Changing the Discourse on Tasmanian Football

Fifty years ago, the Tasmanian correspondent to Football Life magazine penned an article in the May 1970 edition of the publication titled, ‘There’s Little Left On The Apple Isle.’ In it, they discussed the way in which VFL clubs had over-harvested the young talent in the State to the point in which it had become a detriment to local competitions and that a trip to Tasmania had become a waste of time for Victorian recruiters. The article then concluded that the new rules made by the Australian National Football Council (ANFC) – that meant VFL clubs could only recruit two interstate players per season – would be a good way to sustain a flourishing talent pool for future years.


I certainly cannot begrudge any young player for heading to any AFL club, the sports organisations that mean so much to me and many others in our Island State. Go and chase your dreams! It means everything to see young people make it to the biggest stage of all, and even more so when they are Tasmanian. Further still, there is almost a sense of pride amongst all Tasmanian fans when mature-aged recruits – players such as Brody Mihocek, Ben Brown and Ryan Gardner – who were looked over in their draft years, finally get to ‘strut their stuff” in the AFL after years of battling through the State leagues.


What can be begrudged however is the attitude of the article, that paints the picture of Tasmania being nothing more than a natural resource to be mined at administrator discretion. A silent shareholder that receives the smallest of dividends. Evidence of this attitude comes in the first sentence of the Football Life  article where the author plainly claims, “Victorian League clubs have just about sucked once juicy little Tasmania dry of football blue-blood”.


Half a century later, the attitude has not changed. As the AFL scrambles to bring football back to fans amidst the chaos that has been caused by COVID-19 – a horrible virus that has had some form of impact on everyone – Tasmania has not escaped the game of chess and the pawn status that it finds itself categorised under. One such suggestion that has been floated is to have Hobart host six teams as one of the AFL’s three hubs that would host a number of fixtures. No fan interaction due to social distancing measures, no guarantee of future fixtures in subsequent seasons and no talk of a future AFL side. Just a minor dividend that would come from a broadcast every few nights on our televisions.


I cannot blame the AFL for exploring the options. Footy fans miss footy. It is in our DNA. What I cannot accept, though, is this attitude any longer. This episode is an example of why we need to change the discourse around Tasmanian Football if we want our own team in the National Competition. We should not just be seen as another cog in the machine, but rather as the wheel that helps drive said machine. Consider this a call to arms.


I believe the first thing we need to do once the lockdown is lifted is to stop taking local football clubs for granted, and instead start taking pride in them. I have been guilty of this myself and have not been to local games as much as I should have in the past few years. All of that has to change. We are a bonafide football State and we should toot the horns of our cars on the boundary of the many grounds across the Island to reflect just that. I already know where my first stop off point is going to be. During this lockdown, I have not just engaged in my football fandom, but instead I have found my football spirit – albeit from an unlikely source.


In 1949, 22 year-old Tony O’Halloran was recruited to Richmond from Irishtown in Tasmania’s Circular Head. Yet, there is no record of him playing a VFL game. Instead, he went back and forth between Dunnstown (near Ballarat) – where he had been testing his knee on the football field after surgery in 1948, as well as working as a farmer – and Irishtown, where he played in 1952. Eventually, he would coach the Victorian club in 1953 after returning from Tasmania.


Tony O’Halloran as part of the 1953 Dunnstown Team


While it is not one of the most glamorous or famous tales in football history, the tale of Tony O’Halloran spoke to me. To the Irishtown ruck-rover, league football was a part of his tale, but it was not the be-all-end-all. It was a wake-up call that told me at some point in my mind, lines blurred and I had started to forget about football existing outside of the rectangle lines that outline my television screen. This is not to say that the presence of the AFL needs to disappear completely from our lives, just that my presence at local football in Tasmania needs to increase in order to help buck the trend. It is my duty to my State to help it come out of the shadows and into the light. When the smoke settles, I think I’ll start by tooting the car horn for the Irishtown Canaries.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


Do you really enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE


About Liahm O'Brien

Tasmanian Tiger - Born into the Northey era, blinded by the Wallace era, healed by the Hardwick era - Twitter: @LiahmO_Writing


  1. Hear bloody hear!

    Just before this season was delayed we lost Oatlands and Swansea (the latter subject of another article here) and in recent times we lost both the NEFU and the LFA and SmithtonCircular Head. We almost lost Natone as well (they were due back this year and were ready to go). And we could go on about Burnie and Devonport leaving the TFL. Oh and there’s the Tamar Cats too! Not to mention Brighton resuming their senior team this season after a year with just the 2’s.

