Football roaring in Queensland
Has Queensland football ever had it so good? Not in my memory, and the high point of my incredibly modest playing career was representing Central Queensland Schoolboys almost four decades ago.
Has Queensland football ever had it so good? Not in my memory, and the high point of my incredibly modest playing career was representing Central Queensland Schoolboys almost four decades ago. The Sunshine State has never shone so brightly in a sport which, if you believe the conventional wisdom, sits well behind the two rugby codes in the pecking order. Not any more.
Consider this. Brisbane Roar are at the top of the Hyundai A-League table, and looking every inch the real deal as they chase a third championship in four years.
Honorary Queenslander Ange Postecoglou is about to make his debut as Socceroos coach, with six Queenslanders in his inaugural squad. Maybe a record?
And it doesn't end there. Look around the Hyundai A-League, and they're everywhere. Every club bar one has at least one Queenslander on their books. Yes, even Wellington Phoenix (Josh Brindell-South and Gold Coast junior Glen Moss). The only club without a Queensander in the squad is Sydney FC - somewhat ironic given the coaching staff is led by Queensland legends Frank Farina and Steve Corica, and also includes Rado Vidosic, who for so long ran the progam of one of Queensland's best nurseries, Cavendish High.
Whichever way you cut it, Queensland has become the go-to state for our game at a time when everyone seems to be worried that the production line has ground to a halt. Truth is Queensland is pumping out the players. The question is why.
The way I see it, Queensland is reaping the rewards of a development program which, in my view, has been the best in the country for long while. Queensland was the first state to truly decentralise its elite pathway, perhaps inspired by the first genuine state league in the country.
Far-thinking administrators like Ian Brusasco, Bill Waddell and Alan Vessey created a statewide competition in 1978, which included clubs from Mareeba, Townsville, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Gold Coast and Ipswich. And while the competition was eventually sabotaged by a narrow-minded power bloc from Brisbane, it lasted long enough to reveal a rich seam of regional talent, including future stars such as Farina, Corica, Craig McLatchey and Glen Ahearn.
What followed was the establishment of a program which employed coaching directors from Coolangatta to Cairns. Talent Identification remains one of the game's weakest links, but not in Queensland. Clint Bolton, Glenn Gwynne, Shane Stefanutto, Wayne Srhoj, Mitch Langerak, Mitch Nichols, Kasey Wehrman, Josh Brillante, Daniel Bowles, Josh Rose and Stuart McLaren are just some of those who have left the bush to scale great heights. If you're a decent player, and you're from Queensland, chances are you won't be ignored. Where else in Australia can you say that?
So fair dues to Football Queensland for resurrecting a statewide league, at the same time as it continues to run a decentralised elite pathway. It's not rocket science but - sadly - even today that philosophy remains ahead of its time.
The flagship, of course, remains Brisbane Roar, and the signs are encouraging. Mike Mulvey may be an Englishman, but he's become an honorary Queenslander. Even Nick Meredith says so. Thus he has a passion for the cause, and is committed to giving as many locals as possible the opportunity. Can the Roar win the league by keeping their local favour? Absolutely.
Which brings us to the sore point. The failure of Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury, and whether those painful episodes will count against Queensland when the time comes to revisit the thorny issue of expansion. I hope not.
The demise of North Queensland was not entirely the club's fault. The collapse of Gold Coast United was, but you only get one Clive Palmer in a lifetime. Either way, there can be no argument that Queensland has the talent pool to support more than one Hyundai A-League team. It's only a matter of when.