IC14 Preview: Finland breaking the Ice for a second time
Tuesday, July 22 2014 @ 08:52 am ACST
Contributed by: Aaron Richard
The Finland Icebreakers are readying for their second International Cup campaign this year, after attending back in 2008. With a relatively small local league and a limited pool of players to choose from, the Finns have been battling to finalise their squad for the tournament, with numerous withdrawals due to finances, injuries, work and family commitments.
However, they have also been able to select Finns playing at clubs in Ireland, the USA and Asia, as well as a handful of Finns currently living and playing in Australia, so the Icebreakers are still optimistic about their chances of making a good impression Down Under in 2014.
Mika Kupila spoke to WFN about the team's preparations and goals.
LEFT: Some of the Icebreakers members at the IC08
The country and Australian Football
Finland is the easternmost of the Scandinavian countries, bordering Russia to the east. Its population of 5.5 million is roughly equivalent to the Australian state of Victoria, but Finland's land area is around 50% larger.
The first Finnish national team appeared around a decade ago, with domestic matches beginning in 2007 with the creation of the Finland Australian Football League (FAFL), initially with just two clubs, the Helsinki Heatseekers and Salo Juggernauts. They were joined in 2008 by the Espoo Kangaroos, but the Roos only lasted one season. Since then, the Turku Dockers and Vaasa Wombats have brought the league up to four stable clubs.
There are also active projects to create news sides in the cities of Tampere and Lappeenranta, as well as to resurrect the Espoo Roos.
Previous International Cups
The Icebreakers 2008 campaign saw them finish 14th out of 16 competing nations. Their tournament was marred by injuries and illness taking a heavy toll on the playing squad, although they managed one win against fellow debutant India.
Coaching the squad this year will be David King, with Anthony McDonald as assistant.
David King has been involved in Finnish footy since its inception back in 2005, playing with the Finnish Squad during their 2007 campaign at the EU Cup in Hamburg, Germany.
He has been the Head Coach of the Icebreakers since 2012, taking the team to the Euro Cup in Edinburgh in 2012 and Bordeaux in 2013. He has also been a regular fixture with the Helsinki Heatseekers since 2011, coaching the team to a Premiership in 2012 and to Runners-up in 2013. In 2014 he has taken more of an officiating role with the league by switching to umpiring in an effort to lift the knowledge and standards of the rules.
Anthony McDonald has 35 years of playing experience in metropolitan AFL with both the Eastern Football League in Melbourne and the South Australian Football Association in Adelaide. He has played in 2 premiership sides, one of which was the first ever for EFL club Mooroolbark as well as numerous other finals appearances at both senior and junior levels. However, McDonald only played one game of domestic footy in Finland and broke his arm.
As Mika Kupila explains, "We had a preselected squad but ultimately it came down to who can afford the trip. The length of the trip also meant that some players needed to priorities family responsibilities over the trip. Injuries to key players also meant that the squad had to changed somewhat."
"We still have five players in the squad who participated in 2008. Their experience will undoubtedly be a key to guide younger and less experienced players in the tournament. We then have four or five players who are currently playing and/or living in Australia."
This year's squad contains only Finns, with Australians involvement limited to coaching and administrative staff.
The squad include includes players based in Australia, Sweden, Ireland and Asia, making it difficult to get the squad together before the tournament for practice matches. The FAFL domestic league also is scheduled for all weekends this summer, excluding the possibility of holding national team training camps.
Players to Watch
Lasse Punttila has been a solid full back for the Icebreakers for many years. Kupila says "He's been a foundation of the national team for years and is one of the strongest defenders and contested markers around. And having a background in American Football he's known to give a good bump as well."
Fredrik Romar, national captain in 2008, has been living and training in Ireland for the last few years. He's also played in Australia in the past and is going to be a cornerstone of our midfield. Kupila says "He is strong, versatile, always goes hard for the ball and delivers it forward cleanly. I believe he'll be one of the best players in the tournament."
In the first three rounds, the Icebreakers will face the USA, Sweden and China. The match against China will be in Ballarat as part of the country/suburban round.
According to Mika Kupila, the Icebreakers are fairly happy with their draw, although they'd prefer not to play Sweden again, as they are the one opponent they have the most opportunity to play at home.
"It would've been more interesting to play some team we haven't faced before. Then again, the US will be really good to play against as they are one of the top teams in the tournament," Kupila said.
"USA will be tough, Sweden close and China I believe we should win."
"In 2008, we won one game. I believe our team is much more experienced and well rounded than back then. Being realistic, we're still a small footy nation with only 4 teams, I'm however looking to improve on the 08 result and optimistic that we can win at least 3 games."
"I'd like to thank everyone involved in making this trip come true. We've got a lot of help from locals in organizing accommodation and program for the days off so that the trip is as good as it possibly can be. Couldn't have done it without them."
The Icebreakers at the Euro Cup in Bordeaux, France 2013. Image courtesy of AFL Europe.