    As I live in Victoria coming down to Tassie is not something that is easy to do. I have attended one grand final (the NWFA decider in 2018 which was an unfortunate hiding) and originally I was hoping to do what was going to be a double header in Hobart – Old Scholars on Saturday and TFL on Sunday – in 2020. That of course is now up in the air.

    Tasmanian football has been in decline for some time. I am in no doubt how much damage Scott Wade did. The Tasmanian Devils idea was never going to work in the VFL, especially with AFL games being played in Launceston. In fact, the current arrangements with Hawthorn at York Park and North Melbourne at Bellerive is doing more harm than good. Tasmania NEEDS an AFL team of it’s own if the game is to survive. And the TFL has to stay to support it. Not only that, footy has to return to schools. It was a joke when private schools Friends and Dominics kicked the old boys off and put soccer pitches in their place. DOSA is surviving, but Friends is gone. No surprise there. Soccer is doing more damage in Tasmania than anywhere else and we have to start fighting back there. Imagine if soccer took over at Scotch College, Assumption College or St Pats in Victoria? There would be a riot. Not in Tasmania. And that’s the problem.

    Trisha Squires has already asked for help from the AFL. She needs to keep asking in these terms. Grass roots footy in Tasmania should back her, as should the Tasmanian government. An AFL team in Tasmania can easily divide it’s home games between Launceston and Hobart and put some money into a venue in the North West (West Park preferably) so that it can host one game leaving five each for York Park and Bellerive. And buses for supporters to travel from either place. Tasmania will get behind that and the flow down will be automatic. Just like what has happened with womens’s footy nationwide.

  2. ‘The Tasmanian Devils idea was never going to work in the VFL’ – why do you say that? From afar I would have thought it was fairly successful. They played a final against Port Melbourne at Bellerive in front of a crowd of 12,000 and I attended a game at York Park in 2003 on a bitterly cold Friday night and there was a fairly healthy crowd at that game also. The Devils seemed to get fairly good media coverage and games were often televised and appeared to have good support from the Tasmanian public. It also gave the Tasmanian Mariners under 18’s a tangible pathway. As a mainlander, I gather Tasmanian football is not travelling so well nowadays, COVID-19 aside, so i’m interested as to by what measure do you contend that it ‘was never going to work’?

  3. Stainless says

    Liamh – as much as your piece is specific to the plight of football in Tasmania, I’d argue that your key points relate to “grassroots” football across the country. The decline in the number and quality of local footy clubs and competitions, especially in rural areas has been well-documented. Goodness only knows what the impact of COVID-19 will be on those that remain. In our obsession with the AFL, wee must never forget the previous and fragile resource that sustains it – local footy.

  4. Gerry – it was never going to work because it couldn’t compete with St Kilda (at the time) at York Park. It wasn’t AFL. That’s the bottom line. Also, AFL Tasmania went into it alone with no support from the Tasmanian government, so it wouldn’t have got the money it needed without taking it from somewhere else. Scott Wade butchered the grass roots as a result to get the money. Two comps around Hobart collapsed after the first year as an example (Peninsula and Tasman) and IIRC clubs folded as well. There was also the lack of a state competition to back it up – and that’s a pathway the Mariners never got if they didn’t get to the AFL. One club is not enough for that. If it had worked they would have pulled capacity crowds every time, and they didn’t. That 12,000 at Bellerive was a fluke and only because it was a final.

  5. Paul Daffey says

    Hi Liahm. Just a question: why did you alight n Tony O’Halloran in particular?

    He ended up settling in Dunnstown, just such of Ballarat, where he raised a large family of gorgeous daughters. Many of them still live in the area.

    The O’Hallorans from Irishtown are one of the great footy families. I went and saw them in NW Tassie about 20 years ago. They’ve certainly stayed in my mind!

  6. Liahm O'Brien says

    G’day Paul, I guess the thing that stood out to me the most about Tony O’Halloran was the idea that he didn’t go to the VFL. I was initially looking into former Burnie champion Ray Stokes when I came across this story. It really hammered home the idea that what we see on TV isn’t the only footy out there.

Leave a Comment