Contributed by: Wesley Hull
The city of Townsville, located 1300 kilometres north of the Queensland state capital of Brisbane, is not generally considered to be a major player in Australian Rules football. In fact, this city of approximately 190,000 people has other features and pursuits which have forced the national game into the background.
Ask most people who are familiar with the northern city what they know of the place and the list is likely to include the Lavarack Military Barracks and RAAF Base, James Cook University, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Castle Hill, Magnetic Island or the North Queensland Cowboys national Rugby League team. Australian Rules football still remains a small niche market, supported by some, but largely anonymous to the remainder of the population.
But 2013 could see that profile change radically as Townsville will become one of the key hubs of Australian Rules football in the country, if only for a short time.
Townsville’s Festival of Footy will run from February to April, featuring some of the best local, state, national and international Aussie Rules in the country at that time.
Undoubtedly, the centrepiece of this festival is the historic Gold Coast Suns versus North Melbourne Kangaroos NAB Cup game on Saturday 2nd March at the Tony Ireland Stadium. This will be the first ever official AFL match to be played in the city. AFL Chief Executive, Andrew Demetriou, has endorsed the event, recognising that this will be a great sporting opportunity for the city that will be well supported. Mr Demetriou added that “People in the Townsville region love their sport and it is a credit to the community that the city has earned the right to host a NAB Cup match between two great AFL clubs.”
Townsville Mayor, Jenny Hill, recognises that this event, and other events held during the festival, can only be good for the city. Councillor Hill stated that, “Townsville is fast becoming a regional sports capital and I am confident that the community support of this event will take us a step closer to securing a regular AFL Fixture.”
Other events during this period include the Australia Post Community Camps, which will see players from the Gold Coast Suns engaging with the Townsville communities over two days, focusing on kids and junior development. The 2013 Under 15 National Kickstart Indigenous State Championships will be held from 8-12 April, as well as the South Pacific Cup, a follow on from the just completed Oceania Cup in Fiji, where Under 15/16 teams from New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the indigenous Flying Boomerangs team and a representative Oceania team will compete. The curtain raiser to the NAB Cup game will see a combined Defence Force team play against a Townsville representative team for the first time since 1986, illustrating how this event is galvanising the various sectors of the Townsville community.
Andy Pethybridge, vice-president and senior coach of the Townsville City Lions Australian Football Club, as well as the defence force team, has witnessed a huge growth at his club this year, with registrations jumping from 45 players to over 125 players. Additionally, the club fielded a senior team for the first time and offered improved opportunities and pathways for junior players. They also improved their home ground to accommodate senior football matches. These improvements are symptomatic of the forward momentum of Australian Rules football in the city where, according to Andy, many people in the greater Townsville community are “sharing our passion for developing AFL in the Townsville region for our club, the League and most importantly a pathway for our Juniors.”
The upcoming events included in their Festival of Footy next year will only accelerate the development. The Queensland Government’s own population prediction estimates that the city of Townsville will have a population of around 270,000 in twenty year’s time. If clubs in the Townsville region can put in place the necessary infrastructure and promotion now, then their own numbers and opportunities could grow exponentially with the region’s projected growth.
So, Beware! A possible sleeping giant of Australian Rules football awakens, and that is a great thing for the region, the state of Queensland and the code of Australian Rules football in general.
Bring it on, Townsville!
World Footy News