Nexe are having an amazing season so far. They managed to qualify for EHF EL quarter-finals where they were already better than Danish GOG in the first leg, making a solid step towards securing a place on the final tournament. Apart from that they already managed to defeat biggest Croatian rivals PPD Zagreb this season, reach two wins over Vardar in SEHA – Gazprom League as well as kick Eurofarm Pelister out of EHF EL Last 16 phase. One of their most important players this season is Marin Jelinic - versatile winger capable of delivering on both sides of the court and a member of Croatian national team.
Coach Branko Tamse said he had a feeling you’d be willing to walk to Hungary once you received a call from the Croatian national team to join them during the EURO.
It is always a great honor to play for Croatia. That’s one of the reasons why everyone starts playing. I was with the team during the preparation period, but wasn’t chosen to travel to the tournament with the team right away. That’s when I got back to Nasice where we were also preparing for the second part of the season. I remember one day I was so tired after the training session that I decided to go home and watch Croatia play France all alone. During the second half my friend and a colleague on the far-left side of the court David Mandic was given a blue card and as a result of that, soon after the match spokesman Ivica Maras called me to inform me that coach Hrvoje Horvat wants me in Hungary. It was around four in the morning when I arrived in Szeged.
You were born in Metkovic which has already given two wingers capable of delivering incredible defensive performances – Patrik Cavar and Niksa Kaleb.
I feel like there must be something about our mentality over there. We all have this fighting spirit. Patrik Cavar is one of the best handball players of all time. I remember my father playing me tapes of his matches to help me improve. I also remember Kaleb quite well, both from Metkovic and Zagreb as well as Croatian national team where he won both World Championship and Olympic gold.
How important was your father in your decision to decide to go with handball?
Handball is a No.1 sport in Metkovic. My father is a big handball fan. My uncle used to play and was later team’s doctor when they won the EHF Cup. I also have two older brothers. The oldest one – Mladen, played in the generation with Ivan Cupic but injuries stopped him. The other brother – Mario had a professional career playing very well in PIPO IPC with Igor Karacic later on playing in Austria and Switzerland. Now he lives in Switzerland working as a handball coach. It was kind of the only option for me. I started when I was six with our national team goalkeeper Mate Sunjic’ mother being my first coach. Unfortunately, she passed away recently, but at the moment she was our family friend, and she let me start a bit earlier because the rule was that you can’t start before you turn seven.
Those were the years when Metkovic first won EHF Cup (2000) and then played in the finals only a year later. Do you remember those games?
There is a picture somewhere of me watching the game on my dad’s shoulders! I was quite young at the time, so I don’t really remember all the details.
Nexe is playing excellent handball so far this season and you showed that once again against GOG on Tuesday.
We’re playing really great but what makes me even happier is that I can see that we’re still growing. We are having a lot of injury problems, but a lot of players have recovered. All that was visible out there on the court against GOG. We were well-aware of their style, the fact they’ll try to out-run us and punish each and every mistake we make. I feel like those matches against Silkeborg from the beginning of the season certainly helped us prepare for this one as well. We’ve achieved a good result and we have to do our best to repeat this performance in a week in Denmark.
What would you like more – EHF European League finals or a trophy in Croatia?
I’ve heard that question before. Of course, in case we manage to do something in EHF EL that would be much bigger for us, but a trophy is a trophy. My big wish is to win the title in Croatia. We’ve already managed to defeat Zagreb once this season so I guess we are in a good spot there. My big wish is to say goodbye to Nasice with a trophy.
After five years this will probably be your last season in Nasice. You have a contract with SEHA – Gazprom League team Meshkov Brest?
At the moment I’m just waiting. I am constantly talking to people over there and I am waiting for EHF to decide about the next season.
After five years in Nasice, can we say you got used to life in Slavonia?
I got used to it very quickly. I was born and raised in a small town. I can say Metkovic and Nasice are quite similar, both in terms of how big cities are and in terms of people loving the game of handball. The fact that we are all spending a lot of time together off the court is what boosts our homogeneity and makes us even better.
What is it you like to do when you’re not training? Are you a fan of any other sports?
I am a big NBA fan. My favorite team is Philadelphia 76ers, but my favorite player, and perhaps the best athlete in general in my opinion, is LeBron James. I also like to play tennis especially when there are no matches or training sessions.
And who is the best tennis player in Nexe?
We don’t really play often against each other. I’m playing tennis mostly during the vacation, but I must mention our former teammate Marko Buvinic. He is really great, even capable of defeating semi-pro tennis players.
Photo credit: kolektiffimages