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Quick thinking avoids Gorden Tallis Cup disappointment

The cancellation of the Gorden Tallis Cup in Townsville earlier this year was nothing short of devastating for many of North Queensland's under 10 teams.

The calendar favourite was called off in early July due to the COVID-19 scare, but to make matters worse, the same age group also missed out on the annual under 9 Paul Bowman Carnival in Proserpine last season due to the exact same reasoning.

But instead of just shutting up shop and letting a large percentage of the budding whippersnappers miss out on their second consecutive footy carnival in as many years, local clubs and leagues in Far North Queensland, Townsville, Mackay and Central Highlands got to work to provide an opportunity to turn the frowns of disappointment into smiles of joy.

And as the last of the localised Gorden Tallis Cup events play out in Springsure this weekend, the temporary carnivals may now become inked in local calendars in years to come given the success they brought to the respective local areas.

In Mackay, QRL area manager Jade Johnson said their makeshift event all came about after one of the local club presidents approached her with a plea to give a carnival experience to their 10-year-olds.

Wanderers Mackay.
Wanderers Mackay.

"We had one of our club presidents contact me and say… 'Jade, we need to do something because last year’s Paul Bowman was cancelled and now this year’s under 10s so these little under 10s had never been to a carnival'... ", Johnson said.

"I said... 'leave it with me and we’ll see what we can do', so we had a meeting with all the coaches and we expressed the concerns with COVID at the time. We said we'd go ahead with planning but if things change, we’d have to stop it. Weather was also an issue as we were supposed to get big thunderstorms.

"We had that meeting and all 12 coaches and managers of every single team were super keen because these kids were just devastated. I think they were all on holidays and some people were already planning to go.

"I made them aware we needed all hands on deck because we didn’t have any staff outside the three of us in the office as everyone else was on holidays.

"We had to keep it simple so we did a massive big sausage sizzle and we opened the canteen with just chips, lollies and drinks.

"It was a huge success. It was really really good."

One of the biggest challenges faced given the last minute idea to host a carnival was the lack of referees, but the brainwave to reach out to some of the region's newest whistle-blowers proved to be one that will benefit the league in weeks to come.

"Another problem we had was our referees association couldn’t provide us referees so I reached out to our RISE participants who had completed the referees course," Johnson said.

"Every single club has RISE kids and I reckon they had just as much as fun as the kids because we had a gold coin donation [at the gate] and then paid the little referees for everything they did. Not that they would’ve expected it but a majority of them were only 13.

"We’ve captured around 12 new referees for life because they just had the best fun."

Mackay's RISE participants with whistle and flags in hand.
Mackay's RISE participants with whistle and flags in hand.

The region wanted to shake things up and add a point of difference to the regular Gorden Tallis Cup, adding fun and games to the schedule of matches.

"We did little quirky things. Like halfway through the day, we set up little games like rob the nest and team relays and every single person stayed right to the end so they could do it," Johnson said.

"Each club that played had to nominate a player from their team to be the best sportsperson.

"We gave them a little criteria... like the child that shares and plays in good spirit. Just the best sportsperson on the field and the kid that everyone wants to play with.

"At the end, we named the Mackay Gorden Tallis team of 2021 filled with the kids nominated."

It was also an opportunity to set the standard for Rugby League Mackay and District.

"I expressed to the coaches that it will be the first carnival for them, so let's teach the kids how we want our Mackay region to act when they go to a carnival," Johnson said.

"There was not a game where there wasn’t a tunnel made. Every single kid lined up cheering each other."

Forming a tunnel to cheer on the next game.
Forming a tunnel to cheer on the next game.

After the overwhelming positive feedback for the makeshift event, discussions have begun around expanding on the concept next season.

"The amount of feedback we’ve had… as much as COVID is a terrible thing, (the carnival) was a really positive thing and I think it’s initiated something that our little region should have an age group carnival where all our Mackay kids come together," Johnson said.

"It's something we can see in the future that will bring those age groups together. Even for their own teams, it's just so much fun to be together all day.

"Our under 10s have never played under lights, so we made it a little exciting and had a night under lights so they got something else that was a little bit different.

"They thought they were so special. Probably their last two games, they got to play under lights.

"We had around 40-50 people who came up after the game and said thank you so much, you’ve made our child’s day because they thought they were going to miss out altogether.

"They were so grateful. It was just such a beautiful afternoon."

Another Gorden Tallis imitation event was held in Atherton on the same weekend, hosted by Bryan and Emily Alford who gave the opportunity for five teams in Far North Queensland to experience the fun.

"I just finished a state carnival and [the COVID situation] was unfolding on the last day. When we came back, parts of Queensland went into lockdown. Me and my wife had been watching it and thought that’s what was about to happen. Of course they had to cancel it, but then all our gear turned up," Bryan Alford said.

"I told my son Darcy it was off and then we opened up a box of jerseys and shorts. He was pretty upset.

"When he went to bed, he went to bed in all his kit and his footy and he said he was bored playing the same teams because we only have a little four team competition here on the Tablelands.

"At that point, I thought I’d see what I can work out so I was talking to my wife Emily and the first step was to reach out to the Gorden Tallis teams around us and see who else had missed out. I just started ringing around to see who else would be interested in playing.

"We ended up with two Edmonton teams, Innisfail, Southern Suburbs and us. Mossman, Mareeba and Brothers were also hoping to join, but just couldn’t get enough at the end to get full sides."

Under 10 fun in Atherton.
Under 10 fun in Atherton.

Much like Mackay, the day of fun in Atherton was very well-received with offers of assistance coming from everywhere in order to make the event a success.

"Those kids at that age just want to play footy... they were so keen," Alford said.

"Everyone was really happy and at the end of the day, the other teams that came up were really thankful and were offering to help whatever they could do.

"There was no shortage of support and gratitude just for the sake of having some football for the kids to play to alleviate the pain and upset of the carnival being cancelled."

The final Gorden Tallis event hosted in the Central Highlands kicks off this Saturday in Springsure.

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Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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