1995 Junior World Championships

1995 Junior Men's report 001Golden Hand

The 1995 junior world championships campaign in Dunkerque, France, is particularly memorable. For the first time in history Australia made it to the semi-final stage finishing fourth. It is true that the result would not have been possible if the stronger Italian and Croatian teams had not been disqualified for all-in-brawl. However, I believe, our achievement is not diminished because of that fact since those two teams have themselves to blame for the ill-disciplined behaviour and the consequential sanctions against them. We felt very proud when Australia was voted as the ‘Most Improved team’ and presented with the ‘Golden Hand’ award that signified its ‘Fighting Spirit’.

Executive Summary

1995-Ross SimpsonThe team qualified for the VIII Junior World Championships in Dunkerque by defeating New Zealand in the Oceania elimination series in Perth in January 1995.

Team Preparation

A professional preparation for this team was mapped out commencing with the announcement of the squad after the Australian Junior Championships in Brisbane in January 1994. An intensive training camp was held immediately following those championships.

A camp was conducted in February 1994 in Sydney where the squad played a number of games against the visiting Chinese Men and the Australian Men’s Teams. Next was their participation in the Australian Senior Championships at Canberra in Easter 1994 and then a further camp in Canberra June 1994.

The squad was short listed in November, December 1994 for a camp in Sydney where a team was selected to travel to Reunion for a series of games in December against France.

Following the Australian Junior Championships in Perth January 1995, a team was named to meet New Zealand for the Oceania Elimination series, and the final team was announced after competing in the Australian Senior Championships in Sydney at Easter.

The team was then brought together again in Sydney in May 1995 and for a final weeks preparation in July prior to departure, and coinciding with the finals of the National League Competition.

As this is the first team I have been involved with, and my appointment only commenced in March 1995, I cannot comment on the effectiveness of the preparation in comparison to previous teams. I will leave this to the experience of coach Erkin Shagaev and others to draw the necessary conclusions, however, I am sure that the geographic isolation of some members and lack of intensive local training and competition is a constant cause of concern.

Team performance

After becoming manager in March, I seemed to hear from many sources ‘in the know’ that the team was not the same quality as many of the ‘star studded’ teams of the past. Unfortunately the boys also were hearing these comments! It is very pleasing therefore that I don’t have to ‘Wax Lyrical’ defending the team. The statistics to follow in the report speak for themselves with the team achieving a ‘best ever’ result for Australian Junior Men, in an expanded 24 team competition, whereby they were placed in what was generally accepted, as the toughest group in the draw. Allow me to say however; that in my opinion, every member of the team was a credit to himself and his family, to their various coach’s throughout their water polo careers and to Australia. their performance in and out of the pool can only be regarded as exemplary. A great deal of credit obviously must also flow to Erkin Shagaev who managed to extract the very best out of the team.

Ross Simpson, 1995 Australian Junior Men Team’s Manager

The 1995 WC was also remarkable because of the new ‘experimental’ rules that were applied for the first time in an official FINA event and are listed below. Some of these rules have subsequently been adopted.


1. Fix field of play at 25 meters
2. Reduce team from 7 to 6 players
3. Men use small balls
4. No referees’ flags
5. Immediate shot on goal allowed on goal throw or free throw awarded and taken outside 7 meters
6. Immediate re-entry on exclusion
7. Substitution at any time from re-entry area
8. 2 timeouts per game with substitution during timeouts

These rules made the game faster and more dynamic with higher goal-scoring rates.

The ‘formal’ Head Coach and Manager’s reports detailing some aspects of our preparation and performance, and the general conditions at the time are supplemented by the insightful reminiscences of several members of that team –

– Paul Hofman, Team’s Captain:

Erkin has asked for some reflection and personal insight into the 1995 Dunkerque World Junior Championships.  To do that it is IMG_0361probably best to start with when my relationship with Erkin began in 1991 when I was 16.  It has to be said that Erkin provided an even platform for all players to perform, no favorites, one day you were on the top of his list and the next day at the bottom. Every player no matter your background or prior achievements was put on an even playing field for selection.  That fact and his technical expertise allowed me to become a top 7 starter in the 1993 Cairo World Junior Champs and achieve the players pick as best team player for that tournament.

For the 1995 Dunkerque campaign Erkin appointed me as Captain, which was a great honor and what I had been working for since Erkin began to mentor me in 1991.  Nobody believed in my potential as a player more than Erkin. 12 months prior to this tournament I suffered a major setback with a shoulder injury that most athletes do not come back from. I severed the auxiliary nerve in my right shoulder.  Erkin showed his loyalty and stuck by me during this tough period and encouraged me to push on and Captain the team in Dunkerque.  It proved to be the last time I represented Australia and at that time it was the best result Australia had achieved at a Junior World Championships  – 4th place.

Our first game was the opening game of the tournament against the hosts France.  The stadium was packed and cheering for their home team.  It was a tough first encounter with the French all fired up but we managed to overcome them in the last quarter to pull out a draw.  If my memory is correct we played America for a chance to make the playoffs and that was a satisfying game, a very close and tough encounter but we came together as a team and crushed them. Our bronze medal game against Slovakia was an epic battle, we were down the whole game but came back in the last quarter to come within a goal.  We lost the game but everyone fought hard and did the team proud.

Some great times with the boys and some great memories.  Scotty Waterman letting rip from out the top with his rockets, he was able to shoot faster than his brother Grant and that is saying something.  Gavin Woods was a young buck but you could see his huge potential, teaming up with Tia McIsaak in centre-forward.  Renae Burdack showing his class by standing up in the bronze medal game as our best player scoring several key goals and getting us within a goal at the end of the game.  Ryan Moar & Peter Soros our lefties, Daniel Carr played an awesome tournament backed up by Raff Sterk.  Who could forget Doug Cocking parading around on pool deck, classic.

– Daniel Carr, Goalkeeper:

The 95 championships was conducted with the Junior/Ladies ball so a tough predicament with Hungary boasting a young DanielCarrFamilyGergely Kiss and Tamas Kasas and a number of others in the national men’s squad. The lead up games in the Hungest Cup (Sopron, Hungary) provided a good indication for the competition we were to be up against. Some good hit outs and close results against the Europeans, other than Hungary, eventual world champs. Results: Spain (12-11 loss), Russia (13-8 win), Hungary (19-5 thumping loss), Germany (9-5 win), USA (10-9 loss), Italy (10-9 loss). Overall, shot percentages were against us and results could have been different with execution.


We were in a tough group (Croatia, France, Germany, USA & China) though with top 2 teams progressing we but made matters hard by a first up draw against France on the opening night and relied heavily on other results and goal difference to eventually finish second in the group to Croatia, which meant a cross over game against Hungary for the quarter finals. 29-12 thumping again by the Hungarians (though most goals any team put in against them, some comfort in that). The Croatian/Italian quarter final ended in all in brawl and disqualification for both teams, meaning we moved into the semi finals.

Semi against Greece was a poor game and big defeat meaning a bronze medal play off with Slovakia. We started slow and made a late comeback but it wasn’t to be, 12-11 loss, realistically the better team won but we were left with a feeling of what ‘might’ have been. Best results for a Australian team up to that point though helped by the Croatian/Italian disqualification. 

My personal experience – other than my marriage and now two children one of the greatest experiences of my life. Lead by a passionate coach whom was able to bring his experience, knowledge and dedication to a team from across the country with varied training patterns and mix it with the strong European power houses. Obviously, Gavin Woods and Rafael Sterk went on to represent Australia in future Olympics. The difference for us was in technical execution and a consistent four quarters. We had moments of excellence followed by basic errors, myself included.

Just read the kind words by Tai and Renae and couldn’t agree more.

Your request for some insights has brought back so many memories of a hard but rewarding time, especially for myself being not the standard size for a goalkeeper at a national level. Always look back fondly that I was able to retain a position as the starting keeper whilst not under scholarship at the AIS, so whilst size wasn’t on my side I felt my legs and reading of the game were. This has been something that has stuck with me throughout my life, just because someone doesn’t think you have it, it makes for more of the challenge to prove them wrong. Something that i always have in my mind throughout my professional career.

I sat there today watching the Hurricanes v Drummoyne game in Newcastle and whilst I haven’t played for a couple of years i still found myself watching and making mental notes of the shooting by the different players, not that i would ever be facing them in the future. Once a goalkeeper, always a goalkeeper.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Tai for his last game as a player with the Western Force whilst I was in Perth for work and still keep in touch occasionally.

– Renae Burdack, Team’s Vice-Captain, Australia’s highest goal-scorer:

The tournament was used to trial a shot on a foul from outside 7 meters, smaller balls and five field players a side. Heading into the tournament, there were two stand out teams who were streets ahead of the rest: Hungary Renae+familyand Croatia. Italy were probably a distant third but certainly not unbeatable. Against every other team, I would have backed our team to come out on top. We had a tough opening encounter – against France, in France on the opening night of the tournament. The atmosphere was unlike anything our young team would have ever experienced before. It is fair to say we were a little overawed. Personally, I was distracted by the passing of a loved one only a week or so earlier – despite my best intentions, I was not quite switched on. In the second quarter, I was driven on, I allowed the player to push off me, receive a cross pass and score a goal off the hand. I glanced over to the bench, expecting a severe reprimand from Erkin, but instead saw a concerned, caring look. He asked if I was okay. It was like time stood still for a moment. Then he nodded to me and returned to his seat. That was enough to snap me out of my trance – I could once again focus on the job at hand. We went on to draw that match 11-11, which, while not an ideal result kept us in the competition.

The next match, against Croatia was all about player management. They were, quite frankly in a different league. From memory this was the first time that several of our field players got to experience game time as we tried to minimize player fatigue, and prepare for our following three matches. We were smashed but the strategy worked. We followed up with a strong win over Germany, we comfortably accounted for China and won a very tough encounter with a well drilled outfit from the USA. The expulsion of Croatia and Italy after an all in brawl saw us move into the semi-finals. We were apparently the first Australian team to achieve this result, but we certainly did not feel out of place, this was more where we had expected to be.

Our opponents in a quarter-final match, Hungary, were a far superior team to us. They were bigger, stronger, faster, had better skills and were more experienced. I believe their top five players were training with their senior national squad, but the next eight were of a very similar to us standard. If they had a bad day, and we were at our best, we were still going to be up against it. Even so, I was shocked and a little horrified about our approach to that match. Many of our starting line-up had tired and aching muscles. Once again we decided to rest , and prepare for future matches. From memory, I was the only regular field player who started in that match. We were down 6-0 in a flash.

Bronze Medal Match v Slovakia: Slovakia had a solid team, plus one stand out field player (who was possibly the highest goal scorer for the tournament?). Their goal keeper was also highly regarded. Our Aussie team also boasted some talent. Paul Hofman and Renae Burdack were in their second World Junior campaign. Renae Burdack, Gavin Woods and Ryan Moar had toured with the Australian open squad earlier that year and our goal keeper, Daniel Carr, had long arms plus quick reflexes. He was a confidence player and on his day, he was as good as any goal keeper at the tournament. We started with high intensity, but several defensive lapses and poor shot selection cost us in the first half. Things clicked for us in the second half. We were playing all over the top of Slovakia (it may have been the benefits of some of our key players resting in the previous game). It felt to me like an irresistible force steering us to an inevitable victory. From memory we scored four or five goals in a row to come within one goal (or maybe even level the scores).

The final 30 seconds is etched into my memory – it still seems like it was yesterday. Slovakia were playing a wing drop, I was at centre forward in about the centre of the goals – the ball was passed in front of me and to my right. Both the goal keeper and the left-wing defender overcommitted in an attempt to steal it, but the pass was spot on and I managed to flick the ball to an unmarked Ryan Moar who was on the left-wing with an open goal. Ryan had been a valiant player all tournament, but unfortunately, on this occasion he missed the mark. The ball went out for a goal throw with maybe 10 seconds left in the match. We finished fourth.

Ryan took this miss hard at the time, as would anyone who has worked so hard to achieve their best. But if truth be told, our errors from the first half were to blame for us being in that situation in the first place. Ryan had a solid tournament that he should be proud of, as did the entire team.

– Ryan Moar:

The Australian Under 20’s Tour to Europe in 1995 for the World Junior Championships in Dunkerque was my 2nd overseas trip Ryan Moar???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????and my first tour to Europe. Since 1995 I have returned to Europe many times with a variety of water polo teams as both a player and coach. The first visit was good preparation for what was to come in the future.

Our tour took us firstly to Hungary where our eyes were opened to the importance of water polo as a sport in that part of the world. The swimming pool in the town of Sopron had a majestic feel in an historically important place. Here we confronted the Hungarians, Italians, Spanish, Russians, Germans and Americans for the first time. Competing against the likes of Tamas Kasas and Gergely Kiss under the FINA experimental rules (5 field players per side & where a smaller ball, the women’s sized ball, was used) proved difficult but we held our own and finished in the middle of the pack in the tournament.

