St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt says he is proud of the impact his column on the AFL’s treatment of Tasmania was received as more of the state’s football identities jump on board the renewed push for a Tasmanian team.
“I don’t think the argument has been compelling as it is now with Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney coming into the competition and the support they have got from the league,’’ Hobart-born Riewoldt said at Wednesday’s A Celebration of Tasmanian Football at Melbourne’s Crown Casino.
“All the arguments that have been trotted out before why they wouldn’t work, I don’t think they stack up anymore and I’m really glad that it has been put back on the agenda.”
He got some family support from his cousin and Richmond spearhead Jack.
“It was an extremely well-written article, with some valid points that will debunk a few myths on football in Tasmania,” he said.
“This night along with some pushes from senior people in the football heartland, be them Tasmanian or not, will continue to keep those jungle drums beating for maybe one day to be based solely out of Tasmania.
“We play so-called “Australian Rules Football” but I don’t think we will truly have a national competition until we do have sides playing out of its key states.”
St Kilda’s Maverick Weller aligned himself with his former skipper, believing a Tasmanian team is something that could “really work” down the track.
“The thing that the public don’t really understand is how passionate Tasmanians are, and to have something of their own, they would get behind it.”
The elephant in the room
A Tasmanian team was the elephant in the room on Wednesday in what was supposed to be more of a party than a campaign meeting, however it was a topic that was touched on by a select few.
Brisbane coach Chris Fagan, reiterated the comments he made to Fairfax Media on Tuesday that he believed it was cultural injustice that Tasmania, being a traditional football state, did not have the opportunity to be in the competition. It brought a round of applause from the 500-strong crowd.
Fagan got support from Gold Coast coach Rodney Eade and Carlton’s Brendon Bolton, with Bolton suggesting returning to a full Tassie Mariners program could be a strong starting point.
Richmond chief executive and North-West Coast product Brendon Gale said seeing a Tasmanian side would be number two on his wishlist, behind seeing a Tigers flag.
The man most under the pump over the issue, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan, used his time with the microphone to reassure Tasmania its place on the football landscape.
“Tasmania is a state that is incredibly important in our national game,’’ he said.
“We continue to invest and work to the long term future, but it’s not easy.”
He also used the evening to reaffirm his desire that Tasmania was a one team state.
Richmond legend Matthew Richardson played a key role on the night delivering the keynote speech, on his memories of football on the North-West Coast on his way to life as an AFL player.
“When you look back on your life, and your footy life, I owe it all to growing up in Tassie and the pathway I had with junior footy on the North-West Coast,’’ he said.
“I just want those same opportunities for the young kids now. Footy has given me everything and we just want to keep it strong and vibrant in Tassie.”
His former teammate Gale was also in a reflective mood, saying the night brought back memories of his younger days watching teams like Penguin and Cooee.
He believed Tasmania had made a “massive” contribution to the national game, and he was proud to look around the room and see so many strong faces.
“I think the guys who come into the league these days are so much more confident, and I think the game is so much more accessible. We just need to make sure we keep investing in the state to keep them coming through.”
The four legends in the AFL’s hall of fame were Darrel Baldock, Peter Hudson, Ian Stewart and Royce Hart, but Stewart was not one to be blinded by the limelight.
The Queenstown-born, three-time Brownlow medalist used his time to praise Baldock.
“Easily the greatest footballer I ever saw was Darrel Baldock,’’ he said.
“Darrel was streets ahead of me as a footballer. Why? Darrel played centre-half forward, always played on two or three players, and I played in the centre, a soft position.
“I could never have played centre-half forward. Besides Darrel being a champion footballer, he was a great captain, very loyal to the coach and was unusual in a sense that he was so talented, so gifted and so courageous, he would never criticise any of his teammates. Baldock was a giant of a footballer and a giant of a man.”
As well as that quartet, members of the 1990 Tasmanian side which defeated Victoria were presented on stage.
MODERN DAY HEROES
Even for Grant Birchall, who has four premierships in his collection, it was an intimidating night to see all the talent on show.
“You just have to look around the room and the amount of people here to see we are a very united, tight-knit group from Tassie that always sticks together,’’ he said.
Richmond’s Toby Nankervis said he felt immense pride to see so much talent from his home state, something that was inspiring for him in the infancy of his career.
AFLW duo Emma Humphries and Ellyse Gamble were of a similar feeling, and hopeful that soon the fairer sex’s contribution to the game could be celebrated in such a fashion.
The evening was the first official function for the Tasmanian Football Foundation, which is aiming to issue three grants of $10,000 across the North-West, North and South to support the game in those regions.