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Daniher's diary

Joe Daniher  April 9, 2012 1:25 PM


Joe Daniher in action on the European tour

Joe Daniher, a promising ruckman-forward and the son of ex-Bomber Anthony Daniher, is on tour with the AIS-AFL Academy in Europe. Daniher will act as foreign correspondent for for the duration of the two-week education and training trip...

Thursday, March 29, Melbourne

THE DAY began with a lot of nervous energy in the group given that today we had the opportunity to take on the Box Hill Hawks on football's most famous ground - the MCG - as a curtain-raiser to the Carlton and Richmond game.

We started with a nice relaxing morning, and by the afternoon we jumped on a bus on the way to the MCG. After a very quiet bus trip we arrived at the ground, and began our preparation.

For many of us, it was our first opportunity to run out on the MCG, but fortunately enough a number of boys had the chance to be a part of the winning AIS team the previous year.

After a great start to the game, the boys came in at half-time quite confident.

The fluorescent boots of Josh Simpson were difficult to miss, but so was the electrifying pace he provided the team. Lachie Whitfield was again excellent, supplying some great run through the midfield. Being a forward, I certainly hate talking up the backline, but if it wasn't for the efforts of Lachie Plowman, Tanner Smith and Clay Cameron we would not have been in the position we found ourselves in at half-time.

Despite a disappointing result on the scoreboard at the final siren in losing by 31 points -14.14 (98) to 10.7 (67) - the group as a whole should be proud of the way each and every player represented the Australian jumper.

Unfortunately, our great game in Australia doesn't provide too many chances to represent your country, but I thought everyone respected the chance and opportunity really well today.

It was such an amazing experience to run out alongside some of Australia's finest young talent and work under some of the best mentors going around in Michael O'Loughlin, Glen Jakovich, Matthew Lloyd, Brad Johnson, Peter Schwab and Tadhg Kennelly.

From a personal point of view it was good to have a run around as I haven't had a proper game for about 15 months. I played a practice game two weeks ago, but there was no better place to blow the cobwebs out than the MCG and it was enjoyable to get on the scoreboard and kick four goals. 

Friday, March 30, Melbourne
This morning saw some sore bodies awake from a good night's sleep after a big and busy day. We spent most of the day recovering, stretching and relaxing, which was certainly very necessary.

This included a short trip to Port Melbourne beach for some stretches and a bit of time in the water. After dinner at Etihad Stadium, the players and staff jumped on the train to the MCG to watch some more footy, with Collingwood and Hawthorn providing an exciting game of modern football.

Saturday, March 31, Melbourne

Saturday morning began with our strength and conditioning guru James Veale providing some fun morning activities, including a light jog along St Kilda Beach, which finished with a dip in the icy cold water.

After the boys' efforts to squeeze all their belongings into their suitcases, we jumped on a bus and headed to the airport. A 22-hour journey was not something the group was looking forward to.

As the equal tallest in the travelling party at 198cm, I was disgusted that Brodie Grundy (198cm) and Liam McBean (197cm) found themselves with the extra legroom on the plane and I didn't. An eight-hour trip to Singapore Airport sitting alongside Aidan Corr is not an experience I would recommend anyone, but fortunately enough he made the switch in the second leg.

We departed Singapore en route to Milan, which was another 13-hour plane journey. After arriving at the amazing AIS European Training Centre in Gavirate, Italy, at 9am, the boys unpacked and settled in for some breakfast after a long start to the trip.

The AIS-AFL Academy in Milan, Italy

Sunday, April 1, Gavirate, Italy
After arriving at the AIS European Training Centre at 9am after a 22-hour journey, it was pretty obvious that the group was quite tired. It felt like we should have been sitting down for dinner, but instead some cereal and toast was served for breakfast.

After a morning stroll around the lake surrounding the ETC, James Veale sent the boys into the gym. Matthew Haynes, a man who prides himself on his gym work, was a standout in the first gym session of the trip. The rest of the afternoon was mostly about relaxing and getting to know the facilities.    

An early night was in order for many of the guys to catch up on some much-needed sleep.

Monday, April 2, Gavirate, Italy

The idea of having the opportunity to travel to Italy was an exciting one, but having the opportunity to pull out the Sherrin in another country was something far greater.

After breakfast the group jumped on a bus and travelled about 20 minutes to a local soccer field where the footys were pulled out and the boys got stuck into our first overseas training session.

A cold morning brought about several complaints from the West Australian boys, however Jesse Lonergan, a Tasmanian, was soaking up the weather and no doubt felt right at home.

