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Saturday, February 29 2020 @ 07:58 am ACDT

South Sweden thump North Copenhagen to grab playoff spot after turbulent DAFL season

Europe

In a major upset - significant in result, but gargantuan considering the margin, the South Sweden Saints defeated favourites the North Copenhagen Barracudas by 102 points last Saturday to give themselves a home final against the Copenhagen Hawks in Port Malmö next weekend and eliminate the Barracudas from the DAFL Premier League finals entirely.

Saturday evening also saw the DAFL individual player honours awarded, with the Sitch Medal for best and fairest awarded to Jutland's Frederik Schulin.

Whichever side won the South Sweden-North Copenhagen game would finish second on the DAFL Premier League ladder, the loser fourth, the closeness of the ladder and the fact that only the top three of the five-team league would play off in finals meaning this game had plenty riding on it.

The Barracudas were highly fancied pre-game, but 47-year-old DAFL veteran Mark Scotland knew something was amiss when after turning up to watch he was asked to pull on the boots for the Barracudas. By quarter-time the Saints were eight goals ahead and the match all but over. The Saints eventually ran out 160-58 point winners, giving the North Copenhagen side its worst defeat since 1997 (click here for details of North Copenhagen's worst defeats). It’s a bitter pill for North Copenhagen who, after being DAFL’s inaugural whipping boys from 1992 to 1996, contested every Grand Final since 1999 and now have to sit out September. An era may be at an end and the club may need an injection of youth.

Best for South Sweden was champion rookie Leo Nilsson, with Danish veteran Erik Krolmark best for the Barracudas, kicking six of their eight goals for the game.

Saturday evening saw the presentation of the DAFL player awards, with the Sitch Medal for league best and fairest going to Jutland's Frederik Schulin. South Sweden's Leo Nilsson went into the final match of the season with a chance of winning the league's best and fairest, provided he received the best on ground and Jutland's Frederik Schulin failed to poll any in the match against Copenhagen. Nilsson held up his end of the deal with a stellar performance, but Schulin also polled well securing the Sitch for himself.

This was still an impressive effort from Swede Nilsson in his first year of Australian Rules - accordingly, he won the league's Best First-Year award. Other awards went to Farum's 16-year-old Thore Lauritzen (Most Improved) and Jutland's David Harrop (Leading Goalkicker) and Allan Petersen (Best Umpire).

The winner of next Saturday's clash between Copenhagen and South Sweden will face Farum in the Premier League grand final. In what has been a tumultuous year for the DAFL, including a damaging collapse of their International Cup side and suggestions that the league is in a slump, Farum have consistently been the strongest side in the league with an army of young, strong local players - graduates from the local junior league, the only such league thus far in Europe.

Farum's persistence with juniors appears to be paying off, with their senior club now looking to be a long way ahead of the pack, a percentage of 155, only one loss for the year and a big squadron of players around 18 years old. The senior side this year has included 13 players who started as juniors either in Farum’s own ranks or in the school matches that the club has conducted. Not only is the ability of these players starting to have a significant impact, but their youth (15 to 20) is also a telling difference given that DAFL players typically vary in age from 20 to 45. North Copenhagen's previous six straight Grand Finals were due in part to a program where they attracted Australian coaching staff to assist their development, but it now appears the team will need to rebuild.

South Sweden appear to be on the up, and many are already tipping a Farum-South Sweden Grand Final which would be a huge boon to the long-suffering Saints and may also raise a red-flag in Farum. The then Farum Lions upset the undefeated and raging hot favourites, the then Helsingborg Saints, in the 1996 DAFL Grand Final. Maybe it’s time to re-pay the compliment nine years down the track.

It is also interesting to note that the two clubs which have positively persisted with and conducted successful internal feeder leagues have bubbled their way to the top. South Sweden had a staggering 35 available players to choose from for Saturday’s last round match and one wonders how many they will have to pick from for the Preliminary Final at home next week, and then the Grand Final if they make it.

The future for footy in the region overall is anyone's guess. The league is polarized between the clubs who want to develop themselves and grow the game and those who just want to have their game of footy (which was the basis upon which DAFL originally flourished). It is also struggling to find suitable administration, with the generation that got DAFL where it is moving on to other things.

There has been some suggestion that the draw between Sweden and Denmark in this year's test in Farum showed the current malaise of the national team, but the truth of the matter was that the Danish side was far from its best 24, the Swedish side was half Australian and very good, and that the match and the result were thus far the highlight of the year for DAFL (both the Danish and Swedish elements).

The immediate future will see the Grand Final held on September 17th, with Farum favourites. Beyond that the footy world will wait and see.

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