the final quarter of Saturday's AFLG Grand Final Lukey (One Leg) McBride gathered the ball, shrugged a Münchner's tackle and gracefully wheeled onto his right side to slot home a beautifully weighted drop-punt from a 45-degree angle, 45 metres out. A very Australian moment, was celebrated loudly in a smattering of English, and a large dose of "Deutsch Sprechen".

"When the Hamburg Dockers umpiring behind the goals enthusiastically lifted two fingers the Lions went ahead by 50 points in what was to be a resounding first-ever Grand Final win for the Rheinlanders.

"When the final whistle was blown minutes later I was overcome with a delicious wave of relief -- but more on that later. The bruising game had only slowed half-way through the last quarter when the players for long-time German Aussie Rules powerhouse, the Munich Kangaroos, finally realised the margin was too big, and the Lions' desire wasn't fading.

"Waged on a Cologne pitch the equal of any I have dragged my knuckles across in Australia (150m long, 110m wide, beautifully marked up, even with fifty-metre lines labelled with the number 50); watched by around 400 spectators gathered in what became a natural amphitheatre thanks to the thick woods that enclosed three sides of the ground; played by two committed sides that have developed a robust rivalry in the last two years resulting now in a Grand Final victory a piece – this game was a winning advertisement for Aussie Rules.

"Two hamstrung stars book-ended the field. Injuries to the AFLG's two star midfielders meant Roo gun Jack Andersen would patrol the Munich goal square, with home team hero McBride also staying inside our 50 arc.

"Both men showed their class, kicking important goals (three apiece), in a game that was bashed out in a midfield war that bumped, smacked, packed its way from start to end. When one side did wrestle free from a pack, the skills of both sides were displayed in a game that the AFLG (Australian Football League Germany ) can be proud of. With possession won, both teams moved the ball goal-ward fast and direct, with attacking forays usually resulting in a score.

"With reflection a fitter, faster Lions team, won more of the close-in contests to beat the older, Aussier, experienced visitors.

"A huge achievement and massive test passed by the young Lions. As coach, I knew we had recruited, welcomed, trained and gelled our team of Kölners (Ed: Cologne natives), Irishmen, North Americans and Aussie nomads. We were fit and had got our skills up to scratch.

"But the question mark remained, in a pressure cooker Granny, against Munich's veterans (in their fourth Grand Final in a row, and with many games under the belt in Australia), could Rheinland's young and local talents shrug aside the nerves and bring home the bacon (called "Speck" over here)? Well, they could.

"I myself was affected heavily by nervousness during the morning as we organised two other games and the Beer and Barbie-catering for the crowd and after-party.

"I had watched happily as our Magoos (B team) fought passionately but finally went down to an experienced collection that was Berlin-Amsterdam Aussie Rules United.

"But as Frankfurt played Hamburg in the third-placed play-off I wondered whether we were prepared for the day.

"All year Munich have been asking their players to commit to winning GF number three on the trot, and when they arrived at the ground they looked nothing less then fiercely committed.

"Commitment, it became clear, was to be the key on this day.

"Stomach in knots, I missed the warm up, letting the lucky 23 men selected in our GF team go through kicking drills. When we broke into stretches I asked them to commit to each other for 80 minutes. 23 men, 80 minutes, every man, every minute, together. I am proud to say we never backed down, ran all day, tackled, smothered, dived into packs and won through what was a white-hot game until into the final stanza.

"A non-stop running performance from goal-line to goal-line by our Deutscher midfield machine Michi Dietrich earned him deserved best-on-ground honours. Our defenders through the day were fantastic – in particular home-grown Tom Odenthal and Matthias Oser and Irishmen Aido Kelly and Mike Barry – closing down a canny Australian forward set-up.

"I will talk to all our players this week, but needless to say everybody did their bit. My relief at winning is now tinged a little bit by sadness that we have six months to wait before we play again. Take me back to the third quarter I said on Saturday night. (We went into the first break 3 goals to 1 up. Nerves settled we had kicked 3 early in the 2nd, before Karingal's Jack Andersen fuelled a late 3-goals-in-3-minutes charge to cut the margin to 10 points at the long break. But in the third (not-called-Premiership-quarter-for-nothing) we blew open the game with 4 goals to just a solitary Roos point.

"The 2007 AFLG Granny was finally won by a side with more Germans playing than Australians. On Saturday, we saw that footy in Germany is growing and winning a crowd.

"To all 35 Lions players present on the day + the 20-odd hard-working Lions ladies and gentlemen helping off the field, I thank you all for your efforts, and hope we can all come together next year and do it all again".