Submitted by Peter Blucher.
It will be a double-barrel celebration for Australian Football in Cairns this week, with locals set to enjoy a special moment for a favourite son via television on Thursday night before a live ‘party’ at Cazaly’s Stadium on Saturday night.
This comes after confirmation the scheduled Toyota AFL Premiership Round 13 match between St Kilda and Adelaide at Cazaly’s at 7.25pm on Saturday night has been given the go-ahead by the Queensland Government.
The green light for the 13th match to be played in Cairns followed confirmation that Cairns pin-up boy Charlie Dixon will play his 100th game for Port Adelaide against Geelong at Adelaide Oval on Thursday night following similar approval from the South Australian Government.
In what has become commonplace negotiations amid the latest Covid outbreak in Victoria, the SA Government set guidelines under which Geelong will fly-in and fly-out for the match on Thursday via charter plane.
Dixon, a 65-game player with the Gold Coast Suns from 2011-2015 before joining Port in 2016, will become just the third Cairns product to play 100 games for the same AFL club as he continues to move up the all-time Cairns AFL Honour Role.
Born and bred in Cairns, he was originally a state basketball representative who didn’t play football until enticed by older brother Jesse at age 12. He started with the Redlynch Lions in 2003 and later played with Cairns Saints, where he debuted at 16.
His last game in Cairns was the 2007 AFL Cairns grand final on his 17th birthday when sadly he was denied a farewell premiership before setting out on a journey which has made him one of the most dominant key forwards in the game.
His first port of call after leaving Cairns was the Redland Bombers in Brisbane, where he and Jesse played in the then AFLQ competition before Dixon was the very first signing with the Suns. He also kicked the expansion club’s first goal in their first game against Carlton at the Gabba in 2011.
Courtenay Dempsey, who played his junior football with the Manunda Hawks in Cairns, was Cairns’ first AFL 100-gamer when posted his ton game Essendon in 2014 in a career that stretched to 133 games by his retirement in 2016.
He was followed by Jarrod Harbrow, a product of Manunda and South Cairns who, like Dixon, played 100+ games at his second club. He played 70 games with the Western Bulldogs from 2007-10 before joining the Gold Coast Suns, where he is still playing and holds the games record at 191.
Che Cockatoo-Collins, a Cairns City Cobras product, is the fourth AFL 100-gamer to come out of the North Queensland ‘capital’. He played 85 games with Essendon from 1994-98 and 75 games with Port Adelaide from 1999-2003.
The 100-game quartet are part of a proud Cairns connection to the AFL which began when Craig Brittain, a product of Centrals/Trinity Beach, played five games with North Melbourne in 1982 ahead of a stellar career with Windsor-Zillmere in which he won the 1988 Grogan Medal.
The late Troy Clarke, a 68-gamer with the Brisbane Bears from 1991-96 before a key role in player development role with AFL Queensland until his passing in 2013, was next on the Cairns AFL Honour Role.
Other Cairns products to play at AFL level have been identical twins Donald and David Cockatoo-Collins, who played nine and two games respectively at Melbourne after debuting together in Round 1 1996, and Mark West, who played 16 games with the Bulldogs from 1996-98.
They were followed by Jason Roe, a 50-gamer at Brisbane from 2006-09, Rex Liddy, who played four games with Gold Coast in 2011, Sam Michael, who played three games with Brisbane in 2013-14 and two games with Essendon in 2016, Jack Bowes, a rising star at the Suns with 68 games behind him since 2017, and Jacob Heron, who played 13 games with the Gold Coast from 2018-20, and Caleb Graham, who has played 17 games with the Suns since his debut in 2019.
Heron also has a special place in AFL history – he was the first player to debut overseas when he became the Suns’ 103rd player all-time in the 2018 game against Port Adelaide in China.
Harbrow heads the all-time Cairns AFL games list at 261, followed by Dixon (164), Che Cockatoo-Collins (160), Dempsey (133), with Bowes, presently on the Suns injury list, well placed to become the fifth centurion.
Confirmation that Saturday night’s Adelaide – St Kilda game will go ahead sees the national game return to Cairns for the first time since it took centre stage among the locals in September last year, hosting four games in 17 days as Queensland became the home of AFL football amid Covid issues interstate.
It means Adelaide and St Kilda will become the ninth and 10th AFL clubs to play in Cairns in a history that began when Gold Coast played Richmond in the first game at Cazaly’s in 2011.
Since then Gold Coast have played eight times in Cairns to head the list from the Bulldogs (5), Richmond (3), Fremantle (2), Melbourne (2), Sydney (2), Brisbane (1) and North Melbourne (1).
Statistical highlights from AFL matches in Cairns include:-
Ex-Bulldogs utility Liam Picken, a 198-game veteran cruelly denied not only membership of the 200 Club but also a role in the Dogs’ 2016 premiership by recurring concussion problems that forced his retirement in 2017, kicked six goals against the Suns in 2017 to hold the ground record. Richmond’s Jack Riewoldt is second on the goals list after kicking five against the Gold Coast in 2012, while Melbourne’s Robin Nahas is third after a four-goal haul in 2012.
Current Bulldogs midfield ace Jack Macrae had 43 possessions against Gold Coast in 2014 to set a ground record that still stands. The leading possession-winner in the AFL this season, Macrae heads a list that includes Richmond captain and Brownlow Medallist Trent Cotchin (38), Picken (36) and Tiger turned GWS Giant Brett Deledio (36).
The most famous goal at Cazaly’s belongs to an unlucky source – code-hopper Karmichael Hunt. The ex-rugby league and rugby union international, who played 44 games with the Suns from 2011-14, booted an after-the-siren winner against Richmond in Round 2012, getting his side home by two points.
The highest score and biggest win in Cairns came in the same game – when the Bulldogs kicked 16-14 (110) to beat the Gold Coast 8-8 (56) by 54 points in 2017.
The biggest crowd for a game at Cazaly’s was 11,197 when Richmond played the Gold Coast in 2013.
Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.