The Broncos, Tina Turner and a snoring coach.

October 4, 2015

There were socks and undies in that Sydney hotel drawer, but no grand final tickets.

It wasn’t for a lack of looking. Granted, we were gazing through A Grade hangovers, but surely we would still be able to spot two gleaming tickets through Smithy’s large white Bonds.

We were in Sydney, to watch the Broncos win a grand final. Way back in ’93, when Alfie was leading the way, and Powers sat on the front of their jerseys.

You might remember it. Tina Turner was there. Belting out a few tunes, and cuddling the Brisbane boys. So I’m told. Because we didn’t actually make the game.

It was a bunch of rough heads from North Queensland. A footy trip from Cairns, led by a former Origin player. Who demanded to hold the tickets.

It had been fun, up until the empty-drawer moment. A few beers. Plenty of laughs. I may have even had a punt.

On the morning of the grand final, we treated ourselves to a hearty breakfast, to prepare for the big day ahead.

The boys made their way to respective rooms, to tidy up as best they could, and grab their tickets.

They were waiting out the front for us. Unaware that on Level 6, panic had set in.

Smithy decided there had been a theft. The only explanation could be that a maid with a long criminal history had snuck in, and guessed that he would have hidden the tickets with his jocks.

I suggested that it may have been more simple. That as a former forward .. he may have lost them. Leaving us ticklet-less. And laughing stocks. He did not take this suggestion well.

By now, the boys were making their way onto the bus. A search party was sent to our room. To find us in a blazing row about various levels of stupidity.

Blame then shifted to others in the travelling party. Perhaps the thief was among us. This was met with howls of protest. And laughter. They were in. And we weren’t.

We jumped on the bus anyway, hoping that we might find two tickets under a seat. We didn’t. The laughter was now a little over the top.

We arrived at the Football Stadium, and watched our dear friends disappear through the gates. They were telling strangers, and pointing at us. If Twitter had been invented at the time, we would have been trending.

As kick-off loomed, we accepted our fate. There would be no grand final miracle. We would not see the Broncos, or hear Ms Turner.

By now, we didn’t have the energy to blame the other. The hopelessness of the situation seemed to accelerate our already crushing hangovers. Instead of heading to the nearest pub, we decided to go back to the crime scene.

A two thousand kilometre trip .. to watch the decider on a small hotel room tv.

As we hit our respective beds, I wondered how things could get worse. The answer came, in a bone-rattling snore.

The tour leader, exhausted from the ticket-tragedy .. had fallen into a deep sleep. And that was the grand final of ’93. Victory on tv, with a soundtrack of snoring.

We laugh about it now. Sort of. No doubt he’ll blame me at the reunion. Now you all know the truth. Just in case it makes Twitter.

Barefoot footy and stinky headgear. This is why you should be cheering for the Cowboys.

September 29, 2015

There were tears in Townsville when they lost the last one.

Even the bushies were wiping eyes. Before heading back to the bar at the Leagues Club.

No point dwelling on it. It’s only a game. Two pots thanks love.

The Cowboys faithful had dared to dream. A grand final after ten years. So close.

Reality hit, as the Tigers were presented with their medals in Sydney. Premierships are so bloody hard to achieve.

This club is different to any other. Not bigger, or better. Just different.

When the fans go to home games .. it’s not your normal bus trip. Try four hours each way. And then some.

There are tiny towns dotted through Western Queensland .. where they gather in the pub each Saturday night, to cheer the Cows.

The discussion will turn to the forecast. Any rain out your way? There’s a new Flash Harry PM eh? And with small talk done, they’ll move on to the important stuff. Is JT’s groin stuffed?

Head into the Cape, way up north, and you’ll hear kids laughing. In that cheeky North Queensland way. There’ll be a footy close by. The game could resume at any time. Shoes optional. Don’t fall for his dummy.

That’s how it was every arvo in Hopevale. Not sure if google maps does street view there. Fiji is closer for some of you.

A little bugger named Matty Bowen starred in those never-ending battles in the front yard. Years before be became a Cowboys legend.

The supporters are different too. Not better or more passionate. Just different.

Success on the footy field, gives so many hope. In communities where lifestyle problems make a game of footy seem insignificant. In towns where day to day dramas are much more serious than Michael Morgan’s ankle.

But when the Cowboys are winning, life gets a little sweeter. Maybe it WILL rain soon. If JT can do it, then maybe I can too?

And so, to the bloke who inspires them the most. So much rests on the skinny shoulders of this proud indigenous Queenslander.

Don’t dare call Thurston a hero. He doesn’t want that. He’s a wonderful footy player, who knows life could have taken a very different turn, had he not been inspired to use those God-given talents.

Every time he gives that sweaty, stinky headgear away, another kid goes to sleep, dreaming big.

