P.O. Box 674, Dickson, ACT 2602
O'Connor Oval, Wakefield Avenue, Ainslie
AFL Canberra 2000-present
CANFL 1927-1974; ACTAFL 1975-99
Red, white and black
Kangaroos (formerly Tricolours)
225 by Charles Smith1
The Federal Parliament first met in Canberra on 9 May 1927. The Ainslie Football Club had been formed several weeks prior to that, and played its first match on 21 May against Acton. The history of the club can therefore be said to have run concurrently to an extent with that of Australia’s capital.
At the club’s inaugural meeting in April 1927 a body of officials was elected and it was resolved that the team should adopt red, white and black as its official colours. VFL club St Kilda, which shared these colours, made a donation to the newly-formed club of a full set of football jumpers, and in years to come the Saints were to demonstrate similar generosity on a number of occasions.
The Canberra Australian National Football League, in which Ainslie competed, had been formed in 1924,2 and the Tricolours’ entry onto the scene brought the number of competing clubs to four (the others being Acton, Eastlake and Federals). Not surprisingly, the newcomers found the going tough at first, having to wait until mid-season for their first win (8.10 (58) to 6.4 (40) against Federals at Acton Flat). After finishing last in 1927 Ainslie went on to be runners-up to Eastlake in 1928 (losing the premiership decider 4.6 (30) to 9.16(70)), before annexing a first ever premiership the following year. Eastlake again provided the opposition, with the Tricolours winning a tense battle by 8 points, 7.13 (55) to 6.11 (47).
The 1929 season also saw the formation of a junior side, which soon met with considerable success, and provided a solid grounding for many an Ainslie stalwart in the making. Australian football was fighting an intense battle for popularity with other sports at this time, most notably with rugby league and rugby union, and the development of a sound junior base was believed to be of critical importance.
The early 1930s were a difficult time for Ainslie with the club picking up consecutive wooden spoons in 1931 and ‘32. A gradual improvement got underway in 1933 with the appointment as coach of former Collingwood player Jim Keogh. Administrative refinements and the appointment of a number of astute and capable administrators such as Stan Rey, Ralph Lewis, Syd Rhodes and John Horgan gave further impetus to the improvement.
After finishing as runner-up to Manuka in 1935 the team went undefeated throughout the 1936 season to earn the title ‘champions’, the first occasion on which an ACT side had achieved this feat.
Far from heralding a period of sustained dominance, however, the team’s 1936 triumph was followed by a ten year premiership drought - although for the last four of those years, from 1942 to 1945, Ainslie was unable to field a senior team.
Upon their return to league action in 1946, though, the Tricolours claimed immediate success, thrashing Eastlake in the grand final 12.19 (91) to 8.6 (54) after finishing the home and away rounds in fourth place. The following year saw a repeat performance, with Eastlake succumbing this time by 28 points, and Ainslie looked set to embark on an era of prolonged achievement.
Once again, however, success melted away as rapidly and as conclusively as it had emerged. Four blank years followed before the Tricolours returned to the premiers rostrum in style in 1952 with another undefeated season. Their 13.20 (98) to 12.12 (84) grand final victory over Queanbeyan-Acton capped a marvellous year during which the team’s average winning margin was 7 goals.
This was a period of significant expansion at Ainslie Football Club, both on and off the field. By the middle of the decade the club was in a position each weekend to field no fewer than seven junior sides in various age groups, and this could only augur well for the future. Off field developments included the opening of licensed premises at the club in 1957. In 1959, payments to players were made for the first time, albeit on a very limited scale compared with what was to come.
The club enjoyed continued on-field success during this period with premierships in 1958, 1959 and 1961. In between, Ainslie had to accept runners-up position to Eastlake in 1960, but there could be no doubt that the club was at the very forefront of the game in Canberra. By the end of the 1960s well over five hundred people were involved in regular weekly club activities in both playing and non-playing capacities.
