Cairns downs Townsville for AFL Masters’ title (An insider’s story)

Cardwell sits midway between the northern Queensland cities of Cairns and Townsville. Both suffer from, and tolerate, the November heat but the grass doesn’t. Completely brown, devoid of life and feeling like sandpaper, the surface of the Cardwell oval was a challenge in itself.

The football gods must have been in a benevolent mood, however, providing occasional light showers and cloud cover to make the temperature and conditions agreeable.

First up was the feature match – the championship match of AFL Masters Over 35s season, playing for the highly coveted Cardwell Cup. The Cairns Stingers took the field against the Townsville Sharks. The rivalry is always intense between these two cities – whether playing footy, backgammon or chess – but with the ageing teams determined to relive yesteryear, this game was serious.

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Townsville started best with the aid of a strong breeze. They rattled on a couple of goals before Cairns steadied. They held a narrow lead at the first break. Come the second quarter and Cairns began to rally. When I kicked a goal midway through the quarter I jumped about as if I’d won them the quarter, game, title, tournament. But I hadn’t…not even close. What a goose! There were still two and a bit quarters to go.

The second half remained tight, but in the end Cairns held on with a late goal to manage an eight point win in a thrilling finish – Cairns Stingers 9 5 59 to Townsville Sharks 7 9 51.

The Stingers held the cup aloft and enjoyed the spoils of victory – for a short while anyway as Townsville came back hard in the second match of the day, the AFL Masters Over 45s match. In a tight match at three-quarter time, Townsville ran away with a strong final quarter to win by four goals. At a personal level, if I hadn’t missed a set shot from 25 metres out by hitting the post, then shanked another kick running unchecked inside 50, things may have been different. But I did miss them, so I hold myself personally responsible for Cairns’ loss!

To play in the two matches was an honour and a joy, but it also gave me a different insight into the game in Northern Queensland.  It is a region which is heavily Rugby League. Cairns and Townsville both have strong junior and senior leagues and the Australian football game is growing. Since 2011 the AFL has scheduled premiership matches in Cairns and NAB Challenge games in Townsville. All of that is easy to see.

But what is unseen is thepower bus passion of these Masters players. Their bodies and minds are not as quick as they were.  Their kicks don’t travel as far as they once did. The catchcry of the players is “the older I get, the faster I once was”. Yet their passion hasn’t diminished one bit. Their desire to get every ounce out of their bodies and enjoy the game is inspirational. They love the game and their continued presence as players as they reach the mid 30’s, 40’s (or in my case 50’s) acts as a vanguard for others to follow. Bluntly, if these guys can do it, anyone younger can do it even better.


Masters footy is a different world. It is populated by great people who were good players in their prime, though evidence from the weekend says that many still have it now. Younger players would do well to go and watch a Masters game and see the enthusiasm, pride and desire on show. I have seen that now.

To Cairns Stingers, however, the Cardwell Cup is theirs for 2016. Townsville will go away and plan retribution for next year, and all players will rest their weary and battered bodies (I know I already am). Now summer will take over in the north and footy will be restricted to air-conditioned rooms in front of the television.

But, look out for the AFL Masters boys again next year.


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About Wesley Hull

Passionate lover of Australian Rules football. Have played and coached the game and now spend my time writing about the game I love and introducing young people to the game through school coaching. Will try and give back to the game what it has given me for more that 40 years.


  1. chris bracher says

    Great summary Wesley.
    Masters Footy has provided me with the joy of camaraderie, purpose and re-connection….along with a few “:breaks” and scars. You’re never too old!

    So for the “boys” down south:…..pre-season has commenced!

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