It was certainly a challenge travelling such a great distance across the world and then taking to the track the next day, but to the guys' credit the training session was superb. The skillful abilities of guys like Shannon Taylor and Lachie Whitfield, alongside the competitive nature of players like Jack Viney and Jimmy Toumpas, made training a really elite environment to be a part of.

After a great training session, the group was fortunate enough to have three guest speakers from the Australian Rollers basketball team come to speak about their experiences in elite sport, including captain Brad Ness. The Rollers are Australia's men's wheelchair team.

We then had the opportunity to go and support the Rollers against Spain in what turned out to be an amazing game. The ability and skill required to play the game was evident right from the warm-up of both teams. After a tight start to the game, the Rollers ran away with the game to have a comfortable win.

Tuesday, April 3, Gavirate, Italy
An early morning weights session got all the boys excited for what was certainly going to be an amazing day.

The tour of Lake Como was something everyone was looking forward to, especially as our official group met up with the supporter group, which meant a few of the bots got to spend some time with family members who have made the trip over.

For me, this meant spending some good time with Mum and Dad, who have joined the supporter group for another year after coming on the tour last year when we were in Europe. I do apologise to supporter group leader Robert 'Dipper' DiPierdomenico for having to put up with them for another year.

The tour of Lake Como began with a taxi boat ride across to the beautiful small town of Bellagio where the supporter group and official group joined to have an amazing Italian lunch.

After a good look around the Bellagio, the groups jumped on a tour boat and cruised around some of Lake Como. Lake Como is around 46km long, which meant we didn't have time to see it all. However, having the opportunity to see some amazing villas and palaces which decorate the shoreline was an experience I will never forget.

To witness these spectacular villas, owned by people like soccer star Ronaldinho and actor George Clooney, pleased many of the boys.

On the way home we stopped and walked around the town of Como, which was another amazing thing to experience and another beautiful place. The official group then jumped back on the bus to head back to the AIS European Training Centre.

After arriving back at the Training Centre the boys were ready to hop into bed, and get ready for our second training session on Wednesday.

Joe Daniher training at the AIS European Training Centre with Robert DiPierdomenico, the support group leader

Wednesday, April 4, Gavirate and Milan, Italy

TODAY we had our main training session ahead of Saturday's game against AFL European Legion.

Training was a very competitive and positive session that gave the group a lot of confidence heading into our second game together after last week's match against the Box Hill Hawks at the MCG.

Jordan Bourke, sporting his new haircut thanks to Ben Kennedy and Sam Mayes, looked like a different player while Troy Menzel and Shannon Taylor were the standouts of the day's session.

After training we headed into Milan for the afternoon for some sightseeing. The group split up and went about viewing Milan in smaller groups, with the pizza and gelati very popular amongst the guys.

AFL national talent manager Kevin Sheehan was given the task finding a place to sit down and enjoy dinner and he did not disappoint, finding a great authentic restaurant, filling the boys up with some of Italy's finest pasta and pizza.

Joe Daniher with parents Anthony and Jo at Lake Como, Italy

Thursday, April 5, Gavirate, Italy and Surrey, London

The morning started with a short sharp skills session due to yesterday's heavy training session. It was a great effort by the guys to again back up with another training session.

Nathan Wright was in impressive form in wet conditions, setting the standard for the rest of the group.

Our last day in Milan was a frantic day. After training we arrived back at the training centre and began to gather our belongings ready for the plane trip to London.

A one-and-a-half hour plane trip was no big issue for most of the group, except for Jason Pongracic. Waiting at the baggage claim all bags appeared, except for Jason's. 'Pongo' was quite positive and was having a joke about it, while Mason Shaw was kind enough to lend him some clothing until his bags arrived.

We checked into the Holiday Inn, Surrey, at around 11:45pm. The boys collected their room keys and headed straight to bed excited about Saturday's game against the European Legion and the next few days we'll be spending in London.

Joe Daniher and teammates at Milan airport before heading to London

Friday, April 6, London

Our first day in London started with a light training session in the lead up to Saturday's game. At one end of Surrey Sports Park the European Legion squad - who we play tomorrow - was training and at the other end of the ground the AIS-AFL Academy squad was training. 

For tea we went to an Italian restaurant in Guildford, where we had the great chance to share dinner with tomorrow's opposition European Legion.

It was a really good opportunity to interact with them and get to understand the different footballing backgrounds behind our opponents before taking the field against them.

Saturday, April 7, London

A morning team meeting lead by Michael O'Loughlin, Michael Ablett and Leon Harris set out the objectives and goals for today's game.

A curtain raiser between Great Britain and Ireland provided great entertainment for all those at the ground early enough.

