While many footballers enjoy a relaxing off-season in Europe, the GIANTS’ Nicola Barr is taking her off-season trip in the northern hemisphere a little differently.
The speedy AFL Women’s half-back has been flying, training and biking across the continent visiting France, Switzerland, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, the Cech Republic and Sweden to train with, and coach the many teams that make up AFL Europe.
The 2016 number one draft pick has been passing on her experience in a game development and ambassadorial role.
“I’m visiting different clubs and organisations across Europe, getting involved in their training sessions, coaching sometimes, joining in drills and passing on any experience or advice that I have,” she said from an airport in Sweden, on her way to visit footballers in Denmark.
“The teams have been super varied in terms of their skill levels and experience.
“For example, in Geneva they’re just getting started with their team, then in Croatia they’ve got six teams, two women’s and two men’s teams that are really, really well established.
“It’s been interesting to see which teams know a lot about footy and those that don’t know as much.”
While football has been played outside of Australia for a number of years, participation has graduated from just a handful of Australian expats kicking a football in a park to fully fledged teams, leagues and national teams populated by locals.
“I was pleasantly surprised as I thought there’d be a lot of expats, but to be honest most of the teams that I’ve visited have been locals,” Barr said.
“Geneva was the only place where I went to training and it was mostly expats and that makes sense with Geneva being where the United Nations is and it being a very international city.
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“But in other countries it’s really been locals, in particular Croatia really surprised me, their whole squad is Croatian, and they absolutely love their footy.
“It’s quite amazing to be at training and everyone’s speaking Croatian and I can’t understand a thing, but everyone just loves their footy."
While Barr has had a language barrier to overcome in some countries, it’s been a lot easier with the help of translators and the fact that everyone is speaking the language of football.
With space to play and train limited to soccer or rugby fields, football played across Europe is a hybrid version of AFL and AFL 9s.
As Barr explains the rules remain the same, but the game just looks a little different due to the restricted field size and the abilities of the players.
“They play on soccer fields generally speaking and play nine a side, so a smaller version of the game,” she said.
“It’s growing and they have big numbers in some countries compared to others but I guess the size of the ground and the numbers they have is reflected in the ground size.
“I’ve not been to Germany yet, but I know that they have a really strong league there and both the Hamburg and Frankfurt teams have messaged me asking if I can come along to training.
“Other places I’ve been they’re still learning but I’ve been impressed with the level that everyone is playing at and particularly how quickly they are learning.
“Some players have only been to five sessions and are brand new to the game and others have been playing for 10 years, so skill levels are varying.”
The high point of Barr’s football journey around Europe has been the 2019 AFL Europe Euro Cup held in Sweden last Saturday.
The annual tournament saw 16 countries compete to be crowned Europe’s best 9-a-side team.
“The European Cup was in a little town just out of Stockholm called Norrtälje and it was pretty amazing,” Barr said.
“After meeting teams over the last couple of months it was really nice to see them again and get to meet new teams as well.
“Both the men’s and women’s finals were Ireland versus England, two strong countries in AFL, particularly the Irish who transfer a lot of skills from Gaelic Football.
“The Irish women and the English men won the finals.”
With a strong history of Irish players, including GIANTS Cora Staunton, Yvonne Bonner and Callum Brown, having moved to Australia to test themselves in the AFL and AFLW, Barr believes there’s more talent to be uncovered.
While the Irish women were the standouts - winning their second successive Euro Cup title and fourth title from seven tournaments – Barr believes it won’t be long until a player comes from Continental Europe.
“There were definitely a few players from the Irish women’s team who are probably already talking to some clubs because they were very, very good,” she said.
“The German women’s team was also very good.
“We obviously have a lot of girls coming across from Ireland but there are some German players who are really, really impressive.
“It’d be cool to think that we’ll have an international player who wasn’t Irish one day, because I think there’s plenty of talent out there.”
Missing the action of the AFL Women's season? The GIANTS' stars are still playing in orange and charcoal, with the GIANTS' VFL Women's team playing Essendon at Windy Hill on Saturday, July 13 at 10:00am.