Croatians are extremely proud of their roots, no matter where they are in the world, especially those from Herzegovina.
One of them is successful businessman and father of four Mirko Puljić, who lives in Australia, some 16,000 km away from the village of Vašarovići near Ljubuški in Herzegovina where his roots lie.
Mirko is also the leader of a folklore group in Sydney where Croatian customs and traditions are nurtured and coach and manager of the Hurstville Zagreb girls alongside head coach Denis Kočina.
How did you get involved in women’s football?
Football is my love. Football is a story. It is a sport that, with talent, is easy to learn and play. It includes contoured action and running, so it’s an excellent form of exercise. Communication and cooperation are key to playing football, making it an ideal sport for improving children’s social skills, learning about teamwork and fair play.
The interaction of different personalities teaches them to adapt to different personalities. These are just some of the advantages of football and why I wanted to pass on my love and knowledge to younger generations.
Girls are fantastic in the game. For these girls in our club, football is a sport to maintain health, fitness, strength and endurance. They can play with the club, study and have fun with their friends. Football teaches children skills such as teamwork, perseverance and decision-making that they will be able to apply in all aspects of their lives.
It also helps them learn to overcome the ups and downs of life, anticipate opportunities and how to work with their peers to solve problems. Football is more than a game.
When was Hurstville Zagreb FC founded?
Croatian football club Hurstville Zagreb was founded 52 years ago, but it is not limited to just Croats playing. This year we are celebrating our 52nd anniversary.
I am proud that there are many Herzegovinians in this club. Bringing Croatian children to the club also keeps our heritage alive, and the girls make lifelong friends.
I am grateful to the generation of our parents that built these foundations. It’s nice to mingle with our people who are second or third generation, and in some cases fourth.
Are you satisfied with the work of your players and what do you expect from them?
I’ll just say a little here, pay attention to these little cherubs who you never know if they could soon represent the Matildas or maybe Croatia.
This team I’m coaching right now is a really special group of girls. Since many of their parents are excellent athletes, I feel that these girls on my team have a great future. Another special aspect of this team is that most of them are from Herceg-Bosna. In fact, 90% of them from my beloved Herzegovina.
How long have you personally been at the club and what success have you had?
I have been with Denis at the club for eight years and we won the grand final.
The 2020/2021 season was canceled halfway through the season due to the pandemic. John (Ivica) Gagro asked me to help and train these girls 3 years ago. As I said, the first 2 years of the season were canceled, and this season it rained so much that we practically played 50% of the season. I am humbled and honoured to be training these cuties who honestly make my heart melt. The amount of hugs I get during the game is wonderful. Recently, everyone and their parents gave me gifts and cards for my birthday. It was touching.
Are your daughters playing at the club?
This team is the first team for 6-year-old girls for Hurstville Zagreb since 2020. Women’s football has exploded in the last 8 years. My oldest daughter, Natalie Puljić, plays for a team aged 17 to 21.
In my small team is my daughter Evelina Puljić, who is 7 years old. This is the team full of Herzegovinians but there are also girls from Lebanon and Italy. They already know a few words in Croatian and all our Croatian customs.
Another tradition I have when we have a big final, I put up the Croatian flag and the flag of the Croatian people with the name of my Ljubuški written over it.
Do you have sponsors for your team?
I played as a youngster for Hurstville Zagreb and I am happy that my company Mirkom Group is one of the sponsors of this club and in this way we are helping by giving back to them what they have done for us. People from Herzegovina are well known all over the world, and it is undoubtedly the same in Australia.
In Australia, in the first division, our Sydney United 58 (Croatia) reached the final of the cup, which is a huge success, and my cousin Danijel Nižić was the goalkeeper of the team. He is also a proud Herzegovinian from Ljubuški. I love my family very much here in Australia we are always there for each other. My uncle is the only one here from our family in Australia.
I only have a few relatives here and Puljićs in Queensland. These are my cousins Adrian and Pero Puljić, who are also from Vašarovići. They have their own football club Gold Coast Kings in Queensland, so everywhere we continue and spread our tradition through sports and folklore. They won the league in Queensland this season. They are the proudest Croatians and Herzegovinians I know. I love them very much. They are very close to me, even though we are 1200 km away.
Do you have a message for the readers?
I spoke with you in order to share with the world how our grandparents preserved their tradition and culture, we Croats from Herzegovina here and in Australia. Although we are 16,000 km away, we love our Herzegovina and our Croatia.
Love is probably stronger because our parents had to flee Yugoslavia in search of a better life. We definitely keep our culture alive and strong.
I will end this conversation by saying – please remember that Herzegovina and Croatia are always with you, even though we are 16,000 km away. Our love for our homeland is as great as yours, so don’t forget it. The world is a smaller place now with technology, so let’s keep our connections close and respect each other.
Interview by: Daniela Škegro