The first grand final of the 1970s brought a thrilling 6 point victory over Manuka to secure the club’s tenth senior premiership. It was Manuka, however, who proved to have the upper hand for most of the ensuing decade. Indeed, it was not until 1979 that the Tricolours again played off successfully for the premiership with a 17.18 (120) to 11.8 (74) victory over Belconnen. There was a real sense of determination at the club that year following the agonising experience in 1978 of throwing away a 5 goal grand final lead against Eastlake to succumb eventually by 24 points.
Ainslie was captain-coached between 1978 and 1983 by former St Kilda identity Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale. A veteran of 256 VFL games, and a member of the Saints’ debut premiership side in 1966, Neale set the Tricolours on a victory tack from which they have only really begun to waver during the last decade. His impact on the wider Canberra football scene was equally significant. In July 1980 an ACT representative team coached by ‘The Cowboy’ took on and defeated the might of the VFL at Manuka Oval. The VFL side contained players of the calibre of Francis Bourke, Malcolm Blight and Rene Kink, and the result of the match was all the more extraordinary when you consider that state of origin rules did not apply. The ACT side consisted solely of local players, including no fewer than eight from Ainslie.
At club level in 1980 Ainslie enjoyed an unbeaten run to the premiership, thereby earning the title of ‘champions’ for the third time. A 21.10 (136) to 12.15 (87) win against Manuka in the grand final served to emphasise their superiority.
After missing out in similar circumstances to 1978 the following year (Ainslie raced to a comfortable early lead against Manuka in the grand final only to go under in the end by 22 points), the club had one of its most impressive ever seasons in 1982 with premierships at senior, reserves and under nineteen levels. In addition, it supplied the Mulrooney Medallist in the person of Greg Nichols, while the coach himself had the satisfaction of heading the league goalkicking list with 125 goals.
In 1983, the Tricolours again recorded premierships at senior, reserves, and under nineteen levels. Indeed, they went one better, as their Monaro League combination also proved successful. ‘Cowboy’ Neale departed to SANFL club Central District at the end of the season with Ainslie very much the pre-eminent force in Canberra football.
This pre-eminence continued in 1984 under Neale’s successor, Rod Oborne, with both seniors and reserves securing premierships for the third time in succession. On 27 May that year the seniors kicked a league record score of 53.15 (333) against West Canberra, with full forward Paul Angelis contributing 29 goals, also an ACTAFL record. Further premierships followed in 1987, 1990 and 1992, the last under the experienced guidance of former Oakleigh, Richmond and Collingwood stalwart, David Cloke. The contribution of thirty-seven year old Cloke during the 1992 season was impressively wide ranging; besides bringing a wealth of experience and know-how to bear as senior coach his on-field displays were so impressive that he was adjudged club best and fairest, the first time in a more than 400 game senior career that he had been so honoured.
The 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 seasons saw the Tricolours once again emerge triumphant despite there being occasions during each season when they were made to look far from invincible. Once the finals came around, however, Ainslie always seemed capable of finding that little bit extra, a trait which all truly great football teams over the years have shared.
Since 1997 the Kangaroos as they are now known have failed to reach a grand final, with a third place finish in 2005 representing their best effort during that time. In 2006 they dropped to fourth, and the 2007 season was a disaster in which they finished just one place off the bottom, above only the winless Canberra Wildcats.
Ainslie has confronted hardships of this kind before, and no doubt will again, but the club has always managed to overcome them. Indeed, as with all great clubs, it has often used adversity as a springboard to success.
Therefore, do be surprised to see Canberra’s most successful Australian football club building on its tally of twenty-two senior premierships soon.
1 The three Smith brothers, Charles, Marty (211 games) and Alan (210 games) played a total of 646 games for Ainslie.2 The competition was originally known as the Federal Territory Australian Rules Football League and was renamed the CANFL in 1927.
John Devaney - Full Points Publications