An AFL 9's match followed which included some former stars such as Stephen Silvagni and Robert DiPierdomenico but the highlight were the stand out performances of NAB's Briana Crotty, journalist Emma Quayle and AFL media coordinator Amy Hattam.

After a strong start by the AIS-AFL Academy including a first half five-goal haul from Troy Menzel, the European Legion came out firing early in the second half providing a contested and entertaining game of football.

Fortunately enough we ran out comfortable winners by 134 points despite a much-improved effort from the European Legion from last year. The final score was 22.14 (146) to 2.0 (12).

The after-match proceedings included many AFL supporters gathering from both Australia and Europe, and both teams from the day's game.

It was another terrific chance to interact with other people from different backgrounds who share the common passion of AFL. Big congratulations go to Nick Vlastuin for his efforts to be awarded as the best player for the AIS in the game and for his words of wisdom in his acceptance speech.

Another really enjoyable part of the day was having the chance to meet and speak to the people who are doing such great work to develop the great game of AFL abroad. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the game booms overseas after witnessing their work first-hand.

AIS Eurpoean tour - singing national anthem
The AIS-AFL Academy team sings the national anthem

Monday, April 9, London

We started a very, very cold day in London with a light indoor training session followed by a weights session at Surrey Sports Park.

We were lucky enough to have three Irish lads and one German come and train with us from the European Legion team and they certainly did not look out of place.

There was a bit of excitement among the group as later on we were heading to the Boleyn Ground, home of West Ham United as they took on Birmingham City.

It was an amazing game, and it ended a three-all draw, with all of us happy to see some goals. Perhaps more amazing than the game itself was the atmosphere that the West Ham fans created.

Tuesday, April 10, Villers-Bretonneux

The day started with the bus departing Surrey at 5.15am to get to the train station for our transport to France. Catching the train to another country was a unique experience, leaving some of us still trying to work out how they could possibly get the train line under water.

After we arrived in Paris we had a little journey to a small town north of Paris called Villers-Bretonneux. As soon as we arrived we entered a hall full of 300 young screaming students,  which was quite overwhelming.

'Dipper', followed by the 30 players, ran a footy clinic for the kids who seemed to love the opportunity to play with the footy.

The town of Villers-Bretonneux has an amazing connection and appreciation for Australia and has a museum situated next to the school, which we also had a walk through after the clinic had finished.

We were all quite tired after a long day but I'm sure all people at the clinic would have appreciated the group's efforts, especially Brodie Grundy who seemed to have a lot of fans.
Below: Joe Daniher with school children from Villers-Bretonneux

Wednesday, April 11, Paris

A two-and-a-half hour bus ride from Villers-Bretonneux to Paris had many of the boys snoozing, and Liam McBean and Lachie Plowman didn't seem to wake up for the entire trip.

After entering the beautiful city of Paris we did a short bus tour around town visiting some amazing sites including a stop at the Eiffel Tower.

We then went and had a light training session in a small park in central Paris prior to the game against the European Titans. After returning to the hotel we then had some downtime to relax.

I had the great pleasure of rooming with Jono O'Rourke, who immediately made a mess of our room. After dinner everyone got into bed for an early night ahead of the game tomorrow against the Titans.  

Thursday, April 12, Chantilly

A bus to the brilliant polo fields where the oval had been set up for the day's game, which would be an historic match played in France.

The AIS-AFL Academy team had a strong start, with James Stewart and Jake Stringer providing good targets up forward.

Despite Jono O'Rourke and Nathan Wright coming off at half-time, the group continued to play clean and effective football.

Emmanuel Irra and Jimmy Toumpas were providing great run through the midfield and continued to give the forwards lots of options.

A late goal from the European Titans combined with a terrific 'bowling ball' celebration would have been sure to please coaches Tadhg Kennelly and Peter Schwab. In the end the skill of the AIS was probably the difference. (The AIS team won by 167 points.)

After returning to the Novotel, the guys had a bit of time to kill before the final dinner with both the official group and supporter group. Some chose to relax, while others went for a walk around town.

The final dinner did not disappoint, with some mind-blowing speeches and a hilarious tribute to the great Johnny 'Foss' Wassel.

As the dinner came to an end the boys decided to go for a walk to the Eiffel Tower. About half of the lads decided to walk up the tower and then get the lift to the top, while some were happy to view it from ground level.

It was a courageous effort by Nathan Wright to get half way up the Tower with his fear of heights holding him back from reaching the top.

Our final night of the tour was something I will certainly never forget and would like to thank the playing group for providing some moments that will never be forgotten.

On behalf of the players we also have to thank all the staff that made this trip possible and for giving us the opportunity to grow and develop as young men. Each of us is truly grateful for this chance of a lifetime that we have been pleased to be a part of.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs