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From Despair to Triumph – A Story About a Pride of Lions

  • Sunday, September 19 2021 @ 09:58 pm ACST
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Australia

Yesterday in the AFL Cairns competition, the Cairns City Lions defeated the Cairns Saints by 11 points. It was their first flag for a little less that 13,000 days (for those who like to count such things), but there was something far more significant about this win. This time we only need to go back a bit over four years to complete a remarkable footy story.

(Image: AFL Cairns)

I was lucky enough (in a sense) to be on the field back in late 2017 wearing a Cairns City Lions jumper as they went down horribly by 290 points to the South Cairns Cutters. That day I played mainly forward or bench. Either way I was in a great position to watch a massacre that many would see as the nadir for the Lions. It was the day that a crossroad became real. The club had people like myself and some other Pyramid Power lads fill in to ensure they fielded a team. They had no reserve grade. With less than 20 players on their list, a terrible season on the scoreboard and potentially some sponsorship fallout, the future, that day, was grim.

Yet, I wrote an article about the game at the time 48.17 (305) to 2.3 (15) – Ouch!, and it wasn’t all doom and gloom. From on and off the field I clearly remember the day as “inspirational – nothing to play for except pride yet that is exactly what they did. The jumper meant more that the scoreboard.” Further to that, “to a man the team kept their heads up for four quarters. They copped a thrashing in each quarter yet the heads didn’t drop. They probably should have, but these boys had a spirit that transcended score-lines. It is easier to keep a head up when it is proud – and these boys were proud of each other. They didn’t drop their heads because to do so would erode the pride.”

There is something in those comments from 2017 that resonated yesterday. But it would take someone special to harness that and turn it into something competitive.

Enter Aaron ‘Flash’ Davey. A 178-game superstar at the Melbourne Demons in a decorated career, Davey was lured to the Lions, via Darwin. Davey arrived with a vision to rebuild a fractured club on and off field. The change was incremental, but step by step from 2018 the club grew from the depths of 2017 to a club with a brighter future.

I stopped by and chatted with him one day at the Lions’ home ground at Holloways Beach, a northern suburb of Cairns. I asked him simply how things were going. His answer was an expansive wave of the arms and he said, “look at that”. What he was showing me was the club’s future. He pointed to the groups of kids at junior training ahead of the seniors later. At each junior team, one of the senior players was there either running the drills or joining in. There was a beautiful unity on show from a club that had been teetering not so long earlier.

Fast forward to September 18th, 2021. The Cairns City Lions hold up a premiership cup. Not only were droughts broken, we also saw what had been a near irreparably broken club deny the despair of four years earlier to claim the league’s greatest prize.

The players, coaches, personnel, committee, sponsors and community made this happen. Davey brought all of these threads together with tremendous drive from a whole club buy-in. Even those, like me, who got behind the club in the darker times can feel a little pride at yesterday’s achievement.

But there is possibly another value here. With luck, many people will eventually hear about the Lion’s win and maybe even their journey. And, with luck, their story might inspire other clubs across the state, country, world who are in some sort of doldrums. The Lions just gave them something to believe in. Hope.

The future cannot be predicted, and it is too early to know where the Lions can go from here. A one-off flag or a dynasty. The fact is, four years ago nobody could have predicted yesterday’s flag.

But looking for a fairy-tale, hopefully the premiership win signals an era of sustained success for the Cairns City Lions.