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Black Eagles to face the first (almost) all-local Czech Lions in Historic Test

  • Thursday, July 30 2009 @ 03:51 pm ACST
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The Czech Lions will be taking the Autobahn to the town of Mitteleschenbach, near Nürnberg, this weekend for a Central European showdown with the Germany's national team - the Black Eagles.

In a first for Czech footy, this year's Lions squad will be built around locals and other non-Australian talent, with only a handful of Aussies filling the gaps. The Germans for their part will be fielding a team of home-grown talent, as they have done in all tests since 2007.

The August 1st match came about through an offer to host a match of footy by the organisers of the Nürnberg Australian Festival. While 2009 is the first time the festival has included a match of Aussie Rules, the whole event is now in its third year, organised by a group of local businesses - including an Emu Farm - and the local Nürnberg Australian community.

German national coach Luke McBride tells, "There were a few factors that went into the selection process. In April of this year, before the season had begun, the AFLG held a weekend training camp in Fulda. Thirty-two Germans and one Australian attended. This gave me an opportunity to see the boys in action."

"I'd seen just about all of them play before in normal home and away games, but here I was able to see them interact with one another. We trained for six hours on the Saturday and then split the guys into three teams on the Sunday, each team playing the others in a 10-a-side match."

"From the guys who attended, and a lot of help from David Mudge, the previous German Coach, I created a list of potential players. Basically from then on, it was just a matter of availability.

The game will be played under 9-a-side rules, as per the EU Cup. This is a first for the Germans outside that tournament, but according to McBride this means the talent from the national team will be concentrated in the 15-man squad. "There is a lot of talent in this team, the majority coming from the two top teams from the last four years, Rheinland Lions and Munich Kangaroos."

"This match will be a part of an Australia Day event currently in it's third year running. The organisers approached our President, Malte Schudlich, with an offer to host a football match. Malte shot off an invite to the guys in Prague and they jumped at the opportunity. It was that simple. It's something that we're very excited about - another chance to play quality competition in preparation for the EU Cup."

Nürnberg does not yet have an Australian football team to call its own, despite being one of Germany's major regional cities. However games such as this may see that fact change in future. As McBride says, "although there has been no talk of it yet, with such strong enthusiasm for all things Australian in Nürnberg, it's definitely possible this game may plant a seed."

The Australian Football League Germany has grown significantly since its beginnings as a two-team contest between the Frankfurt Redbacks and Munich Roos in the 1990s. Some clubs, such as the Roos and Rheinland Lions have flourished, to the point that in 2008 new recruits were struggling to get a game. Conversely, the Berlin Crocodiles were finding it tough to compete, with large losing margins making recruitment difficult.

New side the Stuttgart Emus were ready to join the league, but there was a risk they'd face the same problems as a new club that the Strasbourg Black Devils had in their one year in the AFLG, namely that as a new team made up mainly of less-experienced locals, it can be tough competing against the established sides.

This year saw the league introduce a second division, both so that the reserve players from the growing Rheinland Lions and Munich Roos would have somewhere to play, and also to allow the struggling Berliners and the newcomers from Stuttgart to compete on a level playing field.

So far, the new structure seems to have been a great help to development, with McBride seeing the experiment as a positive move. "Personally, I think the two-division structure has been a success. Teams like Rheinland have been able to give their otherwise excess players full games in the Rheinland Magoos."

"Berlin is winning games with one of their strongest teams ever. To put it into perspective, last year Berlin travelled to Cologne, home of Rheinland Lions, with just six players. Last week, they came with fourteen. For home games, they've been able to field full 18-man squads, something they could only have dreamed of two years ago."

"Newcomers Stuttgart have been extremely competitive in the second division. They have a chance in their first year to make the Grand Final, something I know they are all determined to do."