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Camden Cats: a remarkable AFL success story in rugby league heartland

Success: Camden Cats president Stuart Farnell, left, with sponsor Kevin O’Keefe of Macarthur Engineering at the AFL club’s home ground, Fairfax Reserve, Harrington Park

Camden Cats are one of the most successful sporting clubs of Macarthur, but their best years are definitely ahead of them. That’s because they are building a dynamic, 21st century sporting organisation with a strong culture on and off the field.

Led by an energetic young president in Stuart Farnell, the Camden Cats are attracting support from some of the region’s best known companies such as Macarthur Engineering.

Last year they entered the premier NSW AFL competition, Sydney premier division.

A year earlier, in 2017, the Cats were named 2017 AFL Sydney club of the year.

The club was formed more than 30 years ago and currently their home ground is Fairfax Reserve at Harrington Park.

“When I joined up in 2014 we had two teams and we have seven this year,’’ says Stuart Farnell.

“We’ve got a masters men’s over 35s team for the first time this year, so old guys like me can still have a run around and kick on the weekend.

“We are building a strong pathway, from kids playing Ozkick from year six, seven, right through to guys playing into their 50s.

“You can now basically start at Camden and play right through your whole life, which is really exciting,’’ he said.

The admission of the club into the premier AFL competition of NSW in 2018 surprised a few people, but Farnell says it’s not just about on field results.

“It’s quite an involved process to be in the premier division,’’ he said.

“The AFL looks at a lot of different areas, sponsors, players, back of house being in order; they want to make sure that if you’re playing at that level it’s sustainable over a long period of time, not just for one year kind of thing.

“Certainly our results were very, very good over a period of time and that helped us a lot, but I think it’s a lot about the structures, and the processes, and a lot of those professional kind of pieces were in place in order for the AFL to feel confident we were going to be in for the long haul,’’ Farnell said.

It wouldn’t have hurt that at the start of the 2016 season the Cats formed a community partnership with the Camden and Wollondilly Domestic Violence Committee to promote the Say No to Domestic Violence message and fundraise for their community programs.

It certainly impressed sponsors like Macarthur Engineering, who now sing the praises of the club for their proactive community involvement.

Macarthur Engineering sponsor the Cats’ women’s teams and company owner Kevin O’Keefe says one event last year confirmed in his mind it was the right thing to do.

“I liked what I saw when the Cats women’s team, who had won the minor premiership, lost the grand final,’’ says O’Keefe.

“At the siren, there was only one Camden player walking to the sideline, and she was headed to the hospital to have an injury treated.

“Every other Camden player stood and applauded the victors as they received their awards – none of our players walked away, like you see others do after losing a big game like a grand final.

“To me as a sponsor that said a lot, somebody wearing your logo on their back doing the right thing after a loss,’’ O’Keefe said.

“And that comes from a disciplined club, a disciplined culture.

“I also applaud the domestic violence campaign the Cats have put in place in the club.

“They don’t just talk about it – they get and out and about to show their commitment through the Paint the Town Purple initiative, which raises funds for the domestic violence committee.’’

In 2018 Camden Cats first grade played in the Sydney AFL premier division.

On the eve of a new season the Camden Cats are the largest senior AFL club in South West Sydney with more than 650 players and members, a remarkable achievement in what still is rugby league heartland.

They have quadrupled in size in just four years and this season will field eight teams, men’s and women’s.

But the price of such success is that the club needs more hands than ever to make sure everything is running smoothly.

“As the club grows you need a lot more hands around the place, both during the week and on game day,’’ says Farnell.

“It’s good to have fantastic sponsors like Macarthur Engineering and others on board helping us.’’

Kevin O’Keefe has no hesitation recommending the Camden Cats for sponsorship, saying: “any local businesses that get involved with the Cats will get a good return.’’

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