Todd Featherstone is a jockey-sized one-time junior rugby league player from Sydney turned Labrador great and adopted favourite son of Queensland football who did it with a style and grace that underlines everything good about the game.
Featherstone in a games record-holder at Labrador with 235 games to his name. He was third in the 2006 Grogan Medal, won the 2007 Grogan Medal, and after grand final losses to Morningside in 2010 and 2014 he kicked the crucial go-ahead goal in tricky wind late in the 2015 QAFL Grand Final against the old enemy to win the Joe Grant Medal, as Best on Ground in the QAFL Grand Final, in a premiership that broke a 21-year drought.
And, after a brief retirement, he returned to play a key role in the 2016 premiership win over Palm Beach Currumbin and share in a 34-game winning streak before finally hanging up the boots (again) after a 2017 Grand Final loss to Palm Beach Currumbin.
A super-proud Labrador Life Member, he was Club Champion in 2006-08, runner-up in 2007 and a top three finisher “maybe five or six times’. Described by ex-captain Ryan Davey as ‘the heart and soul of the club’, he also represented Queensland twice.
It is a wonderful career for a Sydney-born rover who played rugby league from ages 5-14 and didn’t play any more organized sport until he was 18. Only at a mate’s insistence did he join the St George Under-18s in Sydney, where his first coach was ex-Essendon, St.Kilda and Sydney 114-gamer Craig O’Brien, who is now coach at Broadbeach.
“I wish I knew AFL as a kid – I love the game so much but you never heard of it in Sydney until the Swans came good,” he said, having won the St George Under-18 B&F in his first season despite kicking the ball ‘around corners’ ala rugby style, explaining it was the only way he could get it to spin properly.
Humble and self-effacing, he still plays in division four at Labrador on a Friday night and coaches 15-year-old daughter Scarlett, a member of the Gold Coast SUNS Academy.
It’s a full family unit. With wife Jayde he also enjoys watching six-year-old son Jude play in the Labrador Superstars and relishes the dancing exploits of 12-year-old daughter Matilda.
“It was all about me for a long time, and now I’m enjoying watching the kids do their thing,” he said. “I guess what I treasure most is the fact that I came to Queensland on my own, I met Jayde at the end of my first year, and we have created a nice life around the (Labrador) football club. Most of our good friends have come from Labrador. The club has been very good to us.”
But it’s as much about how he’s done it than what he’s done. Like when, after a season-ending semi-final loss to Southport in 2006 he immediately re-signed with Labrador for less money and said: “I would rather see the money used to get more good players. It’s been awesome the way the club has come on this year – there’s a really good vibe around the place and people really want to be there. I want to help build on that.”
In 2006 he made a promise to seriously ill teammate Shane Burn after he was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent life-saving bone marrow surgery. Lounging around at home at the height of Burn’s illness, drinking from the Cup he’d won as U18 B&F winner at St.George, he promised him he’d win the Grogan Medal for him one day. And did the following year.
“We were mucking around at the time, but I was still serious about it,” he recounted after his 2007 medal win, having detailed the story in a gracious acceptance speech with his then pregnant wife, parents and countless Labrador teammates in tears.
“Shane told me the day after the Grogan Medal night that he never cried the whole time he was sick, but he did after I won. To be able to put a smile on his face, and the faces of my partner and parents and friends, was a very special feeling. Just as it was to see Shane make a full recovery and have a family of his own.”
It’s what second-tier football is all about. Give and thou shall receive, as was once famously said. A now 41-year-old Featherstone – 42 in August – has done plenty of both.