Redemption In Cairns

Thursday, September 03 2020 @ 02:30 pm ACST

Contributed by: Wesley Hull

In was in late March 2018 when Cairns hosted its last AFL match. On the day, Tropical Cyclone Nora kindly dumped monsoonal rain over the Cairns region, turning Cazalys into a fairly decent outdoor swimming pool.

After years of declining attendances at the Cairns venue for AFL Premiership matches, a decision was made to host a Round 1 match in March (instead of the usually dry August). It was a calculated gamble to try and produce an excited and enthusiastic crowd to appease the AFL, boosting numbers again to secure a future for these matches in Cairns. Sadly, the weather intervened.

Only 3722 people braved the conditions that night, and subsequently the AFL did not grant another game in 2019 to Cairns. Instead, fierce southern rival Townsville hosted their first AFL Premiership match. Those in the footy industry in Cairns were shattered and some believed that the damage done might see a 10-year wait for the city to host another match.

 Cairns wanted (needed) the game back, and especially from their southern rival. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Cairns/Townsville rivalry is a miniature version of the NSW/QLD rivalry. 

 
Enter COVID-19.
 
Just as Mother Nature took away the match, a global disaster provided the catalyst for Cairns to get a second chance. As soon as the current coronavirus took hold, the AFL was forced to consider player hubs for the 2020 AFL season to proceed. Immediately, Cairns had its hand in the air waving for attention like the kid in class wanting to visit the restrooms. The AFL listened, and the rest is history.
 
In a little over two hours from the time of this writing, the sirens will sound again at Cazalys. Nearby residents can again either rejoice in the sounds of footy or stuff rubber ear-plugs in to resist the sound. Locals businesses will benefit, local footy will gain a spike in interest, local devoted and casual viewers will have their interest piqued again and local media can have a field day promoting the hell out of the game, which coincides with the AFL’s decision to award the 2020 AFL Grand Final to Brisbane as part of a longer term strategy to boost the game across Queensland.
 
In a mildly amusing sideline, NRL chief Peter V’Landys has responded to a “turf war” by downplaying the impact of the Cairns hub and Brisbane’s opportunity to stage the AFL Grand Final by suggesting it is all a “flash in the pan” and that the “NRL will always reign supreme” in Queensland. Yet the fallout from those Queensland successes might yet boost footy numbers on and off the field for years to come for one simple reason that V’landys might have overlooked. Fans are very capable of supporting more than one code.
 
Tonight the Melbourne Demons will take on the Sydney Swans. The Demons are fighting for a finals berth, the Swans fighting to build a playing list for the future.  The game has much to offer for both clubs, so a tough game is expected. Monday will see Melbourne once again grace Cazalys when they “host” the Fremantle Dockers – a team that has got better as the season has progressed. Then on Sunday week the Sydney Swans will take on the top-four placed Brisbane Lions. This could be the showcase game with much on offer – the Lions in a premiership window and another NSW v QLD state clash. 
 
Three games in two weeks for Cairns is just what the doctor ordered, after the usual Panadol and lemon juice had failed. Three days where the AFL national and international spotlight is focused on the Far North Queensland city. It is a city that does have a large, enthusiastic but sometimes erratic Australian Football fan-base. Also, tonight’s game is a sell-out. Admittedly that is with a reduced capacity of only 4000 fans due to COVID-19 restrictions, but a sell-out is a sell-out and the AFL will be happy to see that Cairns has met one and probably all three criteria of selling out games. It makes it difficult to deny Cairns another game in 2021.
 
Tonight is a seminal night for footy in Cairns. The destiny of the code rests on how the city embraces three matches. Three sellouts and three great games in fine conditions and Cairns is back on the AFL Premiership match radar. Townsville has done nothing wrong in hosting in 2019. In any other situation they did enough to expect more premiership matches at Riverside Stadium. However, COVID-19 has presented Cairns with an opportunity not dreamed of last year. For all the wrong reasons, Cairns is an AFL hub and has three days to sell its brand and the game.
 
It is exactly two hours until the siren. It is time to stop writing, find my footy things and drive to Cazalys. I know I will enjoy tonight and I fully expects 4000 others will be there enjoying it with me, along with the massive following on the small screen in living rooms across the world.
 
Footy is back in Cairns, and with luck it is here to stay. Cairns now has a shot at redemption.
 

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