Confidence high as soccer plans to grow in Cairns
He's Far Northern football's head honcho dealing with a raft of new changes in 2013. Michael Serenc talks to FNQ Football general manager Duncan Sims about the major triumphs, challenges and developments in store for the game this year.
MS: A lot of changes for local football this season. You've got the entry of FNQ FC into the Australian Premier League and a possible expansion of the local competition. Is all this sustainable in the long term?
DS: We're obviously looking for growth and we have to try to make sure we have enough competitions to cater for that growth. I would be expecting that it is sustainable. We have plans to obviously sit with the clubs to discuss future ideas. We would like to get to a promotion-relegation scenario. How we do that is we need to grow the teams and we need to grow the potential to get there.
MS: Part of that growth is no doubt going to be this FA Cup-style knockout tournament (the FNQ Cup). Tell me a little about that.
DS: It's going to be run at Endeavour Park and this year it's going to be a 12-team competition. The four teams that finished first in the FNQ Premier League last year are seeded. So what happens is the bottom four teams will play against the four teams from the second division that aren't a premier league club, if they have a team
That will be a knockout and that will obviously leave us with four teams. Then the other four top teams will come in, which will give us an eight-team league. There are dates set for that already.
MS: One of the key challenges for players looking to advance their careers has been a lack of a clear pathway between playing for a local club and going to a professional or semi-pro level. So now that APL team FNQ FC is in the mix, does that offer them the opportunity, considering that there's been some miscommunication between local club coaches and FNQ FC themselves?
DS: The FFA, FQ and FNQ Football all believe that the player pathway is through the program that we've currently got, which is your community football, your local clubs. We have an APL club called FNQ FC and all players have the opportunity to trial for that club. That is seen as the pathway to get into semi-pro or whatever (standard). We had three of last year's rep program that got selected for the Australian Joeys. When you put that into context, there were30 kids nationally that were selected, 10 of which came out of the Queensland program and three of those came out of the Far North Queensland program ... people have to understand that that's the pathway that the FFA see, and so that's what you've got to do. We see it as an avenue for everybody and an opportunity now it's Cairns-based as opposed to being at Mareeba ... there's less travelling for a lot of people for training.
MS: Do you hope that the community does get behind FNQ FC?
DS: I think they will do, because it gives them an opportunity to see the next level of football. We're getting the Brisbane Strikers up here and the Northern Fury, so I think it gives you a lot of opportunity to see some quality teams. We'd like to see the clubs and spectators get behind it because it is going to be in Cairns now at Barlow Park.
MS: We've heard about the recent struggles of the Centenary Comets Junior Soccer Club. Where does grassroots development of the local game currently sit?
DS: We've just got to make sure that all clubs are sustainable and obviously most clubs run on a volunteer base. And like most sports, (they) in effect flog their volunteers to death until they just give up the ghost and say "I've done too much". It's easy to criticise, but it's not easy to put your hand up. That's an issue that all community sports have, so part of my goals this year is to try to make sure that clubs have some sustainability and have some succession plans in place. Looking at Leichhardt, there are two separate clubs merging into one club being Leichhardt Football Club as opposed to Leichhardt seniors and Leichhardt juniors. Stratford are looking at a similar aspect, because it has a two-fold effect. It gives the opportunity for the clubs to start at a junior base right the way through to seniors. It's very hard with this feeder club situation because people think: "We've looked after these kids and now we send them off to somewhere else." Clubs want to basically bring their kids right the way through.
Club culture's a very important aspect. You want to see more kids wearing your colours out on the park, and that generates spectators. Some of the senior players have a responsibility to make that happen.
MS: What are key challenges facing you at FNQ Football this season?
DS: I think the key areas are that all of us need to get more spectators coming into games. We've got to make sure that our facilities are offering what spectators want. We've also definitely got a shortage of referees, so we need to work on how we can get more referee numbers. We've just got make the experience for the spectators a warm and fuzzy one, so they want to stay there. That's the biggest challenge we've got. I think we all need to review what we offer spectators. What we've introduced now with our new competition management system is that there are apps out there so you can actually follow your local game live. Scores can be updated on the website instantly by the clubs, so we're very much interactive now. What we've clearly identified is that information needs to get out quicker and that's what we're hoping to do.
MS: Any new events on the cards for this year?
DS: Obviously our social women's games is a huge area we need to (work on). We as an area are way behind on our women's participation, and we haven't had the competition to make that happen. Last year, we introduced ladies' social games ... that's on a Friday night and we want to expand on that, so we'll certainly be pushing that. The other thing that is very strong for us this year is an over-35s competition, which is always being played at Endeavour Park. That will culminate in the fact that FNQ Football is being selected as the host club for the Great Barrier Reef Masters Games, which are being held here in Cairns (August 8-11). We are also running a futsal tournament out of Cairns high school.
MS: Where do you see the future of the game in Far North Queensland?
DS: I see it as very positive. The direction we've gone this year, the clubs are very supportive of each other, have been very positive. The things we've done in terms of online registrations, making available websites for every club, is a great step in the way of communicating with people. We've set our goal at 10 per cent growth across the board, from under-6s through to everything that we've got. We believe that's an achievable target.
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Vision for future: FNQ Football general manager Duncan Sims talks about his plans for soccer in the region. Picture: STEWART McLEAN