After Cairns hosted its first A-League game between Brisbane Roar and Wellington Phoenix, the question of whether a team in North Queensland can occupy a team in the top tier of Australian football has identities split.
The prospect of a side in Cairns could become a reality if the Cairns Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort Group gets the go ahead by the Queensland Government to build a casino and resort in the north of the city next February.
Aquis is a major sponsor of QLD NPL side Far North Queensland Heat FC, and the companies CEO, Justin Fung, gave a strong indication that he could fund an A-league side, stating that ‘putting an A-League team into Cairns would be tremendous for all parties’.
FNQ Heat chairman Colin Daly said that while Fung’s statement was ambitious, if the resort was to be built then an A-League team in Cairns was an achievable goal.
“This is a long term view,” Daly said.
“This is an aspirational goal. It’s subject to a lot of things. If the Aquis development comes forward and gets started then projections are that Cairns population could be increased by as much as 50%.
“That is a huge increase, and you need a certain minimum population size to support any major development and sporting club.
“We think that with those sorts of numbers, and with the continuing regard for the game, it is not inconceivable that the community would get to the point that support for an A-League club is not impossible.”
However, Martin Docherty, a former coach of FNQ Heat, who has been involved with Cairns football since 1989, doesn’t believe an A-league side in Cairns can be achieved on its own.
“Simple answer to the question is no,” Docherty said.
“Cairns is not a big enough city to host an A-League franchise, but it could co-host a franchise with Cairns, Townsville or Mackay if properly managed.
“Both Townsville and Mackay currently have rectangular stadiums, have hosted major events at these stadiums, and would be up and ready to go within a very short space of time.
“But Cairns still doesn't have one (rectangular stadium) despite numerous attempts by groups to lobby local, state and federal governments for funding.”
If the $8.15 billion integrated resort and casino in the city’s north gains approval, it will be Australia’s largest tourism development, and there is a suggestion Fung would help assist in paying for a rectangular stadium.
Alex Srhoj, Mareeba Bulls coach, believes Aquis support could get the bid over the line.
“Building a sustainable foundation such as a stadium, a strong franchise with strong links to Asia as well would be definitely a boost,” Srhoj said.
“Cairns needs it, it would be a tremendous boost from a sporting angle but from a commercially business point of view it’s massive for the region.
“Football won’t be the only sport that jump on the bandwagon. If we can get our foot in the door first which we already have, hopefully and maybe it’s a way forward.”
Srhoj also added that any new franchise would need to learn from the mistakes of the defunct North Queensland Fury.
“The Fury tried to aim too high at times, he said.
“They aimed too high with Robbie Fowler. There was plenty of local talent around at that time playing in the A-League and there still is.”
“I think any Cairns based franchise needs to first look at and bringing home some of its stars and make them the face of the club.”