In the short history of Australian Football in Germany, a fierce rivalry has been established between the Munich Kangaroos and Rheinland Lions. Only one other team has ever won a premiership in the history of the league (Frankfurt once) and one additional team appeared in the Grand Final (Berlin in 2011). Munich and Rheinland have traded premiership blows in recent years with the young Rheinland club perhaps having the edge on the ‘Roos.
Rhineland, with only one loss for the year and playing before a strongly partisan crowd at the field at Rhein-Energie Stadion where clear favourites to take out the 2012 premiership. Munich, who had dropped three games for the year, including a last round loss at home to this year’s great improver Hamburg, were the underdogs. One point in their favour was that they were the only club to defeat Rheinland in 2012 (by four points in the second round).
So, the day opened on the immaculate turf outside the Energie Stadium. Both teams were missing key players. Munich, the charging bulldozer known as Michael O’Connor, the tall timber of Al McCowan and Michi Schuardt, as well as game Irishman Charlie Jameson. Rheinland were missing their leading goal scorer Josh Edwards and the maverick Phil Stein among others, but still boasted the midfield strength of Michael Eastham, Michi Dietrich and Max Kolleck, as well as the sublime skills of Luke McBride.
The game was played with 16 per team on the field and 6 interchangers. Ten of the 22 players for Munich had their first game for the club this year. It was clear from the outset that the undersized Munich team would have to play to its best to challenge the might of the Lions.
Having won the toss, Rheinland opted to go with the wind, but for the first five minutes it was as if they were actually kicking into a gale force wind. Starting from the first bounce, Munich’s undersized ruckman Johannes Ensslin (Enzo) spring-heeled his way into every dual knocking the ball in Munich’s direction and away from the Lion’s bigger bodied ruckmen. Brod Wells and Neal Harris, who was traded from Rheinland at the end of last season, attacked it with glee, while Will Langdon mopped up at both centre halfback and lead the scoring attacks. Rheinland quickly received the message that Munich was here to spoil the party.
Inaccurate kicking could have cost the Roos dearly. Several shots were sprayed and instead of being three goals up before the shell-shocked Lions recovered, they had only managed 1.2. The Lions are nothing if not a proud club and slowly worked their way back into the contest. Bone crunching tackles were thrown by both clubs, but with the desperation of Munich perhaps having an edge. The quarter ended with a two point advantage to the Lions after two clean goals to Munich’s five scoring shots (12 points to ten).
Matthew Bell, a key player for Munich, had thrown out his knee the morning of the game and had only hobbled his way to the ground under great pain. Inspired by the intensity of the contest, he begged to play and started on the half-forward flank running through the pain.
The second quarter proved to be more of an arm wrestle with both teams well matched. Tim Horenburg, Munich’s traditional centre-half back, was playing in the unaccustomed role at centre-half forward where he forced the Lion’s Luke McBride to be more accountable, which restricted his running game. Both talented players still exerted an influence on the game, but broke even at the end of the day.
Rheinland started to use its bench extensively, bringing in relief players, while Munich was cautious, only replacing players as they were injured. Uli Schmoll needed a break after receiving a heavy knock and being left seeing double and was replaced by Marty. Chris. V. was hobbling around after receiving a blow to his thigh giving Ben Draffin a brief run at the ball.
“Gandolf” White used some dubious magic to create – and almost lose – a goal directly from the square. At the end of the day, he proved to be an important contributor by kicking three in total to equal the Lion’s CHF McMullin.
The Roos had a 2 point margin going into the half time break, but there was ominous signs that Rheinland was preparing to try to rip the game apart when it resumed with the wind. (Rheinland 3.2.20 to Munich 3.4.22)
Rheinland jumped out of the box at the start of third quarter taking 3 pack marks for 3 goals in the first 7 minutes. Munich’s backline of Ryan Matthews, Sam Clarke, Basti Esche and Rob Runamacker were, for the first time in the game, coming under extreme pressure.
“Wiggles” Carroll, the wiry makeshift centrehalfback, had contained Chris McMullin well up until that point. But with a massive packmark and bomb from the 45 metre line, the talented Lion was threatening to impose himself on the game. Backed up by bigman Mick Eastham, who also marked and goaled, the Lion’ seemed to be on the point of seizing the match by the scruff of the neck.
Yet, Munich proved to be made of sterner stuff. Uli and Chris returned to the fray, while rob Runamacher stood tall after circa his third serious leg injury for the game. The briefly porous backline tightened up, Will Langdon moved onto Eastham and Wiggles dampened down the fire of McMullin. The third quarter ended with a one point advantage to the Lions (Rheinland 6.2.38 to Munich 5.7.37).
For both teams, the whole season was on the line with 20 minutes left to go. Munich would have the wind in the last quarter but Rheinland expected the ‘Roos would lay down and die as they ran over them with superior and refreshed legs. It wasn’t the case. It was the first five minutes of the game all over again.
Desperate football was played in the middle, but it was Munich that had the pedal to the floor. They goaled within two minutes to hit the front and were never headed. Rheinland never gave up, but their legs slowed down and a sense of inevitably creeped into the game after Gandolf scored his third and final goal to put the Roos in front. Rheinland managed to work the ball downfield for a return of only two points, but when Chris V. then scored a running goal for Munich, it sealed the result.
When the siren finally sounded for the Munich Kangaroos to claim their fifth premiership, the roar of the Munich players was loud and unforgettable. Munich, led by a dominant midfield of Will, Brod, Enzo and Neal, were Germany champions for 2012 by 14 points (Rheinland 6.4.40 to Munich 7.12.54).
Best for Munich: Everyone. Munich broke even or won every position with the standout players being Will, Brod, Enzo, and Neal in the middle, as well as Tim and Wiggles in two critical roles.
Goals: Gandolf (3) Kann (2) Belly (1) Chris V (1)
In the celebrations that followed, the Munich players revelled as they received their medallions on the stage with none smiling wider the wily old strategist and full-forward Julien Kann, except perhaps Christian “Disco Eddie” Eder and Nilssy as their medals were hung around their neck.
When captain Tim Horenburg hoisted what is perhaps the football world’s most ugliest trophy, the cheers were loud and clear. Beating the old enemy on their own turf before their own crowd was a nice revenge for 2008, when Rheinland had enacted the same in Munich.
The day was capped off with Will Langdon justifiably winning player of the day, Brod Wells winning best player of the year and Julien Kann winning goalkicker of the year. Wiggles won the KOAF.
Rheinland was graceful in defeat, but undoubtedly the rivalry will be renewed next year. But both clubs need to be wary of the rising powers of Hamburg and Stuttgart. For this year, however, let us enjoy the moment and together sing:
Da da da da da na, we are the Kangaroos………..!!!!!!!!!