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Tuesday, April 23 2019 @ 02:30 am ACST

Croatian Converts hope to bring Footy to the Balkans

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Kolja Koracak first encountered Aussie Rules in the USA, playing two seasons in the Arizona AFL. On returning to his homeland of Croatia, he started looking for ways to spread the word and get a regular fix of his new favourite sport.

Sash Herceg arrived in Perth in 1996, a recent immigrant from the city of Split on Croatia's Adriatic coast. After a few years of watching Australia's own football code, he decided to give it a go, playing senior football for West Coast Cowan in Perth and the Fitzroy Reds in Melbourne.

WFN recently caught up with the two to talk about plans for bringing the game back to Croatia.

When Herceg first arrived in Australia, he had never seen a game of Australian Rules. "I started barracking for the Fremantle Dockers, as I was in Perth and always go for the underdog". As his interest grew, he decided to give competitive Aussie Rules a go, pulling on the jumper for West Coast Cowan in the Western Australian Amateur FL for the 2002 season. Moving to Melbourne, he signed up with the Fitzroy Reds, a club based at the old Fitzroy Football Club's Brunswick St Oval.

It was around this time that he stumbled across the website for the Zagreb Giants, a group in the Croatian capital who were hoping to found Croatia's first Aussie Rules club. They were lead by Kolja Koracak, a Croat who had learnt the game while working in Phoenix, Arizona. As Koracak puts simply - "I wanted to continue playing footy and to introduce the greatest game on earth to other Croatians". After a few email exchanges between the two (who had by sheer coincidence also played beach volleyball together in Split) it became apparent they had the same goal in mind.

Back in Melbourne, plans were afoot to stage the first Multicultural Cup, celebrating the contribution of Melbourne's ethnic communities to the game. Herceg put an ad in the Croatian Herald and was featured in an interview. From there support grew and through the newspaper and resulting word of mouth, a team was assembled.

"I had a few meetings with Ms. Ana Modun, the Croatian Consul General in Melbourne, and she offered her support to this idea by attending our games at the Multicultural Cup. As well as this, the majority of the Croatian community was aware of the event, primarily because of support of the Croatian Herald and Tonci Prusac, their sports journalist".

The first multicultural cup campaign out of the way, Herceg and Koracak began to plan in earnest the best way to help start competition back in Croatia. One idea in the works is to organise a tour to Croatia by the Multicultural Cup side and a selection from the Fitzroy Reds.

Herceg explains - "Since the Cup, I have taken it upon myself to put my idea out to the public. I have discussed the idea with Benjy Lee, president of the Fitzroy Reds Football Club, and he was keen to offer the help of the FRFC with initial promotion of footy in Croatia". Premier Steve Bracks, ex-St Kilda player Gordon Fode (who is of Croatian descent) and the Australian Embassy in Zagreb are also supporting the idea.

Getting media coverage and exposure in Croatia is a priority, Herceg writing articles on the sport for the Croatian net magazine SportNet, giving a review of the cup and an overview of the game itself. Local TV stations are being approached with hopes to broadcast some AFL matches and introduce the game to the broader public.

Koracak hopes that the Giants can get established to the point that they can play metro matches in Zagreb and compete against the sides already established in Germany, Austria, France or further afield. Then once the Giants are well extablished, there can be moves made to spread to other cities.

Herceg finishes by saying - "In short, we are slowly advancing towards our goal. The fact that both Kolja and I are either working or studying full time doesn’t really go to our favour. Long-term plan is to have a National League by 2010, maybe get more AFL matches on TV. Who knows? All I can say is we will give it a good crack …"

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