Master footballer

Kelvin Popowski was recognised with an AFL Masters Life Membership earlier this year following a career spanning more than 15 years with the annual tournament. Picture: Ashleigh Force.

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Recognition. Smithton Football Club stalwart Kelvin Popowski has received a Life Membership to the national AFL Masters.

In a playing career that has spanned close to four decades, Popowski first took to the park in 1982 with the Under 17 side at Trowutta Football Club.

Venturing to the Under 19 side at Smithton Football Club he then progressed to the Tasmanian State League, captaining the Burnie Hawks’ Under 19 squad.

Following a few years with the Darwin Football Association, Popowski returned to his roots with the Circular Head Football Association, playing senior football with Trowutta before taking a coaching position at City.

In 1994, Popowski became a Smithton Saint where he has remained to earn more than 300 club games including 150 senior matches.

His career highlight came in 2010 when he featured in the EJ Whitten Legends Game playing with the likes of All Stars captain Mark Ricciuto, Tony Modra, Gavin Wanganeen, Byron Pickett and the Wakelin twins, Darryl and Shane.

Playing at Etihad Stadium, Popowski said it was a proud moment to take to the field with his family in the stands.

Beginning his Masters career in 2003, Popowski says he was influenced by Redpa Football Club player Stafford Heres in joining: “He’d played the year before and talked me and Haydn Nicholls into going away – I’ve loved it ever since.”

Taking time off following the 2006 competition in Maroochydore, Queensland to donate a kidney to brother Roger, Popowski once again donned the Tassie guernsey in 2011 when the tournament returned to the Sunshine Coast township.

Having attended 10 carnivals, Popowski and wife Megan have travelled to Perth in Western Australia, Adelaide in South Australia, Townsville, Cairns and the Gold Coast in Queensland, Darwin in the Northern Territory and Hobart as part of the week-long tournament.

“That’s the beauty of Masters,” he says, “it’s a really good chance to take the family away for a holiday as well.”

Starting with the Over 35 side, Popowski says the squad has improved as a unit since its debut as many players return time and time again to continually strengthen the team, noticeable in the five titles gained from 10 tournaments. Forming lasting friendships, the competition has fostered a strong group that now enters the Over 50 age bracket.

Popowski says this loyalty shone through last year when his campaign in Geelong, Victoria was abruptly ended: “I lasted eight minutes into the first game and fractured my cheekbone to be laid up in hospital for a couple of days,” he says of a collision with an opponent.

Now with a titanium plate in his cheek, Popowski has since made a full recovery but will likely take a break from competition this year.

Though sidelined, he says he would like to stay involved in the concept and is pleased to see women step into the Masters competition following the introduction in recent years.

Popowski says he was honoured to receive the Life Membership at the annual dinner in Launceston earlier this month.

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