St Vincents Water Polo Club
Dublin, Ireland

Interviews with famous Water Polo Personalities

With some spare time on their hands during the COVID-19 lockdown, Shane O'Brien and Eoin Bridgeman have launched a series of interviews with some famous names from the world of water polo.


These interviews give us a chance to see a little of the personality behind the famous name, as well as an insight into how the world of water polo is coping with the pandemic-related restrictions that have led to the unprecedented postponement of domestic and international competitions across the globe, including the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games until Summer 2021.


Scroll down to see all of the interviews or click to go directly to a specific interview:


Check back regularly for additional interviews.




  Interview with Luka Lončar


2017 Fina world champion and 2016 Olympic silver medalist, Luka Lončar talks to St. Vincent's Water Polo about:

  • how is training is going during lockdown, 
  • his memories from water polo tournaments, and 
  • general advice to young players


Highlights of the fantastic 2017 match that Luka recommends can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UV1lGfwmnEk

The full game can be seen in High Definition on FINA TV (Subscription required) at https://www.finatv.live/en/competitions/budapest-2017/video/men-semi-final-winner-m37-vs-winner-m38-wp-bud-2017





Interviews with Stevie Camilleri and Karl Izzo 


This update comes from two of the most recognised people in the Maltese water polo community. It was a great pleasure to talk to both Karl Izzo and Stevie Camilleri who were both very generous with their time. 
Karl is the Maltese national team head coach who has brought Malta to new heights by qualifying for the last 3 European championships. Karl is also the director of the world water polo coach’s association. 
   

Stevie, who is the Maltese national team captain, has recently been awarded the top goal scorer in the Italian league with his club Roma and was also the top scorer at the 2016 European championships in Belgrade. 
   
Thanks to both for sharing their knowledge and experiences. 

  

Stevie Camilleri

 

Karl Izzo


EB: Hi Karl, thanks again for doing this, we appreciate your time and the water polo community in Ireland will enjoy your views! 
KI: Good afternoon Eoin, thank you for your kind invitation to reply to some of your questions about water polo. I know very well the passion that Irish have for water polo. I have played against them so many times, I have made very good friends there and I think there is more that they can do in the future. 


EB: Firstly, how are you managing with the current lockdown and are you managing to stay active? 
KI: It’s a difficult time for all, not just Malta or Ireland but for the whole world. All the sport world is at a standstill. Pools are closed and gyms are closed here as well so it is very, very difficult.


Players are of course now all at home. Many of them, the young players do not have school and the older players do not go to work so, what the clubs are doing, they are also speaking to me like this, they have training sessions via Zoom. They work at home, they do gym work at home and they try to keep fit, its not easy. 


The problem is now that staying at home, the appetite will grow, they will be hungrier, they will eat more, they will put on some weight. All the work we all did before this started, will be lost. We must start again from a new preseason. 


We were in the middle of the Enemed Cup which proceeds the winter league and the summer league. Enemed Cup was nearly in the final stages and we didn’t manage to finish, and the Winter League was due to start on the 29th of March and the summer league should start on the 8th of June. 


We don’t know when the pools will open and have no indication. What can we do? They will have to stay at home, they must train, they are well supervised by the club coaches. We have many club coaches who are very good at their work. It’s a problem, it’s a big problem. Let’s hope we get out of it, and we manage to get back to our usual water polo routine. 


For national players – we just came back from our European championships at the end of January. I was preparing with the under 19 side to participate in the qualifiers that were going to be held on the 3rd/4th/5th of April at Malta. Our tournament preceding that, we had to cancel as well as LEN had stopped all competitions. It’s difficult, we don’t know when these will be held, we have no indication of that. We must wait and try being positive and make the best of it. Of course, I am also responsible to the national sports school which we have approximately 19 students practising water polo as a specialised sports school. I send them videos to watch, training schedules but it is not as easy as being at the pool all the time. 

EB: How did you get involved in water polo and who were some of the players you would have admired as a young player/fan. 
KI: I’ve been in water polo for quite some time now. I started off my swimming career until I was 11 then I started playing water polo with my hometown, Sliema. At 18 I was a regular part of the 1st team, I won the league 3 times, cup 5 times so quite a good CV and some very good games with Sliema. My last year was 2002, in the last years I had moved to San Julian, another team which is now strong as well and from there is where I started my coaching career. I played for the national team 93 times and of course I passed on to coaching the national team. 
I admired many players; I had the opportunity to play with many strong players. Of course, Malta is renowned for hosting top water polo players in the summer as our league is the only league that is played in the summer. So, clubs do make extra effort to get Malta the best foreigners. 


Best I’ve played with? I played with Massimiliano Ferretti, Italian centre forward. Aleksander Kolotov, the Russian giant. I think one of my favourite and best players was Manuel Estiarte from Spain, but you have now so many good players. Ivovic, I think who played in Malta, for me is the best in the world. I really admire Vladimir Gojkovic, the present Montenegro coach, he was a Malta player aswel and who cannot mention Vladimir Vujasinovic, top Serbian player who was in Malta. I had the honour to coach him and is a very good friend of mine aswel as Vladimir Gojkovic. Many Italians Campanga also played in Malta, it’s a long list. And what about the usual, the Serbians still playing with the national team Filip Filipović, Mandic, Andrija Prlainović. All top players and if you start mentioning them, you will never stop! These are the ones who came to mind and that I would admire as top water polo players. 

EB: What has been your favourite or most memorable tournament that you have been involved in? 
KI: Most memorable are the 3 European Championships I took part in as a coach, as national team coach. 1st one in 2016 in Belgrade, 2018 in Barcelona and the last one in 2020 in Budapest. Playing in a European Championship tournament is always the top one where we can arrive. 


It is impossible I think for the Maltese national team to arrive to the Olympics so I think having led the Maltese team for the first time and then for 3 times to these competitions was something that got me a lot of achievements in Malta, gave us a good name and gave water polo a good name in Malta.


I should be proud for having led these teams. Notwithstanding that I will always remember the commonwealth water polo held in Aberdeen, I will always remember the EU nations cup in which I played against my Irish colleagues many times. This is where we started our love in these tournaments and moved onto bigger like taking part in the world league and I am proud to start this participation in world tournaments for our national team. 

EB: What advice would you give a young player who is looking to improve their game?
KI: Train hard, eat well, keep fit, listen to your coaches and watch a lot of water polo. That is one of the main things I tell the boys and that’s what I tell them in the school is that you will always learn something from each player and from each game like the positioning, the tactics and the technique. It’s all very important to watch. 


Be disciplined and listen to your coach, don’t take notice to the parents as they are not coaches, take notice of your coach. The coach knows well and where he wants to lead the team and the parents only see one direction. I don’t like saying this, but it is true. I keep distance from parents because they can be very badly influential on their daughters or sons. 

EB: What are your memories and experiences with Ireland water polo? 
KI: I recall many, many tournaments I have played against the Irish. The nights after the games where we spoke with the Irish coaches, drank with the Irish coaches. I particularly remember Limerick. It was one of the main tournaments I really enjoyed. 

That preceded immediately the commonwealth cup in Aberdeen, and it was the start us reaching the results that we have reached in the past. I remember, OK technique speaking, I think we were always superior but the first two sessions they can always match us and give us problems. 

Of course, I can say that we train much more than you and it’s a higher competition level for our summer tournaments we play winter tournaments. Its easier for us to meet, we travel less so we can train every day together. 

When it comes for example to pools, we are no where near you. so really think that and I always spoke especially with Cara, your physio who has done such very good work in your teams and have also talked with your coaches that I was always ready to come over and give the training to your team. I was always happy to play against Irish teams as it was always in the best spirits and good games. 

EB: Now that everyone is stuck inside, what old games would you recommend young players to go back and watch to learn from? 
KI: Old matches I can recommend, as I said before, its so important to watch top games, top players to see their movement and learn. So which game would I recommend, OK let me think, definitely 1992 Italy and Spain the final it was fantastic, fantastic, out of this world different era of water polo, different rules but it was a fantastic match. 

Also 2019 world league final with Croatia and Serbia, played in pouring rain but what a game!


EB: Thank you for your time Karl, It has been a pleasure to talk to you and get your views and learn from your experiences in the game. 
KI: Thank you Eoin. I love the Irish people, by the way, my grandfather was Irish, from Belfast, my mothers’ surname is Nickle so I have very good connections with Ireland so thank you very much and it was a pleasure speaking with you. “




Interview with Rhys Howden


For this interview Shane O'Brien speaks with 3 time Olympian Rhys Howden and discusses, among other topics:

  • His training adjustments during the Covid lockdown
  • His experiences playing with clubs in Europe, Asia and South America
  • Advice to younger players on developing their water polo skills




Interview with Annie Espar


For this interview, we talk to World and European champion and Olympic silver medallist, Annie Espar. She was preparing for the upcoming Olympics in Toyko before the lockdown was put in place in Spain. Annie also works for world renowned waterpolo manufacturer Turbo - https://turboswim.com/en/


Take a look through her interview with Eoin Bridgeman as she gives advice in making a daily routine, what fitness pages to follow and recommendations for younger players to develop in the sport.

   

 

EB: Annie, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. First of all, how are you dealing with the current situation and keeping yourself fit?

 

AE: For any athlete this is a very difficult time and a very rare situation. But my advice is to adapt to every situation. You never know what can happen in a competition or even in a training camp, so we need to accept the situation how it is and get the best out of it.

So far, I am doing very well on keeping fit. Here I give you a couple advices:

1. Get into a routine. Get used to waking up at the same time of the day every day, and have a schedule that will help you (in my  case, I prefer to do the hard training in the morning (around 11 am, as I'm used to doing with my club team). This training is usually a cardio session (I will give you a few tips in a second), or a weights session (be creative, I do not have any weights at home but I use water bottles that range from 1,5 kg to 8kg, and if combined with packs I've got like 20kg- more than enough to keep fit!) and then some afternoons I do a yoga, Pilates or stretching class to keep the body moving.


So here a few ideas for training. For Cardio I really like the videos online from "Les mills"- you'll find them on YouTube. Also there are plenty of apps that will help you keep fit these days like NTC- the Nike app for training.


Instagram is also a very good tool these days because many people are doing free classes, but don't spend too much unnecessary time there!


Here I'll give you a few accounts that I like for training these days and I picked the English spoken ones that I use so it will be easier for you to follow:


@slizotte- she has different training posted in her stories and will do some classes through the zoom app. https://www.instagram.com/slizotte/


@wellness_dani- she is a Pilates instructor currently living in Australia and I love her classes! Will make your muscles burn. I try to do her classes a couple times a week and it feels so good afterwards. https://www.instagram.com/wellness_dani/


@anniespar_ - and of course, you can follow me on my personal account. Sometimes I post some exercises in my stories or IG profiles that I like, and you can also ask me anything you like there and I'll be happy to help :) However, as I said, I try to use these days to be productive and not spend too much unnecessary time on social media. https://www.instagram.com/anniespar_/

 

2. Control what you eat and weight yourself. You don't need to follow a strict diet, but it is good to control your weight to make sure you keep staying healthy. Do not get overwhelmed with it.

 

3. Keep in touch with your teammates (it will help you get through this faster). Maybe one call per week so you guys can catch up or even do a session together once a week. I really appreciate these calls with my team :)


   


EB: Some great information there for players, and as you say it is important to keep the team morale up and keep your motivation! So, how did you start playing waterpolo and what players were your heroes when you were younger?


