18 September 2023

Vale Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale - a giant of the Canberra sporting community

| Tim Gavel
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Man holding a trophy aloft

Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale lifts the 1980 ACTAFL Premiership trophy. Photo: Ainslie Football Club Facebook.

The passing of Cowboy Neale is a timely reminder of his impact on Australian Rules in this city.

Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale kicked five goals in St Kilda’s 1966 VFL premiership victory over Collingwood, laying the groundwork for his status as an all-time Saints legend.

Nicknamed ‘Cowboy’ because of his bowlegs and rolling gait, he debuted in the VFL a year before in 1965. He went on to play 256 games for St Kilda, kicking 301 goals.

He won the Saints Best and Fairest award in 1973 and was named in the club’s Team of the Century.

That status earned in the VFL, if anything, was enhanced when he came to Canberra to captain-coach Ainslie in 1978.

Kevin Cowboy Neale

Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale put AFL in the ACT on the map, defeating the might of the VFL. Photo: Ainslie Football Club Facebook.

Cowboy led the club to four premierships in six years, including two seasons when Ainslie went through the entire year undefeated in 1980 and 1982. In 1998, Cowboy was also a non-playing coach.

But 1980 was the year he put ACT AFL on the map.

He not only led Ainslie through an undefeated year, kicking a record 149 goals, but he also played a significant role in perhaps the most famous victory in the history of Canberra sport.

Cowboy captain-coached the ACT to a 13-point win over the might of the VFL, a side stacked with stars.

On that day, he led by example, kicking three goals.

He went on to captain-coach numerous ACT representative teams.

In recognition of his contribution to Australian rules football, Kevin became one of the inaugural inductees as a legend of the ACT Hall of Fame.

He also had stints coaching Central District in the SANFL and three years with Tuggeranong between 1993 and 1995.

His influence on the sport in Canberra cannot be underestimated as he guided a generation of young players, teaching them the skills he learned playing in the VFL.

This is why many players who participated under his guidance at Ainslie, in particular, made the trek from Canberra to Wodonga over the years to pay homage to the great man as he battled illness.

people having dinner in a club

Cowboy Neale in Wodonga during a visit by the Ainslie Football Club in February 2022 with former assistant coach Gary Cox. Kevin’s wife, Georgina, is to the left. Photo: John Miller.

It is also why there has been a long-running campaign to have his role in Australian Rules celebrated beyond the bright lights of Melbourne.

The end goal is to have Kevin Neale recognised with induction into the AFL Hall of Fame.

There have been numerous submissions from St Kilda and the ACT.

In recent years, Cowboy has been battling Alzheimer’s disease, finally succumbing to the illness at the age of 78 years.

His death will in no way spell an end to the campaign to recognise his contribution to the sport.

There are plans to present another submission to the AFL Hall of Fame committee to have Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale inducted.

It would be fitting to reward this absolute icon of Australian Rules in the ACT AFL’s 100th Anniversary Celebrations in 2024.

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