Magpies prove geography no handicap
MAGPIES Sporting Club identified the talent drain, took steps to remedy the situation and has since reaped the rewards.
In successfully establishing a state league football franchise, Mackay & Whitsundays Magpies Crusaders United, the club made Mackay relevant in football circles once again.
At the top, the NPL side spread the good word across Queensland while underneath the club developed a foundational structure with a clear pathway from grassroots football in Mackay to the state league level.
Players like Nelson Burgess, who previously looked to establish their careers elsewhere, were able to return home and continue their development without consequence.
"That was the initial reason Magpies Sporting Club decided to get involved. It was purely about the pathway and about the young players in the region previously having to move," general manager Darren Smith said.
"We don't want to be losing people due to the fact they think the best way forward is to move away."
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At first there were growing pains. Even after the club's maiden campaign in the NPL last year there was still a trickle of talent leaving for supposed greener pastures. But the club stuck fat and the results are now there for all to see.
"Prior to this year - even last year - we lost a few kids. I think six from our development programs moved south," Smith said.
"This year the feedback has been a lot more favourable. We're seeing juniors now come through into the senior squad. Now (the young players) can see a legitimate pathway and one that's a bit more realistic and achievable.
"The feedback we're getting from our coaches and technical directors is there's hardly any talk about families relocating."
The club has done such a good job in establishing its football brand and building quality facilities that players have started to see Mackay as a destination.
First-team regulars Matt Haspels, Mitch Herrmann, Eduardo Castaneda and Joshua Brookes are just a handful of players who have moved to Mackay to further their careers.
Mackay junior Lathan Dunn moved south to pursue his football dream but has since returned.
"People see the facilities we have as a really good drawcard for us," Smith said.
"Some of the guys that have come here . . . they experienced a crowd and facilities they didn't have down south."