The beauty of this grand final is that Queensland can’t lose. The powerhouse that is the Broncos, will have the other half of the state delirious if they send Hodgo out a winner.

The Broncos expect it. They’ve won before, and they’ll win again.

I hope it’s not their day. That the Supercoach is denied. I want to hear an almighty roar in the North.

I want farmers to have a little sleep in, because of their celebrations. Just this once.

I want the front yard games to start early, and finish later, with the kids commentating on the match-winning try.

I want a generation of young North Queenslanders, to see that hard work does pay off. That one day, they’ll be giving away the smelly headgear.

Here’s to wiping away a few tears on Sunday night. Before the bushies head back to the bar. With bloody big smiles.

Going mad for Mango. A tribute to a champion Cowboy who’s inspired a generation.

September 8, 2012

A change of pace this Saturday.

Yes, it’s a massive afternoon of racing ahead. A super card at Flemington with the Makybe Diva Stakes. And glorious weather for fun at Doomben.

But it’s all just marking time. Before the REALLY big event of the weekend. The Cowboys and the Broncos going head to head tonight in Townsville.

If you’re not a league fan, stay with me here. Because today’s offering is not about a game. It’s about a man. An amazing bloke, who has overcome obstacles that kill off sporting careers every other day.

Matty Bowen is North Queensland’s favourite son. Most games for the Cowboys. Origin and Test star. Indigenous hero. And so much more.

He plays his 250th game tonight. A career in the big time that began in 2001. It could have been so different.

Bowen comes from a tiny dot on the map called Hope Vale, deep in Cape York. Leave Brisbane now, and you’ll get there in a few days, after covering roughly 1500 kilometres. Melbourne is closer.

Like so many towns in the Cape, the road to success is so much tougher to negotiate. And sadly, less travelled.

I’ve been to plenty of them over the years. Some beautiful. Others heartbreaking. All with something in common. Energetic, athletic, carefree, fun-loving kids.

Matty Bowen was one. Playing footy on dusty streets from dawn to dusk. No restrictions. No shackles. Just a pure love of the game.

So many players have that youthful enthusiasm knocked out of them. Over-coached. Mistake-free. Play the percentages.

Not Matty. Watch him now, all these years later, and his mindset is still in the backyard. A loose ball is a try opportunity. Even on his own line. Go down to your local park after school, and you’ll see youngsters doing that exact same thing.

For a small man, his bravery is astounding. On those rare occasions that defenders catch him, they don’t miss. He gets up, with a shake of that curly mop. And looks for the next try.

More than that, his comeback from severe injury has been remarkable. Major knee surgery. Not once, but twice. Cartilage grown externally, then implanted. Awful times, enough to end careers. But not the bloke they call Mango (as in Bowen mangoes.)

Other flying machines get slower as they get older. Those injuries take their toll. Have you watched this bloke lately? He’s breaking low flying speed records.

Townsville has been good for Matty. Just the right fit. I doubt he would have survived with a Sydney club. Not because of ability. He just wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much.

There are so many more kids out there, with the same passion. In small towns where the game is an escape. So many have been given hope, by the bloke from Hope Vale.

He’s spent much of his career doing school talks, and community visits. They love him. A humble hero. Who runs like the wind.

Many years ago, one of the club’s development officers drove Matty to one such function in the north. A school where league was the number one subject, and young Cowboys were regarded as rock stars.

This guy told me later that the trip there took place in silence. Not a word. The shy young fullback was immersed in his own thoughts. Maybe thinking back to those street games back home.

The coach was a little worried. The visit required the diminutive champion to speak at some length to the youngsters, pointing out the pitfalls ahead, and the value of hard work and fair play. At this rate, they’d be back in class quickly.

On arrival, they found the kids in the middle of a typical playground encounter. No shoes and few rules. Before he’d taken the witches hats out of the boot, the coach had lost his special guest.

With panic not far off, the coach scanned the playground. And there, in the middle of the chaos that is lunchtime footy, was Matty Bowen.

The rep star of the future had joined in, to the delight of the kids. Running, and dodging, and scoring tries. And laughing.

There would be no speech. No need. Those boys would learn more that day than they would in fifty classroom lectures. From the champion right next to them. Inspiring in a way few others are able to.

I’ll be cheering him again tonight. Not just because I’m a Cowboys fan, and I think this is our time. I want to celebrate the deeds of a special sportsman, who has done more for indigenous relations and well-being than a room full of politicians. Without even trying.

The never-ending games in Hope Vale, and in other tiny towns, will take a rare break tonight. Just in time to see Matty weave his magic. Like he’s always done.

Those kids will then go to bed, with the footy at their bedroom door, and dream of making it in the big time. Thanks to Matty Bowen, there’s no reason why they can’t.