AE: I started swimming when I was a baby in C.E Meditarrani, and at the age of 11 they asked me if I wanted to try water polo, and I loved it right away!


My heroes as a young player were basically the older girls on my club team. They were my referents and, in a few years, they became my teammates, and it was a very big privilege to play next to players that had been my heroes since I was a young girl. Players like Jennifer Pareja, or Ona Meseguer that played with me later on in the 2012 London Olympics.

 

EB: That takes us nicely to our next question, what was your favourite or most memorable tournament that you played in?

 

AE: I've had many important tournaments from which I have good memories but the most memorable one was the London Olympics. It was the first time that the Women's Spanish National team was qualified, and it was an amazing experience. Everything related to it. From the training previous to the moment we got into the village and qualifying for the Olympic Final. It was really a dream that became true.

 

  


EB: What advice would you give to young players looking to improve their game?

 

AE: The most important one is to love what they do. Do everything with passion. For me, loving this sport so much and going to practice every day so happy is what makes it crucial to be able to become a better player.


Then, I would say sacrifice is also important. Always give your 100%.


And finally, know that repetition is the key. Make your brain get used to the same action, day after day, and it will end up happening without you noticing. It is something I try to tell the young girls I've had the opportunity to coach for a day. It might not look perfect today, but if you do it 100% every day, you will improve for sure and you will end up doing it right.


   


EB: Have you had any experiences with Irish water polo or ever been to Ireland?


AE: I've never had any experiences with Irish water polo, but I would love to have one. Maybe one day when all this is over, we can do a masterclass together or your team can come to Barcelona to train against my team :)


I've been to Ireland before, just once and loved the experience. I came with my family when I was younger and was able to visit Cork and Dublin. It was summer, and I remember it was very rainy, haha.



EB: That sounds about right! One thing that we are asking in all the interviews, is to recommend games for younger players to go back, watch and learn from. Would you recommend any in particular?


AE: This is a very good question. And something very important. It is true that we are not at the pool training our physical condition. However, it is the perfect time to improve other skills. So, it is a good moment to work on video sessions or mental preparation for big games.


About games, I would recommend to watch any game they have recorded from themselves, and analyse it (what could I've done here to help more my teammate, or wow, that was a nice goal but maybe I had a free pass to the other side and it would've been a nicer goal- analyse yourself and be critical.


And then of course, they could watch international games that will help them to look up and dream. This is a very good idea. I don't know which are the preferences of these girls but if they like the Spanish team, I would love them to watch the Olympic final in London. Or also a very good game was the semifinal, also in London against Hungary. This is very good water polo, and also, they will get a glance of what is to compete in high elite.


Also, the games from the US team are good games to watch because all the players have really good technique.


EB: Annie, thanks again for being so generous with your time and answering our questions. I’m sure our younger, and hopefully older players will enjoy reading what you said and learn something from you!


AE: I hope these answers help and please, let me know if you need anything else. Best regards and stay healthy!

 

As recommended by Annie, this link shows the 2012 Olympic women’s final at 1.53. Enjoy!

 





Interview with Daniele Ferri



Daniele, who is Italian born, has been living in Thailand since 2013 after taking up a role with the National women’s water polo team. Water polo in South East Asia is had been previously dominated by Singapore and Indonesia. He took his team to SEA Games gold, beating Singapore in the final in 2015. 


The strength of the Thailand womens team was show in the 2019 women’s EU nations where they beat Serbia in the final to take gold. During this competition, Thailand faced off with Ireland water polo ladies team, featuring some St. Vincent’s players. 


He continues his long-term development of the country’s water polo structure which included the introduction of HaBaWaBa junior water polo academies in some of Thailand’s major cities. In 2018, a team from Thailand won the Asian edition of HaBaWaBa, which was great reward for the work Daniele has put into Thailand water polo. 


Have a look at his interview below where he discusses how his role has changed, offers some advice to young players and explains how he adapts his team tactics to compete against bigger opponents.



