Maroon fever erupts in Emerald
THERE was hardly a Queensland State of Origin jersey left on the shopping racks following the team’s visit to Emerald on Wednesday.
The town, it seemed, had given in to Origin fever.
Shortly after 11am Egerton St morphed into a sea of Maroon. Schools were all but emptied and offices shut the doors as residents took to the streets in anticipation of the team’s arrival.
Two large buses arrived at the Centro shopping plaza car park to be greeted by a crowd of 200 onlookers.
The players shook hands, waved and smiled.
Little did they know that less than a kilometre away, an estimated 4000-strong gathering of eager fans were waiting.
Darren Lockyer, Billy Slater and Jonathon Thurston were swamped in an instant.
Sam Thaiday, Greg Inglis and local hero Dave Taylor fought off throngs of screaming fans, countless photo requests and autographs.
The crowd of screaming children, giggling girls, inspired teenagers, whooping mothers and proud fathers pounced on the heroes, making them unable to move more than a metre at a time along their kilometre-long walk.
This was a community showing its heart, and by Lockyer’s account, “it was an experience and overwhelming at the same time”.
“For guys who don’t come to the country, this day shows how much it means to people out here,” team captain Lockyer said.
“The reception is always much bigger than it is in the city.”
The team eventually made its way to the town hall as the special guests of a packed luncheon. Evidence of Maroon fever was further provided when a signed ball sold for $1700, a signed esky $3000 and a signed jersey $6000.
After lunch the team ran a light training session at McIndoe Park in front of a crowd of almost 1000.
This was followed by a signing session that gave the community’s awe-stricken children one last chance to snare that important signature.
Staff at Emerald Plaza Sports were “run off their feet” according to owner Vera Storch, who said residents clambered to get their hands on anything that could be signed.
“Anything Queenslander sold well - jerseys, flags, beanies, hats, T-shirts, the whole lot,” she said. “Our Blackwater store was also very busy, I think a lot of people made the trip over just for the visit.”
Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire said it was the attitude of the players and their willingness to mingle with the crowds which made it a special day that “many young children will remember for the rest of their lives”.
“It was spectacular, especially for the kids. We need to remember that many of them didn’t get a Christmas or New Year because of the floods.
“It tickled me pink to see so many people enjoying themselves - just sensational.”