Michael Thompson – Townsville Bulletin
TOWNSVILLE’s best AFL players are prepared for a military onslaught come February 23.
Tony Ireland Stadium will host the second Townsville v Army AFL clash as a curtain-raiser to the NAB Challenge game between the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns, with Townsville winning last year’s encounter by 37 points in scorching conditions.
It was the first time the Army and Townsville had clashed in almost 30 years, and while new Townsville coach Ryan Kelly is confident of accounting for the Army again, he is wary of a fired-up military line-up.
“The Army boys will be fit and fired up to beat us, I suspect, but we’ll be ready for whatever they throw at us,” Kelly said.
“We’re working hard on trying to get some cohesion in the playing group, and we’re confident of putting together a competitive side.
“They played pretty well last year, so obviously the Army side will have that in the back of their minds and they’ll be keen to get some revenge.”
Kelly has not settled on his final squad yet, which will be drawn from all five of Townsville AFL’s senior clubs.
A squad of about 40 will be whittled to a final team over the next fortnight, while Army has gone through a similar selection process.
Kelly fills the shoes of former Townsville coach Barry Gibson, and is a two-time winner of Townsville AFL’s coach of the year.
“He (Kelly) some new ideas, some new game plans and the vibe around the league is excellent,” Townsville AFL chairman Peter Busch said.
“We’re always looking for a great game and we’re definitely very confident of retaining the shield.
“To be able to keep this (game) rolling on is great for our history, and if we don’t get another NAB Challenge game straight away, we’ll maintain it somewhere along the line.
“The Army’s rivalry – and involvement and support – with the local league is fantastic, and we want to maintain that.
“The rivalry is definitely growing and I guess we all played it up a fair bit, and a bit of friendly banter doesn’t hurt.”
Organisers of this year’s NAB Challenge fixture expect ticket sales to top last year’s crowd of just over 8000.
“I believe the grandstand is already sold out and they’re fast selling tickets to the outer (areas),” Mayor Jenny Hill said.
“I’ll hoping we’ll sell out this at 10,000 and it’ll just be a fantastic atmosphere.
“These games will be a great indicator to the AFL about bringing a regular season game here, and I’d like to think we’re not too far off.”
Tickets for the NAB Challenge game and Army v Townsville curtain-raiser are available at www.ticketshop.com.au.