11 September 2023

Humble AFL Cape York champion recognised with life membership

| Matt Nicholls
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AFL Cape York’s Rick Hanlon will be inducted into the Queensland Football Hall of Fame. Picture: Samuel Davis

“IF I knew why you were ringing I wouldn’t have answered the phone.”

Those are the words of the ever-humble Rick Hanlon, the general manager of AFL Cape York, who will be inducted into the Queensland Football Hall of Fame in November.

Although he hates talking about himself, Hanlon is no doubt worthy of every bit of recognition he receives.

Last year he was named the Citizen of the Year by the Cairns Regional Council. In 2017 he was the recipient of an Order of Australia Medal.

Hanlon is one of the very few people to be inducted into two state football Hall of Fames, having been on the Tasmanian honour board since 2014.

But while his legacy on the Apple Isle will be remembered for his playing ability and stints as a coach, Hanlon is most proud of the work he’s done with mostly Indigenous children throughout Far North Queensland.

Twenty-five years ago, he made the move to Cairns for what was supposed to be a two-year plan to run development for the AFL in North Queensland.

While the original focus was in Cairns, Hanlon soon fell in love with the Cape.

“I never really had a vision if I’m being honest,” he told Cape York Weekly on Monday.

“There wasn’t a lot happening in the Cape. The AFL had a partnership with Rio Tinto and that involved one trip a year to the Cape and that was it.”

But with the backing of the communities, more development programs popped up and Hanlon started working more closely with the kids in virtually every corner of the Peninsula.

AFL Cape York’s legacy is now two boarding houses. The boys’ facility opened in 2013 and the girls’ accommodation opened five years later.

The students, who come from all over the Cape, Torres Strait and Gulf, attend various high schools in Cairns.

“That’s the best thing. We provide a safe home for them and they can leave their issues at school at the gate,” Hanlon said.

“We got into the boarding space because I was hearing stories from the kids who were at boarding school … some of the things they were saying weren’t that nice.

“I’d hear things like ‘they think we’re dumb’. It was pretty confronting stuff.”

AFL Cape York’s boarding houses now set a new benchmark for student accommodation in the country.

“We’re not perfect and we don’t try and pretend that we are,” Hanlon said.

“One thing about us is that we are always striving to get better.”

The general manager praised his staff.

“Great staff make great kids and we’ve had some terrific people come through AFL Cape York over the years,” he said.

And while the programs are backed by the AFL, the boarding facilities and the game development visits have never been about talent identification or unearthing future players.

“We’re not out here to be the dominant code, but we are out here trying to be the number one in what we do,” Hanlon said.

“At the end of the day, it’s about how we use the game to make a difference, to change lives.

“We are achieving this through having great people in support of our young people and providing unlimited opportunities through sport, education, and social and emotional well-being programs.”

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