Interview with Vjekoslav Kobešćak


In this interview, Vjekoslav Kobešćak tells Shane O'Brien how he like to give his players at VK Jug Dubrovnik different types of training to do at home.


Vjekoslav is one of the most highly regarded water polo coaches worldwide at the moment, but he tells the story of how he took up coaching rather reluctantly at first. He also provides us with some expert advice for coaches of different levels. 


One of Vjekoslav’s favourite games is the 2016 LEN Champions League Final between his Jug Dubrovnik side and Olympiacos, a game where both sides produced a “tactically perfect game.” It is a great display of defensive water polo and you can watch the game using the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0TeBvZDliU



 

Interview with Aaron Younger


Our next player interview is with Australian captain, Aaron Younger. Aaron has been mastering his trade in Europe over the last 10 years and he is currently playing with FTC Telekom Budapest who won the LEN Champions league, LEN Super Cup along with both the Hungarian league and cup in 2019. 


Aaron Younger made his national team debut as a 19-year-old and has already represented Australia at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympic Games. 


Eoin quickly chatted to Aaron last week asking how he is dealing with lockdown and asked him for some advice to junior players who are looking to develop. 


  


EB: Hi Aaron, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. 

AY: No problem at all.  


EB: How are you dealing with the current lockdown and keeping fit compared to your usual training? 

AY: We are fortunate enough to have a private training facility with my club, so we can train once a day in small private groups. Obviously, there is no immediate games coming up, so we are just focusing on skill development and fitness. The hardest adaption is chasing my two-year-old son around while being stuck indoors.  


EB: How did you get started in the sport and who were some of the players you watched as a young aspiring player? 

AY: I got into water polo around 10 amongst a bunch of other sports such as football and basketball. As I got a bit older, I started to concentrate more on just water polo as I wasn’t the most talented athlete on land. As a young player I was mostly inspired by the local players in the Australian national team who were around the pool and always available to help out such as Tim Neesham.  


EB: What was your favourite or most memorable tournament that you competed in? 

AY: The Olympics are always hard to beat especially being able to represent my home country Infront of such a big stage. Hopefully Tokyo will be the most memorable tournament! 


EB: What advice would you give to young players looking to develop and improve their game?  AY: Probably the most relevant advice would be not to focus too much in one area of the game. The future player is one who can play all around in multiple positions. 


EB: Have you had any experiences with Irish water polo, or have you ever been to Ireland? 

AY: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to visit Ireland but once things calm down, I would love to visit at some stage. 


EB: Something that we are asking all athletes and coaches is, now that everyone is stuck inside, what old matches would you recommend for young players to go back and watch?  

AY: No games in particular. Every game provides different things to learn off so the more the better! 


EB: Aaron, thanks again for your time. Best of luck with the rest of the season, whatever that may look like! 

AY: No problem, good luck with everything!  


Although Aaron didn’t mention any specific game, we thought we would link the champions league final against Olympiakos that he played in last year, with him winning the highest club competition in Europe.The game is also somewhat unique as both clubs are part of sport club franchises – hence the atmosphere in the crowds! 



Interview with Elvis Fatović


In this interview with Shane O'Brien, Elvis gives an insight to the great water polo town of Cavtat in Croatia where he grew up. Elvis is the head coach of the men's national water polo team in Australia. He shares how he is currently still remote coaching players, keeping active himself and offers his advise to both aspiring coaches and players. He recalls his time in Dublin as assistant coach to Ratko Rudić with the Croatian team as they prepared for the 2012 Olympics in London, where they ended up taking the gold medal. One of the matches he recommends to go back and watch was the 2019 world league final between Serbia and Croatia.




 

Interview with Maggie Steffens


In our next interview, St. Vincent’s men’s captain Eoin Bridgeman, had a chance to catch up with double Olympic gold medallist and world champion, Maggie Steffens.