Moving on to Dunkerque in France I cannot recall any hiccups with our entire preparation. We had a fully fit team that were champing at the bit to take on the world. As it turned out we produced some very good water polo and with the disqualification of Italy and Croatia for brawling in their group game we advanced to the play off stages of the tournament, eventually finishing 4th.

Despite the fact that the strongest memory of this tour is a negative one my overall feeling is positive. It is a memory of a tough time with great mates. A learning experience which helped shape my playing and coaching career. In the dying seconds of our play off for a bronze medal I destroyed an opportunity which would have definitely forced the match into extra time. A bad decision and poor execution by me meant that the hopes of Australia’s first medal at this level of men’s water polo was gone.

However, all wounds heal with time and the stories of the tour and the memories either fade or get better as we get older. All of the things that I learnt playing in the Australian Junior Team helped shape me as a coach who has been fortunate enough to win a gold medal at the FINA World Junior Championships (Under 20’s Women’s in Porto, Portugal – 2007).

– Rafael Sterk:

In January 1995 I was first selected in the national u ’20 water polo team as backup keeper to Daniel “Chevy” Carr. As raf_singaporea 17 year old from Adelaide I had to quickly learn to play against stronger opponents and prove my capabilities to the Coach and fellow teammates. After a hard selection process through several training camps in Sydney the team traveled to Hungary in July, in preparation for the World Junior Men’s Championships, Dunkerque, France. My first taste of international water polo was an eye opener. Many of these Hungarian juniors went on to be the basis of their Olympic three peat. Our group in Dunkerque was going to be tough to finish in the top two but there was good team morale with Renae Burdack and Paul Hofman capable of leading the team. Pinch hitters Scott Waterman and Tai McIsaac were scoring quality goals and Chevy was saving us on the goal line. With this tournament played with women’s sized balls, 25m pool and 5 field players, the good goalkeepers were easily identified and got their teams to the medal rounds. After scraping through to the top eight with some close fought wins against USA and home-team France and the Croats eliminated we found ourselves fighting for a medal. Unfortunately, Slovakia eventually beat us for the bronze medal.
Erkin had us adapting to the rule changes more than 6 months before, so our team was mobile, physical and had good ball handling skills. We knew our conditioning was better than other teams.
The 4th place certainly left me with a taste for success at that level and provided motivation for self improvement at the next world juniors in Havana and further into my water polo career.

– Gavin Woods, Australia’s second highest goal-scorer:

As this was some time ago and there has been many tours since, my memory is quite vague from that period. I was unable to Gavin Woods+familyfind any photos. The most memorable part from this period was the trip to Le Reunion, which involved a few official games with the French and training. Being in this part of the world seemed like a rare opportunity as prior to leaving for the trip I was unaware of the islands existence. From memory it was like a French holiday destination, which was used as a tropical training institute for French swimmers and the like. I clearly recall the mandatory beach swim which involved negotiating sea urchins. This proved to be almost impossible and I think both Nick May and Scott Waterman came off a little worse for wear. I also recall the short walk back from dinner one night along the road in zero visibility.
From the world champs I can’t recall much about the games themselves. The fight between Italy and Croatia that saw us progress straight to the top 4. As they were on our side of the draw this saw us progress ahead of other probably more deserving teams. Although we did not quite get there on our own merits, we all believed there was a real opportunity to bring home a medal. Apart from the Hungarians who were a class above all the other teams I believed it was possible.

– Tai McIsaak:

Preparing for this tournament, we knew two things. One, Erkin wanted us to play a highly mobile, counter attacking Australia v Ireland - Lansdowne Cupgame and two, preparing for it, was going to hurt. We lacked size, experience and compared to many other teams, the individual skill to compete. However, the style of game we had prepared for, helped us to be not only competitive but successful in many areas.

A year out from the tournament we traveled to the beautiful Reunion Island to train and play with the French team. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to have a camp like this. Apart from playing teams like NZ, this was the first real international experience for me. Some of these guys played in professional European leagues and was a good gauge for us. Reunion Island itself made it hard for the team to remember we were there train and work hard.

The World Cup build up tournament we played in Sopron, Hungary, was a real eye opener for most of us having never played against or seen a Hungarian side before. Most of these guys resembled a lot of international Rugby players I have played against. They not only had height, but they also had size, skill, game sense, experience and could swim the house down too. The fact that these guys grew up on polo as well, didn’t help our cause.

