Inside story: Suns chief’s pivotal role in grand final coup
BRISBANE, you owe us one.
Queensland just scored the game of the century thanks to the Gold Coast's own star player, Suns chairman Tony Cochrane.
While the long-time entertainment promoter says it's Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk who deserves the gong for best on ground, it was Cochrane's ingenious vision that started the AFL ball rolling into our city and our state … and ended with the ultimate goal, a grand final at the Gabba.
But even with the support of a stellar team, including Mayor Tom Tate and Tourism Minister Kate Jones, Cochrane still thought it was a long shot for Queensland to secure arguably the biggest coup in sporting history.
"This is just an unbelievable day for Queensland and especially southeast Queensland," he said.
"This is as good as it gets, it's literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The AFL grand final hasn't left Melbourne in 125 years, and it probably won't happen again for at least another 125 years."
Cochrane says while he only officially discovered Brisbane had won the right to host the final on Wednesday morning, the bid really began way back in May.
He says it all started when he pestered Mayor Tate and Minister Jones for weeks until they agreed to back his initial proposal to set up the first AFL hub here on the Gold Coast.
"It was an idea to get the game going and to get the focus on our city and on Queensland," he says.
"To their absolute credit, they listened to me and got on board.
"Minister Jones did a tremendous job working with the Health Minister to find a COVID-safe way to establish the first hub, which was four teams, then another hub with eight teams and it grew until now in southeast Queensland we have more than 2000 players, officials and management. It's its own little economy.
"Not only did we dare to dream, we overshot the moon. It's an incredible result. I love dealing with Tom Tate and Kate Jones because they're both visionaries. They can see how things can grow. That first meeting I was trying to hassle them to help me financially - and that first hub was one of the best ever investments in tourism."
By the time the second hub was established on the Gold Coast, Cochrane says the Premier started asking the question about whether Queensland could host the grand final.
Importantly, he says, her message was never antagonistic but respectful of the hardship and loss being felt by those in Victoria, which had a powerful effect on AFL management.
"About six weeks ago the Premier and Minister Jones put together a committee to really look at every aspect of what it would mean to win the grand final, the Brownlows and the other prestigious end-of-season dinners.
"We put together a 90-page bid document that considered everything, it was a turnkey proposal. The Premier delivered her pitch on Zoom last week … and then we waited nervously.
"When we found out, it was just unreal. We delivered the bacon.
"Huge credit goes to the tone that the Premier set, which we tried to emulate. I think she outbid the other premiers on that alone.
"The others were being glib in their remarks about Melbourne, almost antagonistic, whereas she was very respectful of what has happened in Victoria.
"This is a huge opportunity for Queensland, but let's not forget that it comes on the back of a terrible time for those down south.
"For Melbourne, the AFL is in their blood. To lose the grand final is giving up something that is part of them, it's their ethos and their way of life. It's gotta hurt, and we respect that."
Cochrane says timing and entertainment were also intrinsic to the proposal.
He says a night game will ensure the most eyeballs are on southeast Queensland, while the entertainment - which his wife Thea, who helped produce the Gold Coast's winning Commonwealth Games bid, is working on - will focus on Queensland talent.
And while Brisbane might now be home to the country's biggest and best game of footy, he says the Gold Coast is a guaranteed winner as well.
"We're still waiting on the announcement for the Brownlows and the Rising Star Award, the AFL is still working through their COVID-safe conditions, but we are enormously focused on landing that part of the puzzle for the Gold Coast.
"Meanwhile, there is a real chance that Metricon will be hosting one or more finals.
"The stadium is available for finals if one of the Victorian teams should choose it as their home ground to host a match, so we're really hopeful that AFL fans will have this amazing opportunity.
"This whole period is just historic for the city. We are already seeing huge engagement with junior players and this will propel the game forward even further. The timing of this grand final could not be better. It's great news for everyone except the NRL.
"The Suns have had a great year too and I think it really goes to the vision of the AFL in basing a team here 10 years ago, look where we are now.
"We have a super young and super talented side - and a record number of nominations for the Rising Star Award. The next two to five years is going to be really exciting. This is just the kick-off for the Gold Coast."
Originally published as Inside story: Suns chief's pivotal role in grand final coup