The first professional Australian football player, Josip Habljak, left Croatia in 2015 when he signed an agreement with Australian Sturt FC. He was regularly called the best team player, he played CEAFL, participated in European cups and championships, and then finished in one of the strongest AFL leagues. What he experienced and achieved there, how he spend his time, and why he came back read further in the text.
How did start your story in Australian football and why exactly footy?
I found the Australian football accidentally through posters at the faculty (Kif, 2013). At that time I just stopped playing basketball I’ve been playing since the age of 7 and I was looking for some other sports activity because through all my life I was used to playing sports and it was strange to me without it and I missed that one big aspect of my life. The posters said, “Do you want to play against Oxford University? Come and try Australian football “and I was most intrigued by this part “against Oxford “, and as the poster itself was the picture of the player who grabbed the oval ball, I thought it was one of the types of rugby and with a couple of colleagues in the group decided to try this sport. After the first training, I realized that it was not rugby, but I was so thrilled by the company itself that I knew immediately after the first training that was it. I fell in love with the whole story and then it all started.
Where did you first play?
The first official match was played for the “University of Zagreb” team against “Oxford University” at the rugby club “Mladost”. Shortly after, I was invited to the Croatian national team “Croatian Knights” and in the same year, we performed at the European Championship in Dublin in Ireland and at the European Cup in Bordeaux, France. After that, I continued with performances for European team “European Legion” in London, and performances for Croatian national team at the European Cups in London, Umag, Lisbon, Bordeaux and performance for “Croatian Knights” at the International Cup in Melbourne. At the club level I played for “Zagreb Hawks” in Croatia, and after the transition to Australia, I had the opportunity to play on the terrain all over South Australia and Melbourne.
We know that you have just returned from Australia but what actually motivated you to leave?
The biggest motivation for leaving was the great love for this sport and I had an incredible curiosity to see how it’s done “down under”. Basically, I was going down to learn about this sport in the sports crib itself so I could transfer that knowledge to our terrains. A good part of the motivation for my departure was also the “challenge” to myself to see how I will deal with the players who have grown up with this sport.
How did you settle in there and did you play with other players of Croatian origin?
I quickly accepted the requirements of the game that were put in front of me, and after a very short period of time, I was able to follow training without any problems. The biggest advantage they had over me were racing and technical abilities, but after a while, I did not only catch up but also overtake a good number of players. Regarding everything else out of the “footy” this adjustment lasted a little longer, there are plenty of factors that need to be included in the whole story, from lodging and business to health insurance, cheapest stores, and so on. None of the teammates was of Croatian origin, but also none of the teammates who had any other “origin” didn’ t have parents who were born out of Australia so we can say that with me in the clubs there were all Australians.
Can you describe us your day as a professional player?
One typical day would look like this. In the morning, around 8 am was an individual training in which you go through some technical-tactical ideas for individual positions on the field. Thereafter, if it is necessary with a line coach (Defense / Mid / Offensive), you go through individual training and match shots to deal with mistakes and point to the good things of individual players in the game. Later, the group that participated in the training usually co-ordinates breakfast and here the morning part of the day’s end. Depending on the day, fitness training is organized in the gym, sometimes before, and sometimes even after the main training session, which is the main part of the day and in which everyone participates and after which we all go through certain situations in the past training and ways to solve them on matches day. After the main training session, players participate in recovery methods (massages, hydrotherapy and other).
What would you rather choose: footy in Croatia or footy in Australia?
If I had to choose only one in which I would have participated for the rest of my life then it would be a footy in Croatia! Both have their good and bad sides, briefly in Australia it is a part of the culture, the footy terrain is at every corner and the sport is developed to the finest detail but I started playing footy in Croatia and the people I play here with are among my best friends and playing this sport with them has its special charm. Last year I played at the World Championship in Melbourne with “Croatian Knights” and I had the best of both worlds in that short 2 weeks. Only better than footy in Croatia is the Croatian footy in Australia.
What would you point out as your greatest professional success?
As the biggest team achievement (the Croatian national team) I would point out the winning of Division II World Championship in Melbourne in 2017 and as an individual success, it is the place in Team of the Tournament in the same competition.
Why did you decide to return and what is your further plan?
I first came back for my beloved people (girlfriend, family, friends …) and because of the college. A further plan is to convey all the knowledge acquired in Australia to the Croatian footy so that our community could be even better and stronger, finish the college, and then plan ahead. I do not think about returning to Australia, and the more time I spend in Croatia, the more I see how much I have missed everything I have here.