We arrived in Dunkerque, France, and being Australians, the history of the city wasn’t lost on us. At the midway point of the tournament we found ourselves doing a conditioning session that we all thought was insane. I can only speak for myself, when I say that it was the tune up I needed at this point in time. A ‘Bench Clearer’ in the Italian vs Croatia game was added a bit of spark to the tournament and made thing a little more exciting for us getting closer to the finals games.

Although we were unable to come away with a medal, Erkin Shagaev had prepared this group better than most would have with a number of this group going on to many Olympic and World Cup campaigns.

– Ross Simpson, Team’s manager:

When I think back now, almost 18 years, my mind is flooded with emotional memories.  Most of the daily highlights were set out in my reports

Ross Simpson enjoying being a grand-dadof the trips, and passed on to the team members, hopefully as some sort of diary, or memento of their exploits. I will leave the comments on games to those involved and restrict my comments to emotions, and behind the scenes activities.

Firstly, I still regard it as a privilege, to have travelled with such a fine body of young men who had been chosen to represent their country. The friendships developed with the players and support crew, although in some cases they were only brief, I still value to this day. I remember, the sense of pride, and the overwhelming lump in my throat when standing on the pool deck with the team and hearing our national anthem played, and feeling part of that team, even in my own small way. Pride in the achievements of the team, even when we lost our games, when I knew that they had given it their best shot, against, in some cases quite overwhelming odds.

We had a group of young men playing a sport they loved, against, in some cases, seasoned professionals playing not only for their country but for a way of life. A way out of relative poverty, or a way out of the army where a few years earlier they could have been shooting at some of their opposition. Those conditions must inspire a different approach to the game. Also, not lost on me was the significance of our venue, still with the pock marked buildings and as I stood one day on the beach head I couldn’t help think of how lucky we were to be there, just enjoying sport.

I thought I was under pressure and stress trying to make sure all the boxes had been ticked before departure, constantly counting heads at each stage of our transit, dealing with, at times, not the most “helpful” of border security officers, etc. Then, I saw Erkin in action. A man so focused on the job at hand, he put his health at risk, surviving with little sleep, in trying to get the best out of his squad, with the constant conflict of knowing what had worked well in his own system and past, but conscious of the constant pressure from sources at home, that it was not the “Australian Way!” The Australian Way had not worked in the past, but he was expected to achieve results. What a conundrum.

In the midst of all this were many moments that completely brought me undone and back to reality, like the time after spending a week in middle Europe, in mid summer, a certain team member, (lets call him Anthony) came to me and said, “ Ross, how do you turn on the shower?” I was so glad I wasn’t the one sharing his room! Then there was occasion that Brad finally arrived after an epic journey of missed trains, planes and automobiles. He was out on his feet and I took him to his room to introduce his room mate, and there he was, “Chooker” spreadeagled on his back snoring the house down, and clad only in his under pants. Brad I hope you have recovered from the psychological damage.

Vividly recalled are the events leading up to the final play off, when I witnessed what I believed to be a couple of blatant attempts to influence the result of games from outside the pool. The lack of ethics shocked me, but for legal reasons I cant be more specific here. Disappointing to say the least.

It was a relief to get you home in one piece to your families, as being a father of sons the same age as you, I felt a sense of paternal responsibility.

These days I am retired and enjoying my family including, so far, three, beautiful grandchildren.

Once again I would like to thank all athletes and support staff for their efforts and contributions  and, most importantly, the two decades of friendships that started in the mid-90s.

1995 AUS Junior team 3 001

Back row: Doug Cocking, Peter Soros, Antony Matckovich, Adrian Bolt, Gavin Woods, Paul Hofman, Nick May, Brad Hiskins, Erkin Shagaev and John Bird. Front: Ross Simpson, Ron Morelli, Chris Luyendyk, Renae Burdack, Ryan Moar, Tai McIsaak, Scott Waterman, Daniel Carr and Rafael Sterk.

Final standing: 1. Hungary 2. Greece 3. Slovakia 4. Australia 5. Germany 6. Spain 7. Turkey 8. Canada 9. Brazil 10. France 11. Kazakhstan 12. Moldavia 13. USA 14. China 15. Poland 16. Mexico 17. Egypt 18. New Zealand 19. Argentina 20. South Africa 21. Iran

About Erkin Эркин Shagaev Шагаев
European, world, Olympic champion, two times World Cup winner Чемпион Европы, мира, Олимпийских игр, двукратный обладатель Кубка мира

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