In 2008, the sesquicentenary of Australian Football, AFL Tasmania chose to recognise the three best country football teams that have played senior competition level football in Tasmania.
The ‘Best of Country’ special category recognises the greatest country football teams from the north, north-west and southern Tasmania. The teams chosen for induction are as follows:
> Northern Tasmania: Longford Tigers – 1957 NTFA and state premiership team
> North-West Tasmania: Smithton Saints – 1983 NWFU premiership team
> Southern Tasmania: New Norfolk Eagles – 1968 TFL and state premiership team
Best of Country Football – Northern Tasmania: Longford Tigers, 1957
The northern midlands town of Longford was transformed as a sporting haven for people from all over the world in the 1950s when the town became the centre of international motor racing. For Tasmania’s maniacal football followers the Longford Tigers were also to peak in the mid and late 1950s at both the regional and state level under the leadership of ex-Carlton premiership star Fred Davies.
The Longford Tigers achieved their first taste of NTFA premiership success in 1955, but were to succumb in the state premiership to the Arthur Hodgson-led Ulverstone.
After defeating Launceston comfortably for the 1957 NTFA title the Tigers once again took on Ulverstone, this time in the state preliminary final. After winning that battle the team of local champions were to confront the TFL premiers, North Hobart, who were led by one of Tasmania’s greatest ever players in John Leedham.
In the state premiership final the Tigers burst out of the blocks and could have taken a stranglehold on the title except for inaccurate kicking. To their credit, North Hobart hit back in the second quarter and led at half time. The Tigers were not to be denied a second time, however, and prevailed comfortably in the second half to become the first NTFA ‘country’ team to take the state title.
The Longford Tigers golden era extended to one more premiership in 1958 and numerous more runner-up appearances following this triumph. Although there is little argument that the mantle of best country team in Northern Tasmania was taken up by Scottsdale for two decades from 1964, the Longford team of 1957 will always be remembered as the pioneers of the cause of country football in the region.
TASMANIAN STATE PREMIERSHIP – 1957 – York Park
Longford v North Hobart Date: Saturday 5 October
Longford: 3.8 5.11 10.13 14.16 (100)
North Hobar:t 0.1 7.4 10.5 12.7 (79)
Longford: R. Hay, J. Fitzallen, J. Barnes, F. Davies, C. Goninon, R. Butterworth, D. Brooks, P. Jago, I. Hayes.
North Hobart: J. Archer, J. Leedham, P. Cooper, G. Quinn, I. Riley, B. Southorn, D. Eaton, N. Clarke.
Longford: D. Goninon (3), E. Bricknell (3), F. Davies (3), J. Barnes (2), L. Pitt (2), C. Goninon.
North Hobart: N. Clarke (3), P. Cooper (3), I. Riley (2), J. Leedham, M. Kelleher, C. Collidge, I. Plunkett.
Umpire F. Schwab
Crowd 12,500 (record)
Gate £2,234 (record)
Best of Country Football – Southern Tasmania: New Norfolk Eagles, 1968
New Norfolk entered the 1968 TFL grand final as a rank outsider in many pundits’ eyes. They were up against the John Devine-led North Hobart, who were hot favourites, having won the second semi-final easily and given they were reigning premiers.
However, the Trevor Leo-led Eagles were on a mission to achieve what no other Derwent Valley team had ever done—to win the TFL premiership and then the state premiership.
After winning the club’s first TFL premiership, the Eagles took the task of defeating Scottsdale to win the state premiership in their stride. In a dour struggle the New Norfolk team were able to rally in the last quarter and draw away from a gallant Scottsdale team to achieve the greatest moment of any country senior football team in the history of football in southern Tasmania.
The New Norfolk side of 1968 is the original and ‘Best of Country’ team from southern Tasmania.
TASMANIAN STATE PREMIERSHIP – 1968 – North Hobart Oval
New Norfolk v Scottsdale Date: 5 October
New Norfolk: 1.4 3.10 5.11 9.13 (67)
Scottsdale: 1.0 3.4 6.9 7.12 (54)
New Norfolk: R. Lynch, G. Hill, A. Besier, J. Windsor, G. Smith
Scottsdale: Taylor, Mounter, Rattray, Leitch, Davidson, Millwood
New Norfolk: G. Hill (4), B. Nusteling (2), T. Leo, C. Goggin, M. Booth.
Scottsdale: Mounter, Taylor, R. Hall, Salter, Dent, French, Millwood.
Umpire D. Blew
Best of Country Football – North-West Tasmania: Smithton Saints, 1983
The Smithton Saints were invited to enter the highly competitive North West Football Union (NWFU) in 1979. Their first taste of senior Tasmanian football was in the experimental Winfield Statewide League of early 1980. The initial outings for the Saints were not successful, but as the original season unfolded it became apparent that the decision in asking Smithton to join the NWFU was the right one.
By their third season the Smithton combination was playing in the NWFU grand final and by 1983 (their fourth season) the club was on the verge of achieving their first premiership.
In a magnificent game of football the Saints were paired against the might of the Cooee Bulldogs from Burnie. The Bulldogs were led off field by coastal coaching legend Warren ‘ Putt’ McCarthy and started the game strongly. The Saints were essentially a team of farmers and had the colossus from Richmond, Stephen Parsons, as their leader. After trailing Cooee in the first half the Saints’ faithful had to wait to a magnificent third term to see their team reproduce the sort of form that had brought them this far.
In a classic last quarter the near record crowd were treated to a great contest to determine the champion team of 1983. With two minutes to go the Saints’ chances looked gone. They trailed by 11 points and were kicking into the wind. However, prevail they did and in a champion effort the winning goal was kicked with less than a minute to play and by the barest of margins the Saints ‘came marching in’ to the delight of their many thousands of supporters.
The NWFU grand final of 1983 was a classic of the ages for Tasmanian football. The achievement of the Smithton Saints in taking their first premiership in only their fourth season of senior competition football duly sees them recognised as the ‘Best of Country’ from the North-West Coast.
NWFU Grand Final – 1983 – West Park
Smithton v Cooee Date: 10 September
Smithton: 3.3 9.5 16.12 20.17 (137)
Cooee: 6.3 12.6 16.7 21.10 (136)
Smithton: A. Maguire, G. Coombe, P. Korpershoek, C. Hofing, S. Parsons, C. Loring, M. Nicholls
Cooee: T. Lee, S. Beaumont, Bourn, J. Mihocek, R. Hislop, K. Beaumont, M. Deverall
Smithton: A. Maguire (10), B. Newman (2), P. Korpershoek (2), K. Billing (2), C. Loring (2), B. French, G. Coombe.
Cooee: S. Beaumont (7), K. Beaumont (5), B. Plant (3), D. Shephard (2), K. Beswick (2), M. Dockling, M. Templeton.
Umpires M. Devlin and R. Hart