From a group of guys kicking an odd-shaped ball once a week in the HaYarkon park to a proud club that represented the future of Australian rules football in Israel on the international stage, the Tel Aviv Cheetahs have come a long way in just half a year ending up at the AFL Euro Cup 2018 in Cork, Ireland.
The club’s participation was a unique experience enabled by AFL Europe’s management since Euro Cup is traditionally a national teams’ event. And while the Cheetahs are continuing the legacy of previous footy projects in the region and are staying true to the game’s values of multiculturalism and inclusiveness, they are still just a footy club from Tel Aviv. However, their status as the only currently active Australian rules football club in the country and the dedication they have shown to developing the sport in the region, resonated with AFL Europe’s commitment to growing the game globally and eventually led to Tel Aviv Cheetahs’ becoming a part ofd this great tournament.
Plus, they do say that Tel Aviv is a country in itself.
Following a successful crowdfunding campaign that allowed the team to cover the major part of the expenses associated with the trip, the Tel Aviv Cheetahs made it to Cork. And OddBalls was there to record the journey.
Ireland met the team with a decent weather and a spectacular view from the first pitch we went for a short practice.
The next day was also quite lovely as the team went for a practice to work through the game day plan and strategies, with many players preparing to play in certain positions in real game situations for the first time ever.
The Irish climate decided to try the Tel Avivians on the game day, with the rain starting to pour since beginning early Saturday morning. Just to be clear: the game day turned out to be the only rainy day out of the entire trip, and was followed by a fabulously warm and sunny Sunday. To the Cheetahs’ credit they have learnt to control the slippery ball fast, and in the end were in the same boat as the rest of the players that day. Boat pun very much intended.
The team arrived at the Cork Institute of Technology campus early in order to have time to warm up properly and get familiar with the surroundings.
THIS IS NOT A DRILL!
In the first game the Tel Aviv Cheetahs faced the Croatian Knights. And when we say “first” we mean that it was indeed the first time that this squad of Cheetahs were playing as a collective a proper game. Well, it was the very first time playing the game at all outside the practice pitch for quite a few of the players, with some of them having gotten into footy just a few months prior to the competition.
And so facing the Croatians, who were some of the fittest and biggest players at the championship, proved quite a challenge.
The game ended with Knights’ victory with the final score of 59:2. And that is precisely why at OddBalls we say that any sport is more than the numbers on the score board. Because despite the dramatic numbers the The Cheetahs put up a real fight, kept the pressure up and didn’t give up once throughout the match. So the game was quite a treat to watch, and gave the team their necessary warm-up and a better understanding of what needed adjustments.
And adjustments they made.
The second game was played against the Netherlands. At 2:40 the Cheetahs scored a minor which lifted team’s spirits and gave hope for the first win of the day, with the team’s captain Shir Shalev raising the bar in the 4th minute by adding another 6 points to the score board. However, the Flying Dutchmen retaliated and equalised the score. While the final score was 23:8 in the Netherlands’ favour, it’s safe to say that the Dutchmen enjoyed themselves a little bit too much while watching the Cheetahs play their first game with the Croatian Knights, making plans to repeat the scoring of the Knights with ease. In truth that was the game we all felt we could have won. And so the lessons continued.
And forward we moved without losing our enthusiasm. Our third game was against Wales. The Red Dragons were strong, but it wasn’t an easy win for them either. And with 30 to 12 at the end we were left hungry for a victory, and felt that we came closer to it.
In the fourth and final game we faced the Czech Republic. Beating the Czech Dragons 10 to 16 was a much needed victory that we have finally worked up to.
It was a great feeling to finally get a taste of the victory. It felt well-deserved and gave us a confirmation that we were on the right track with a hope for growth and future success. And it is all just a beginning: the Tel Aviv Cheetahs are a very young team with most of the players in their early 20s, a lot of ambition, and a true passion for footy. The youngest player, both of the team and possibly the tournament, at just 17 years and about 363 days old, Nitzan “Bambi” Elad is a very promising player. On top of getting his first cap for representing Israel on the international stage he will also take home a glorious bump moment to remember. And be constantly reminded of by his teammates.
Nitzan “Bambi” Elad, player:
“It was an amazing experience to represent our country in an international competition, but most of all it was extremely fun to be back on a footy pitch playing the best game in the world.
Our team lacked a bit of experience as it was some of the players’ first time playing footy, but we had overcame that lack of experience by giving our souls out on the pitch and playing with a lot of determination and passion.”
Shir Shalev, team’s manager and captain:
“The tournament was incredible. The team showed the world that we are the warriors. We gave it everything we had. Even in the games with a team like Croatia, who obviously surpassed us in terms of size, skill level and experience, we didn’t make it easy for them, we never gave up, fighting till the last minute, keeping the pressure high.
We obviously wanted to win more games, and we had an opportunity for a victory in the game with the Netherlands. Over all I am satisfied with how we performed. I am proud that we showed so much spirit, and we are grateful for the experience we gained. We ended 11th this year. But I think it’s safe to say that next year we have every chance at ending up in the top 8.
The plan right now is have some rest and then ease into practices, increasing the pace weekly and working towards getting our team ready for the Champions League in Amsterdam.
Terry Dehghani, coach:
“Our entire preseason was done in the beautiful summer so as we arrived to Cork on game day and met the pouring rain, I was mindful of how much this would impact our guys.
I asked them to think about how special it was to represent themselves, their families and their land in everything they did during the day and I couldn’t be more proud of their endeavour to do just that.
We were outmatched and outsized all day, but we promised each other to leave Cork with nothing left in the tank.
The final game against the Czech Republic was a blur, especially in the manner we won it. I couldn’t be more proud of our club and I’m thoroughly looking forward to getting back into training and working hard for the 2019 Euro Cup.”
Pouring rain, a lack of experience, just a 9 men squad – none of the hardships mattered in the end except for motivating the team to push harder, play stronger and to want it more.
The over all experience of the tournament was crucial and defining for the team. The players learnt a lot, and felt a boost of motivation to keep coming to practices, working harder than before until their next opportunity to play the Game.
Such experiences are the key to both players’ individual growth and the sport’s development in the region.
For OddBalls being a part of this beautifully organised event was a meaningful experience as well. We’ve become inspired to work harder and smarter in taking this brilliant game to the next level for our community. Stay tuned for the news about Australian rules football in Israel.