Jack Cavanagh – The Gentleman of Gold Coast Football


Twelve thousand fans packed the Gabba on the 17th of September 1967 for one of the classic games of Queensland Australian Football. The Western Districts Bulldogs were described by the doyen of “Aussie Rules” journalists and Test Cricket umpire Col Hoy as “short-priced hot-pots” to defeat the Mayne Tigers in a highly anticipated finale to the Queensland Australian Football League (QAFL) season.


The 1967 QAFL Annual Report stated that “the weather was fine and hot and the ground was a mass of colour … very early in proceedings it was quite apparent that there was no place on the playing arena for the faint hearted”.


The late 1960s was a time when the national code was challenging rugby league for popularity in South East Queensland. The Gold Coast Australian Football League had also commenced with clubs like Southport, Palm Beach, Coolangatta, Labrador and Surfers Paradise in their embryonic years.


The Wests and Mayne line-ups for the 1967 QAFL Grand Final included some of the greats of Queensland Australian Football in the 1960s – Mike ‘Love-him-or-hate-him’ Darby was at the helm of the underdog Tigers. Teammates included Brian ‘Puddy’ Warlow, Barry Spring and Alan and Jimmy Hayes.


David Dalgarno was the skipper of the champion Bulldogs team. Dalgarno’s teammates included John Cheel, Ray Smith and Ramus Jackavicius. Smith went on to become the first Queenslander to play 100 games (Essendon and Melbourne) in the Victorian Football League (VFL). AFL Queensland Hall of Fame Legend Alan ‘Doc’ Mackenzie was the Bulldog’s rover.


The umpire that day was Jack Cavanagh.


The crowd watching on at the 1967 QAFL Grand Final, played at the Gabba. Jack Cavanagh was umpire.

In the early 1960s, Cavanagh started umpiring junior football before commencing in the QAFL senior ranks in 1965 at 41 years of age. In the late 1960s the QAFL was blessed with quality umpires like AFL Hall of Famer Tom McArthur (500 QAFL games and seven QAFL grand finals), John Seul and Bob Kassulke. In 1967, Cavanagh was appointed ahead of his more experienced colleagues to the famous QAFL Grand Final between Western Districts and Mayne. In those days the single field umpire was not informed of his appointment until half time of the reserve-grade grand final. Cavanagh arrived at the Gabba fully expecting to be emergency umpire to the great Tom McArthur, but the umpires appointment board, headed by Ian Wallace, had given the nod to Cavanagh.


The tone was set early for a brutal and testing affair with a wild all-in-brawl spilling over into the Gabba crowd. The QAFL Annual Report stated: “To say the first quarter was torrid would be a pure understatement”.


Col Hoy reported in the Courier Mail that, “Mayne were copping the whistle from umpire Cavanagh and they lost numerous opportunities in front of goals through silly breaches”.


Mayne, however, caused a huge boilover, going on to record 9.22 (76) to Wests 5.12 (42).

Action shots from the fiery ’67 clash between Wests and the victorious Mayne.

Independent observers lauded Cavanagh’s performance that day – he had kept control of one of the toughest games of football in the history of the code in Queensland.


Born in 1924, Jack Cavanagh was raised in the St Kilda area, and was recruited by the Saints at seventeen years of age in 1941. His VFL career was over almost before it began when he joined the Army the following year. Cavanagh would often go AWOL from Army training in order to play in local football competitions in 1942. On his way to New Guinea to fight the Japanese he played at Tolga on the Atherton Tablelands.


After his war service, Cavanagh settled in Albury where he played for the North Albury Grasshoppers. He eventually became the sports officer at the Puckapunyal Army training base for five years before shifting to Queensland in the mid-1950s.


In the early 1970s Cavanagh umpired two GCAFL grand finals, before spending a year as the president of Labrador. He then became treasurer of the GCAFL for eight years, including two as secretary-treasurer, and was awarded life membership. Known as the “gentleman of Gold Coast footy”, the articulate Cavanagh also wrote well-scripted articles as TRUE BOOT for the Gold Coast Bulletin.


During the 1970s he became increasingly involved in the development of junior football on the Coast where among several roles he was the president of the Labrador juniors for many years. His son, Rick Cavanagh, won two QAFL reserve-grade best and fairest medals with Southport.



Jack Cavanagh passed away last Thursday 17th May, aged 94. His memorial service will be held at 18 Tonga Place, Parkwood on Friday 25th May at 1pm.





  1. Jarrod_L says

    Vale Jack. Thanks Murray for sharing the details of his life: serving in the war and serving the game we love too.

  2. Terrific memories of Brisbane footy. Vale Jack. Also good to see reference to Col Hoy a real champion of sport in Brisbane, especially footy and, of course, cricket.

  3. Rocket Singers says

    Great piece on a good footy person and Brisbane footy in the 60s.

    Remember the Hayes bros coming down from Mayne to play with Coolamon in the Riverina.

    Alan carved out a tremendous career – also coaching North Wagga and Turvey Park with great success.

  4. Shane Johnson says

    Dirty Mayne
    Got the choccies though!!

  5. Graham McColm says

    I remember this game very well. I was in the old timber grandstand cheering on our mighty Mayne underdogs – and who (justly) won – MUZ great memories mate .. Macca

  6. Graham McColm says

    I also remember Jack well – he was always a very fair umpire and he was a stocky fit man – thick thighs !!

  7. John Mullan says

    I was president of the Umpires Association when Jack Cavanadh took up the whistle.A gentleman in the true sense of the word.

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