It is with a heavy heart that we express our sadness for the late and great Kevin “Cowboy” Neale. A true legend to the game of AFL and one central in spearheading the growth and popularity of AFL in the Canberra region.
A name known to Ainslie, Cowboy came to the Ainslie Football Club in 1978 as Captain-Coach, which saw him ride out six impressive years (1978-1983) playing a key part in claiming four Grand Finals and two years undefeated. Today, he still holds the title for most goals kicked in a year plugging 149 through the posts in 1980.
A most memorable time and one those of the era would recollect, was the ACT team triumph over Victoria in 1980, where he led them to a win by 13 points. A sight that remoulded the picture of Ainslie to reveal the fierce competition the Club had within.
His initial years leading into elite level play, saw him bear the St Kilda guernsey from 1965 – 1977 and had him come away from the Saints with more than experience, but a Club Championship Award (1973), over 300 goals kicked and a record 256 games played which was then an impressive feat. This enabled him to be inducted into St Kilda’s Hall of Fame (2007) and stands testimony of the true talent and perspiration Cowboy brought to the game.
While he had a lengthy list on his coaching and playing career, it was with Ainslie FC that he had shown the most impact in AFL Canberra or then, ACTAFL. Over his time with Ainslie, his boots were worn with the years of exhibiting top performance, having achieved a 430-goal career, four Premierships in the six years and became a drawing card for thousands through the gate, in turn developing the presence of AFL and establishing the promise of talent in the Capital.
President of the Ainslie Football Club, Lee Phillips said his influence was extremely positive for the Canberra community and will always be commended.
“Cowboy’s legacy evolves as the game grows in the region… He was a leader, a person of integrity who set an example of what it takes to be successful and the manner and spirit in which the game was played,” Lee said.
As the most celebrated ACT coach, player and captain in our Ainslie history, Cowboy’s legacy will remain not as a memory of the past, but as part of our Club’s success today. Embodying a true champion, his presence peaked community interest and nourished code development within Ainslie and beyond. Respected and remembered among all, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke said it aptly in a sentiment shared following Cowboy’s departure from Canberra in 1983.
“An inspirational captain who led always from the front, Neale gave all for his side be that Ainslie or ACT. Ever generous in victory and manful in defeat, he earned the respect on and off the field of teammates and it is doubtful if any other player has made such an impact on ACT Football,” said the former Prime Minister.
From the Ainslie family, we share our condolences to the Neale family and friends and bow our heads in a sombre moment of reflection for the ever-lasting, Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale.
Vale Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale 1945 – 2023