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Sunday, September 20 2020 @ 01:37 am ACST

When the Circus comes to town…

Australia

I am old enough to remember the excitement of the days when an arriving circus was the be-all-and-end-all of excitement. Galloping into our happy but somewhat predictable day to day lives, the travelling roadshows would light up our days. We would admire the elephants, lions, horses and monkeys. We would laugh at the clowns and goggle at the spectacle of the high wire acts. For that brief period in time we were enchanted and lived in another world not usually ours.

Today, at least in my mind, the arrival of an AFL match to my home city, Cairns, has much of that same magic. The big lumbering elephants will be replaced by Will Minson and Zac Smith. The roaring lions, kings of their domain, are replaced by Gary Ablett and Matthew Boyd. The old warhorses are replaced by Griffen, Cooney, Rischitelli and Harbrow and the exciting, agile monkeys are the excitement machines like Dalhaus, Bontempelli, Bennell and O’Meara.

Next week the circus comes to town (no disrespect to the Stardust Circus who is already here). The Gold Coast Suns, our adopted AFL team, takes on the Sons of the ‘Scray – the Western Bulldogs. A modern team created from next to nothing which in just three and a half years is looking a genuine finals prospect (Gold Coast) up against the working class heroes from the western Melbourne suburb of Footscray (Western Bulldogs).

And the “Big Top” is our own Cazaly’s Stadium – surely one of the finest venues in regional Australia. Surrounded by the majesty of the Great Dividing Range, and adjacent Murray Prior Range, Cazalys is an Australian Rules football oasis in a tropical wonderland.

Gary Young, President of AFL Cairns, would not see himself as the ring-master, though he and his crew in Cairns, in union with their Melbourne based departments, have again pulled together this event, just a year after the Richmond Tigers finished their three year agreement to play and had local tongues fearful of losing such a prestigious event from their annual calendar

According to Gary, “the annual AFL Premiership match is really important in two respects. Firstly in terms of football it places our region on the elite national football map. This is great for local growth of the game as well as attracting quality players from around the country to play up here. Secondly the match provides a fantastic economic benefit to the city. Over 40% of the match attendees are from out of town. Past reports have identified a conservative $4 million benefit to the city.”

“For our kids and young players to see the elite players in action is a remarkable opportunity. For them to observe the skills, strength and fitness levels of the players, both in the training and match environment, is both inspirational and aspirational.”

“To have a new club in the Western Bulldogs coming up is exciting. They are on the way up and causing a few upsets as they improve. The Gold Coast have become the local home team and with their constant improvement and journey up the ladder they will create great excitement and attract a great crowd. We are also excited to see Gary Ablett in action. He is amazing.

“We always look to increase the attendance each year. The growth has been small but sustainable each year. We’re hoping for about 12,500 spectators and a great competitive game.”

“We work closely with the AFL and hope that we can secure matches into the future. Our team here at AFL Cairns really works hard to ensure every stakeholder, whether they be the Queensland Government as sponsors, the AFL, the Clubs and players and of the course the spectators, have a fantastic experience and really want to come back next year.”

Certainly the event has a positive effect across the entire Australian Rules spectrum. Local clubs and schools can use the event as a major means of promoting the game locally to improve registrations and increase interest in the game. The high percentage of ex-pats from Australian Rules states have the opportunity to embrace the game again and have that love then filter down through their local league. Local talent can visualise more clearly the end product and pathways associated with a career in the game at the highest level. Corporate sponsors have the chance to invest in a game that will continue to grow on a national stage.

Whilst it is true that some people from the southern states question the value of taking their beloved teams and dispersing them to regional venues, those venues certainly don’t question the decision. They embrace it, as Cairns is about to do. Having travelled the route of hosting pre-season cup matches, to VFL matches en route to playing host to the best show in town, the people of Cairns, and indeed Far North Queensland, will not entertain the thought of giving up the Australian Rules football opportunity they now have.

So, “Roll Up, Roll Up!” The greatest show on earth is about to come to town. I, for one, intend to be front and centre to savour every moment. And when the show is over I can count the days until the circus comes back to town next year.

Photo of Cazalys Stadium scoreboard courtesy of mojowire.net.au.

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