14 June 2023

The Gundagai couple keeping a footy club on the field

| Michael Murphy
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man and woman footy trainers

Tireless Gundagai Tigers trainers Kay and Craig Makeham have been giving back to the community for many years. Photos: Supplied.

Sports trainers Craig and Kay Makeham have been looking after the Gundagai Tigers players at junior and senior levels for a combined total of 45 years. The community-minded locals are among a strong band of volunteers who work tirelessly to help the Group 9 Rugby League club achieve on-field success.

The Tigers are a community sports club with a proud history that dates back to 1921. They have become one of the most successful Group 9 Rugby League clubs of the 21st century, with a wide following that stretches way beyond the banks of the Murrumbidgee.

After being runners-up five times in the 2000s, the Tigers claimed first-grade premierships in 2015, 2018, 2020 and 2022.

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In the background of those trophy-lifting moments are people such as Craig and Kay, who put in countless hours at training and on game days. They attend to injuries, managing rehabilitation, and tell the occasional joke, all with warm smiles and a caring demeanour that has seen them become an important part of the club.

The Makehams are both level-two trainers with a motivation that comes from a desire to put back into the community and help people.

“It all started at a minor league game 25 years ago,” Craig said.

“Our son was playing and one of the other kids broke his arm, and nobody knew what to do. After that, we decided to take it on.”

Craig was the first to obtain his level-one certification, with Kay following five years later. They completed their level-two accreditation together and continue to work closely within the football club, Craig suggesting that one of the bonuses of the role is that they get to spend a lot of time together.

“We enjoy what we do, and we get to bounce ideas off each other and help people,” he said.

“We treat the players like they are our own kids, even if they are 32,” Kay added with a laugh.

(Craig and Kay Makeham injury

Kay Makeham and her husband Craig (far right) help an injured player from the field at Gundagai’s Anzac Park.

The longevity of the Makehams’ commitment to the Tigers and sport in general in the Gundagai area has seen them develop strong relationships with players and officials alike. The tight bonds forged through numerous campaigns have helped them endure the highs and lows of sport, with the couple quickly nominating the 2015 season as their highlight.

It was a year when the Tigers broke a 32-year premiership drought.

“2015 was the biggest day,” Kay said. “We won the league tag, reserve grade, first grade and the club championship. There was a lot of work on the day, but what made it exciting, or nerve-racking, was that as each team won, it seemed less likely that the next one could win. But we got all three.”

Over the years, Craig and Kay have acquired a great deal of knowledge about sports injuries, but when asked about areas of significant change in the sport, they said the attitude towards concussion had altered dramatically.

“The medical side of things has definitely evolved,” Craig said.

“The care for concussion injuries is so much better now. There is not just a duty of care, because you care, but there is also the legal responsibility to the players and yourself.”

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Derek Hay is the Tigers’ current co-coach alongside Blake Dunn, and describes the Makehams as selfless people who are always looking to help.

“Craig and Kay are part of the fabric here at the Tigers,” Hay said.

“They go about their business without a fuss and never expect thanks in return. Deserving of more accolades, they don’t want the limelight; instead, they prefer to see their beloved Tigers there on grand final day.”

Apart from rugby league, Kay is also heavily involved with netball in Gundagai and Tumut. Craig has devoted many hours to local cricket as a player and administrator, and with five children of their own, ranging from adulthood to teenagers, it has become harder to fit everything in.

Kay suggested that retirement might have been on the cards, but with the next generation of Makehams coming through, that may not be a possibility.

“We were thinking that it might be the time to retire,” Kay said.

“We have adult children of our own playing different sports, but now our grandson is playing minor league for the Tigers, so I think we will keep at it.

“I filled in as a first aid officer last week for the minor league. It has sort of gone full circle.”

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