On the first Saturday in April Leeside Lions made their AFL Europe Champions League debut in Amsterdam. This tournament bringing together the winners of all club leagues in Europe is in it’s third year. The Belfast Redbacks represented ARFLI in 2015 and last year it was the South Dublin Swans, with both teams reaching the semi-final only to lose to the dominant team in this competition West London Wildcats.
The Lions again did ARFLI proud getting out of a tough group that included the strong Danish side Farum Cats. They then got to play hosts Amsterdam Devils in the semi-final only to lose out by a small margin. Below you can read the Lions own summary of the day.
The dust has settled on the Lions first venture into Europe’s premier club competition, and overall it was one that everyone can be extremely proud of. There’s been bumps and bruises , broken bones and even a broken heart, but it was a weekend to never forget for the travelling Lions.
After arriving late to the ground a little later than planned, there was rushed effort to get a warm up done as we prepared to face the Welsh champions the Cardiff Panthers. A physically opposing team and the extra preparation stood to the Welsh as they were the first team out of the blocks. The tournament was played of 2 x 10 min halves per game, so there was no time to waste. The Lions picked up the mantle to record a hardly contested 19-14 win.
The second game saw the Lions enter with more preparation that really stood to the team. The Oslo Crows were the next opponents, the crows started brightly with a goal inside the first few minutes but that was about all they could muster in-front of goal, the lions kicked into gear again to record a 35-7 victory to go 2 from 2. Padraic O’Connell & Conor O’Halloran in particular causing the Norwegians all kinds of trouble.
Another hour break between games, the Lions had to focus for the day’s biggest challenge, the Farum Cats of Denmark who had multiple members of the Danish national team in their squad, Denmark are one of the best teams in Europe, they even had one player who played for Geelong Cats feeder club last year. Again this was a hotly contested game, the tough aggressive nature of the Lions capitalized on the Danes play making approach as the Lions forced errors and turned over some great balls. A close fought game which could have gone the Lions way , if a behind had be adjudged to be a one pointer rather than out on the full with the teams sharing the spoils at 20-20, Coilin Lordan’s goal from way out was crucial in keeping us in the contest when the game was in the melting pot.
The Lions and Farum had the same record going into the last game and it was going to come down to points, it was thought that at least a 40 point win over the Italian champions the North West Eagles would be enough to see the Lions through. Big Dom Joyce was put into the full forward line as Lions needed to use his height advantage to our benefit. The defence of Oisin Collins, Paul Murphy and Eoin O’Sullivan was teak tough like they were all day, Cian Quigley is currently being investigated by AFL Europe as every ball that came his way stuck to him like glue!
While there were some shots that could and should have been goals, the team played with intensity , solidarity and passion to win 59-1
The Lions qualified for the semis due to the better percentage than Farum and they prepared to play the hosts, the Amsterdam Devils on their home pitch. The Devils dominated the first half with their Australian players coming to the fore, the Lions really pushed it second half, Luke Hickey was monumental in the attempted comeback, covering every blade of grass and sticking a cracking goal. The injuries started to mount as the Lions squad had to rule out a couple of players for the semi, the Devils had one less game coming into the semi which was another factor. On another day it could have gone another way as the game finished as the Lions eventually lost 27-19.
The Amsterdam Devils eventually succumbed to the West London Wildcats who took their third crown in a row on a score line of 37 -14.
Huge congrats go to captain Dom Joyce who was named on the team of the tournament.
Another huge thanks to Leanne Fogarty who yet again excellent , a great addition to the Lions squad, she was there to cater for the walking wounded and got guys through games yet again.
Overall it was a great tournament and tremendous credit goes to Ben and Ryan and their team from AFL Europe, the Amsterdam Devils for hosting the tournament in what is probably the most perfect venue to be seen. To the Lions coaches and players who travelled, huge experience was gained.