15/04/2024

Barwick won a best and fairest with East Launceston before being picked up by Fitzroy ahead of the 1984 VFL season (Photo: @CollingwoodFC Twitter / Design: Will Cuckson)

With a decision on Tasmania’s bid for its own AFL and AFLW team looming, The Inner Sanctum spoke to one of Tasmania’s football success stories, Doug Barwick, about the prospect of a 19th team in his home state.

Barwick, who played 147 VFL/AFL games for both Fitzroy and Collingwood, is perhaps best remembered for his role in Collingwood’s famous drought-breaking 1990 premiership.

However, closely aligned with Barwick’s identity is also his Tasmanian roots, one of the many footballers hailing from the Apple Isle to have enriched the game of Australian Rules Football.

Unsurprisingly, Tasmania’s current push for an AFL/AFLW licence is one that he hopes comes to fruition. A member of the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame, Barwick is in fact no stranger to pulling on a Tassie jumper, having played in his home state’s memorable 1990 State of Origin clash against Victoria.

Fast forward to the present and there is a genuine possibility that aspiring Tasmanian footballers will do just the same, this time as part of the national competition.

Reminiscing on his own experiences, Barwick said that the opportunity to represent Tasmania in 1990 was one he couldn’t pass up on, even if it meant exposing himself to the risk of injury amid a flag tilt with Collingwood.

“To give you an idea of how serious we were, we’d put our chance of winning a flag with our league club at risk to play for Tassie,” Barwick told The Inner Sanctum.

“I think that tells you just how committed we were to playing for Tasmania.”

Barwick went on to be a part of Collingwood’s 1990 grand final victory over Essendon, snapping the club’s 32-year-long wait for silverware. (Photo: @CollingwoodFC – Twitter) 

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On June 24, 1990, 18,651 spectators flocked to North Hobart Oval to witness a special moment in Tasmania’s football history, with the home side defeating Victoria by 33 points. This result marked the first time a Tasmanian team had beaten Victoria in 30 years.

Coached by Robert Shaw, the Tasmanian line-up boasted a plethora of decorated VFL/AFL players, including the likes of Darrin Pritchard (captain), Paul Hudson, and Alastair Lynch. 

Barwick himself kicked two goals on the night and recalls the electric atmosphere which reverberated around the ground.

“I can remember about halfway through that last quarter when we were starting to get well on top, they [the crowd] went berserk. I’d never seen a Tasmanian crowd react that way,” he said.

From Barwick’s perspective, earning selection for Tasmania was viewed as arguably the highest honour at the time for any up-and-coming footballer.

“Playing for Tasmania, I think when I was growing up was probably the ultimate. There was nothing more important for a young Tasmanian footballer. If you’d played for your state then you’d made it, and if you played in a winning side for Tasmania against Victoria then that was the dream, it really was,” Barwick said.

22 years later and Tasmania is on the cusp of a long-awaited admission into the AFL. Headed by the Tasmanian AFL task force, the bid for a 19th team has been endorsed by a host of football figures, including four-time AFL premiership coach Alastair Clarkson.

As such, the prospect of an AFL side based in Tasmania has never seemed more real, a day which Barwick hopes arrives sooner rather than later.

“I think it’s long overdue. I just hope that financially it all stacks up and I hope that they have the support they need like a lot of start-up teams had early to make sure that the journey, which I think will be pretty rock early, ultimately successful,” Barwick said.

Central to the successful establishment of a 19th team in Tasmania will be constructing a talented playing list. This will likely encompass significant investment at the draft as well as the recruitment of several experienced AFL campaigners to help balance the squad.

Whether this list will comprise a substantial portion of home-grown talent remains to be seen, especially given the lack of under-age Tasmanian footballers to have graduated into the AFL system in recent times.

In last year’s AFL national draft alone, Sam Banks (Richmond) was the only Tasmanian-born draftee to be picked up by an AFL club.

Yet Barwick believes that the introduction of an AFL side in Tasmania could help shift this recent trend.

“I don’t know intimately how it’s all structured anymore in Tasmania, but I just look at the number of kids getting drafted at the moment and it’s probably not the number that it was,” he said.

“If you bring in a Tasmanian team and share that team with the north, north-west, and the south, then that can have an enormous impact. I mean those young kids looking at their heroes play, it makes you very determined to do the same thing.

“I can remember as a young guy watching the State team and thinking, ‘Geez that’s exactly what I want to do’.

“Now if Tasmania had a full-blown team in the AFL, well that thing’s just going to replicate itself. All the young boys are going to want to pull on that guernsey.”

The Tasmania Devils currently field sides in both the NAB League Boys and Girls competitions. (Photo: @TasmaniaDevils_ – Twitter)

However, Barwick also remains acutely aware of the importance of bringing in quality off-field personnel to guide the club through what will likely be a challenging transition period.

“I think history shows us that it’s not an easy task taking a start-up team and no matter what the talent pool is, success on the ground is made up of a lot of things,” Barwick said.

“Part of that is culture in the organisation, a sense of history, and a combined commitment to a task. Those things need time to develop.”

Some who will possess an intricate understanding of Tasmania are the current AFL players to have crossed the Bass Strait and already made their mark in the game. For them, the lure of returning to their home state could be an enticing prospect.

Nevertheless, Barwick ultimately believes that attracting the best people to the organisation, regardless of their affiliations with Tasmania, will be paramount.

“I think it’s a bit romantic to think that all the Tasmanian players will just want to go back to Tassie and play,” he said.

“Hopefully, I think more importantly, if they can actually develop their own talent pool in Tassie, then that ultimately is going to be just as important as getting the old players back.”

Claire Ransom (pictured centre-right) was picked up by the Gold Coast Suns in the 2022 AFLW Draft. (Photo: tasdevils.com.au)

Recently, there have been reports of tense negotiations between the AFL and the Tasmanian government about the funding of a new stadium. Whilst UTAS Stadium and Blundstone Arena have hosted AFL matches throughout the 2022 season, a newly developed precinct appears to be a non-negotiable for a 19th licence.

Despite the recent posturing, Barwick remains confident that Tasmania’s entry into the AFL/AFLW competitions will eventually come to pass.

“I tend to be a little bit more optimistic about the outcome because this isn’t going to go away,” he said.

“If they [AFL] truly want a national competition, then they’ve got to take that competition to all parts of Australia.

“Tasmania is a very important part of the history of players that have come to the league and enriched it.”

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