The last hurrah for Grubisic
In a whirlwind of coaching and roster changes, only one player has had an uninterrupted stint with CSM Bucuresti since the Romanian powerhouse produced one of the biggest surprises in the DELO EHF Champions League by taking the trophy in their debut season.
It has been a rollercoaster ride for Jelena Grubisic — six seasons full of joy, sorrow and problems — but the veteran Croatian goalkeeper is ready for one more challenge: One last hurrah in Budapest.
But first, the big test. Five years ago, CSM won the trophy by beating Györ in a nail-biting final in their maiden season in the premium European competition. This season, the path to Budapest leads first to another rookie, CSKA — a Russian powerhouse eyeing their first DELO EHF FINAL4 berth.
Are CSM ready? Grubisic says yes. And the Romanian side will need great performances from the goalkeeper who saved 114 shots this season, for an efficiency of 34.1% across 14 games.
eurohandball.com: Jelena, this season has been full of ups and downs for CSM. How did you cope with it?
Jelena Grubisic: I think this season has been hard for every team, not just for CSM. Yes, it was very tough, but being in the quarter-finals means a lot for all of us. Everything was very emotional, but a win against CSKA would make us feel that all the work we put in was worth it.
eurohandball.com: You bounced back after a slow finish in the group phase, with an emphatic aggregate win against domestic rivals, SCM Ramnicu Valcea, in the play-offs.
Jelena Grubisic: We won the first game, but the second one was a hit and miss. Fortunately, the first game, which we won by nine goals, was enough to qualify. You can say that we lost focus in the second part, but this should not happen against CSKA.
“The defence is our main weapon”
eurohandball.com: The game against CSKA will not be easy, especially as five players plus the head coach, Adi Vasile, missed the chance to qualify for the Olympic Games only two weeks ago.
Jelena Grubisic: The first day when they came back, let’s say it was tough. Their dream was gone, so the feeling was one of sorrow. But they are true professionals, Adi Vasile is also a great coach, therefore, everybody was back on the same page almost immediately. This is sport — sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but all in all they are back and ready to fulfil their dream with their club: reaching the DELO EHF FINAL4.
eurohandball.com: What about CSKA? Are they a tough team to beat?
Jelena Grubisic: Of course they are. Just look at their results this season. They drew against Györ and were close to winning the game. They beat some good teams and I do not underestimate them after their game against Krim in the play-offs. Krim are also a good team — we drew against them at home. Just looking through CSKA’s roster, there are some very good players. We have the utmost respect for them.
eurohandball.com: Is having the second top scorer in the competition — Cristina Neagu with 100 goals — your biggest advantage?
Jelena Grubisic: Cristina is great, of course. She is impossible to stop at times. But I also must credit the team. Whenever we won, we did it through a great team performance. Cristina cannot win a game on her own, despite her amazing performances this season. The attack needs to be good, but the defence will be our main weapon.
“I will retire if I win the trophy once again”
eurohandball.com: This will be your last season at CSM. Will it also be the last season in your career?
Jelena Grubisic: Tough question. I am still undecided. I am not such an old player yet. I am only 34, but I miss my family in Croatia. I want to start a family, I probably need a little bit a time for myself, but never say never. Until I take the decision, nothing is completely off the table.
eurohandball.com: What would make you change your decision?
Jelena Grubisic: I can tell you what will help me make the decision to retire: winning the DELO EHF Champions League once again. No, I am just kidding, but it would mean the world. Winning this trophy in my final season at CSM would be amazing.
When we reached the final, it was emotional. It was raw. Before the penalties, I told my teammates that we are going to win. And we did it.
eurohandball.com: What is your best memory at CSM?
Jelena Grubisic: Of course, winning the Champions League. It was incredible. We did not stand a chance before qualifying to the DELO EHF FINAL4. It looked like we were huge underdogs. But playing without pressure helped. It was also special for me, because I played for Györ the year before switching to CSM. But when we reached the final, it was emotional. It was raw. Before the penalties, I told my teammates that we are going to win. And we did it.
eurohandball.com: It truly feels special. What will you miss the most about Bucharest?
Jelena Grubisic: This city became my second home. I have been here for the past six years and it was amazing. Winning all possible trophies was special — I played for some great coaches and had some superb teammates; we will be friends for life. I come from Zagreb. It is the biggest city in Croatia, therefore, it was not a big change for me, but Bucharest is brimming with joy. You can do everything you think of here in term of activities. I loved being here, the fans were great and I will come back. Maybe just as a tourist, but I will always cherish the moments spent here.