16/04/2024

Tasmania's men's state representative team after beating Queensland by seven points. Picture: AFL Tasmania / Solstice Digital

If North Hobart Oval is the traditional home of Australian Rules Football in Tasmania, then Saturday’s representative games were a homecoming for the state’s footy community.

The day was a celebration of both the future and the present, a taste of what’s to come when the state gets its own AFL team, while also giving local players, coaches and staff the stage they so richly deserve. 

Fittingly, it was the biggest event North Hobart Oval has hosted since Tasmania’s AFL license was formally announced there in early May, with 7189 people gathering on Saturday to watch Tasmania take on Queensland.

Over the last three seasons only three AFL games across the bridge at Blundstone Arena have drawn a bigger crowd, the other nine were all exceeded by Saturday’s number.

The men’s and women’s games represented a rare chance for the local football community to unite under the one banner for their state.

It felt like a dormant force finally had the opportunity to passionately share its voice, a preview of what’s to come in 2028.

Those in attendance were treated to a great day of action, with Tasmania’s women’s team kept at arm’s length all game in a spirited 19-point loss, before the men played a thriller with the home side just getting over the line by seven points.

Tasmanian men’s coach, former Gold Coast, St Kilda and Richmond player Mav Weller, said he hoped Saturday’s success would help “build something special”.

“That was the message to our boys, that we’ve got to play our bit. Play the way that Tassie will be proud of,” he said post-match.

“It was a big day for the state and for Tasmanians to come out and show their support. I think it was fitting that it was a close game and it wasn’t until quite late in that last quarter that we got the win.”

Weller, who enjoyed a 123-game career at AFL level, said he wants his lasting legacy to be helping young Tasmanians achieve their football dreams in their home state.

“It’s been a real treat and it’s such an honour coaching this team. I had my AFL career but now I’m so passionate about Tassie footy and making sure that we give our kids the opportunity to stay home,” he said.

“If I can be a part of that and we can get it over the line, I’ll be pretty happy with my footy career.”

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But while the 19th AFL license had a large presence on the day, Saturday still felt like a showcase of what the best players in Tasmania had to offer.

The local football community has endured many hits in recent years and the overall state of the game within Tasmania is generally unfairly painted with a broad negative brush.

During the time between state representative football in Tasmania, the TSLW (women’s state league) was disbanded in 2020, while the TSL (men’s state league) will meet the same fate at the end of the 2024 season.

It’s tough for players, coaches, staff and volunteers who give everything of themselves each weekend without much recognition outside of the four walls of their clubs.

So Saturday’s event felt like a well-deserved tribute to the talented men and women who continue to carry the torch for Tasmanian football.

One of those people is Sam Siggins, who was awarded the Lefroy Medal (Tasmania’s best on ground) following a dominant game.

The versatile Lauderdale big man held sway in the ruck, was a talisman around stoppages and kicked three goals including the match-winner.

The former Crow has won multiple Alastair Lynch Medals (the TSL’s best and fairest) and is regarded as arguably the best player in the state, but he said Saturday’s win was the “proudest moment” of his career.

“There’s nothing better,” Siggins said post-match.

“I’ve never played in a premiership, to represent my state that’s the proudest moment I’ve had. To play well on this day is right up there.

“It’s so special, it’s an exciting time in Tassie footy. It goes to show that we have the state’s support and hopefully this can create a wave going forward of positive news.”

The future of Tasmanian football is hardly set in stone, with the AFL’s requirement of a stadium at Macquarie Point dividing sectors of the community and dominating political debate.

But it would have been hard to leave North Hobart Oval without feeling swept up by what had just taken place and hopeful about what’s to come.

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