Maggie had been training hard with team USA before news that the Tokyo Olympics had been cancelled this summer. USA have been the dominant force in women’s water polo over the last number of years, with Maggie doing more than her fair share leading with 17 goals in 2016 Rio Olympics.

   

  


Make sure to check out her app 6-8 sports at https://www.6-8sports.com/  that provides both players and coaches with drills and information to develop. They have also added some home training for water polo players now that pools are no longer accessible.   


EB: Hi Maggie, thanks again for taking the time to answer a few questions. 

MS: Of course! and no worries.  


EB: Firstly, how are you dealing with the current lockdown and how are you managing to stay active? 

MS: At first, it was definitely an emotional rollercoaster especially with the wavering news about the Olympics. But now that we've had some time to digest the information and let it process, it's been accepted and allowed me to just focus on each day and enjoy this time while I can - make the most of it. We still do a lot of team activities and meetings to stay connected and have been given some strength workouts to do at home. I have created my own little routine for each week which includes some yoga, running, indoor bike, strength circuits, cooking a ton, getting work done for 6-8 Sports, and reaching out to friends and family!    


EB: How did you get involved in water polo and who were some of the players you would have admired as a young player? 

MS: I started playing when I was 8 for Diablo Water Polo Club. My Dad is from Puerto Rico and played on their national team as well as at UC Berkeley (CAL). Maureen O'Toole, 2000 Olympic Silver Medallist, started Diablo Water Polo Club and luckily had connections with my Dad. I had played all different sports - swimming, soccer, basketball, gymnastics, etc - so water polo was the perfect sport to tie them all together! Mo became my coach, but more importantly a mentor and role model showing me what it took to be an Olympian. As a younger player, I looked to Maureen O'Toole and my older siblings (Jessica Steffens 2X Olympic Medallist) as well as Brenda Villa and Tony Azevedo.  


EB: What has been your favourite or most memorable tournament that you have been involved in? 

MS: I mean, I think I HAVE to say the 2012 Olympic Games - first Olympic games AND side by side with my older sister AND the first ever Gold Medal! Can't get too much better than that! Each tournament is special - I think of the 2015 World Championships as probably the most challenging tournament giving it such a feeling of reward, as well as the 2016 games - making history! But... playing with your sister at the Olympics is unlike anything else.  


EB: What advice would you give a young player who is looking to improve their game? 

MS: Use this time to improve on something you may not have had time otherwise. Come back with stronger legs or a more developed wrist or a higher water polo IQ! Make use of this time to find your EDGE. What separates you from the rest?! Have fun with this though, don't let it stress you out, let it excite you.   


EB: Have you had any experiences with Irish water polo, or have you ever been to Ireland on vacation?  

MS: I've never been, so I think this is the perfect gateway to make something happen! I recently learned I have roots there - so I think it's almost time for a visit!  


EB: Something that we are asking all athletes and coaches is, now that everyone is stuck inside, what old matches would you recommend for young players to go back and watch?  

MS: NCAA College Championship games (https://www.ncaa.com/video/waterpolo-womenhttps://www.ncaa.com/sports/waterpolo-men) and Olympic Games (usually you can find these on olympicchannel.com or just look on YouTube! Also, if you follow my & Tony Azevedo's company 6-8 Sports, we post games to watch and you can score them on our app! It's a great way to stay engaged and we choose the best players in the world to watch!  


EB: Maggie, thanks so much for taking the time to answer the questions, it will be great to share them with our young, aspiring players. Good luck with the rest of the season (whatever that may be) and stay safe. You’ll always be welcome for a water polo session in Ireland if you ever get a chance to visit! 

MS: Awesome, thank you so much! Good luck to you guys as well! Stay healthy and happy :)      





 

Interview with Xavi Garcia


In our first interview, Shane O'Brien interviews Xavier García Gadea, a World Champion (2017), an Olympic Silver medallist (2016) and current captain of Jug Dubrovnik in Croatia where he was part of their LEN European Champions League winning team (Season 2015/16).