Narooma’s Bill Smyth Oval was the place to be on Saturday, August 18, as the Narooma Lions held the inaugural Footy 2 Fight MND round.
All proceeds from the round will go to research into curing motor neurone disease, a condition that affects more than 2000 people in Australia.
MND has recently gone through an upsurge in awareness, brought upon by the ice-bucket challenge, an internet trend started by former professional baseball player Pete Fates, who was diagonosed with the disease in 2012.
The AFL got behind the cause with a push from former player and coach Neale Daniher, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2014. He started the Big Freeze for MND, a yearly event at the MCG where famous people involved with the AFL slide down a slide into a pool of icy water.
The Lions have been affected by the disease, as former player and committee member Matt Ratcliffe passed away in 2015.
The day was in celebration of not only Mr Ratcliffe’s life, but David Worden, a man who was heavily involved with the Merimbula Diggers before his death in 2017. Mr Worden’s son is the current captain of the club.
The day had support from former AFL player Ronnie Burns, who said it was an easy decision to attend.
“Neale (Daniher) was my State of Origin coach back in that era, so I know him personally,” he said. “That’s why I’m here today to support the event.
“It’s a disease that I wasn’t aware of before the push, and Neale’s done a great job of getting out there to raise awareness.
“It touches me a bit seeing how Neale has been affected, so it’s good to be involved today. Neale is one of the greats of the game, and it took everyone by surprise when he came down with MND.
Burns spent most of his time in the merchandise tent, where the famous blue beanies were sold alongside various other goodies. The main item was a painting from Tilba-based artist Merryn Apma.
“I heard about the event because of Merryn Apma who looked after me when I first went to Geelong,” Burns said. “She’s got good connections with the AFL guys like Michael Long and myself.
“I’d never heard of Tilba or Narooma, but this is one of the most beautiful pieces of countryside I’ve ever been to. The people here have been so warm, friendly, and welcoming.”
The event also featured a dunk tank, a kid’s tent with face-painting and other activities, and a ladies’ tent.
Matt Ratcliffe’s sister Kathryn ran an oyster van on the day, and said the amount of support from the community was fantastic.
“It’s massive for us and our family,” she said. “We have the SOD-1 gene mutation, so I’ve lost about 12 people in my family to MND.
“Not much was happening for a very long time, so events like this are just massively important, because all of a sudden people have that awareness, and the money is coming in.”
The amount of money being poured into MND research has grown by almost 10 times since 2012.
“We’re now in record numbers for funding of research thanks to events like this,” Ms Ratcliffe said. “It’s more than $20 million as of last year, so the growth is phenomenal.”
Ms Ratcliffe said researchers were coming closer to a cure every day, and encouraged people to donate, even if it’s a small amount.
“As more and more happens, and all this money is going in, it means the likelihood of a positive result in the near future is growing,” she said. “You just don’t know what news is around the corner.
“If you think a couple of bucks isn’t really making a difference, it truly does. My dad died in 1999, and the researchers back then didn’t really have a clue.
“Everyone was floudering around in the dark, at least that’s how it felt. And now, the tide of change is massive, and it’s thanks to events like this.”