IC11 Preview - All new GB Bulldogs pushing to achieve more
Tuesday, July 19 2011 @ 11:00 pm ACST
Contributed by: Adam Bennett - AFL England President
Footy in GB
Although small in geography Great Britain has a relatively large population of 60 million and slowly but surely Australian football is marking its mark all over the isles. Footy in Britain exploded from its early years as purely London-based, to now being played in all corners of England, Wales and Scotland. Some regional cities can boast clubs that have now begun to show longevity, being established for 5 to 10 years. As well as promoting the growth of the sport, this has also given rise to a much larger pool of players for the Bulldogs' coaches to choose from - and made for a lot more travel around the country to do so!
Competition for squad spots has increased and from a coaching point of view, it's been great to see the dedication that players have shown to improve their game in pursuit of this opportunity to represent their country. The growth of the game around the country and the increased number of juniors beginning to get exposure to the sport should support its continued development and provide a pipeline of new players in years to come.
Perhaps the most remarkable statistic is that Great Britain has only one returning player from the 2008 Cup campaign, something that suggests a fresh new group but will also come with challenges in terms of experience.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The Bulldogs have always played a physical game and uncompromising tackling has become a trademark. Building on this, the coaches and senior players have worked hard to improve the technical ability of the squad and develop a direct gameplan to match the squad makeup. With the addition of some exciting key position players, the Bulldogs may surprise some teams come the crunch.
A weakness that demonstrated itself at the 2010 European Championships was the conversion from the small-sided game to the full oval, for the players coming from the regional clubs around Britain. Coping with the additional space meant a steep learning curve and the experiences of many of these regional players this Summer, having games in the full London league will pay dividends in countering this.
Players to watch
Only 1 player survives from the 2008 squad, with Captain Paul Harris playing in his 3rd consecutive IC. With this influx of new talent comes a lot of potential and there are several players who can ignite a game.
Martyn Hinchey is a 6 foot 5 basketball convert who made his mark with the Southampton Titans before earning a Team Europe jersey at the European Championships in Denmark and Sweden last year. A strong player with a great leap, he has also benefitted from several months in Australia prior to the tournament.
Tom Mercer is one of this season's rookie entries into the squad, but has already been making an impression in the London leagues with the Putney Magpies. A strong short player, his pace and step are reminiscent of Aidan Dillane, one of GB's World Team players from 2008.
Whilst the Bulldogs have not enjoyed many wins in the build-up to the event, all their matches have been challenging and productive in giving the coaches valuable information for the tournament. Two defeats against reigning European Champions Ireland, one by 5 points, defeat by the London Swans and a narrow victory over the Wimbledon Hawks have all been stern tests and will have set the level of expectations accurately for what the players will face in Sydney and Melbourne.
Ranked 10th in the WFN World Rankings (which includes Australia) and seeded 9th at IC11 by the AFL.
The Bulldogs are coming into the event wanting to make a statement - that they can raise the level and challenge the world's best, as they showed against Papua New Guinea in Warnambool in 2008 and recently in Dublin against the Irish. The team needs to start strong and build up, without the lapses that have set them back in the past. There is plenty of experience to support the natural ability and hard-earned individual development. Preparation has not been ideal, with late injuries ruling out several first choice players, but if the squad can settle quickly and find their stride, they could cause someone some unexpected problems.