THE iconic Foley Shield has returned to Mount Isa for the first time in 25 years.
Arguably North Queensland rugby league's most esteemed prize, the Foley Shield will spend next week on display in the Mount Isa Civic Centre as part of the region's 90th year celebrations.
The Foley Shield was once recognised as one of the most powerful league competitions in the country, regularly boasting Australian representatives in its ranks.
The shield bears fond memories for many rugby league tragics in the area, including James Coghlan.
``It's a symbol of supremacy of rugby league in North Queensland,'' he said.
``Mount Isa tried to get in for years. We won B grades several times, but the teams on the coast refused to let us in [because it was too expensive to travel here].
``We had to pay a guarantee for teams to play in Mount Isa. Say $1500, which they tried to turn over at the gate. If the gate takings were short, Mount Isa Rugby League would pay out of their own pocket.
``In 1966 they finally let Mount Isa in the Foley Shield. They didn't play the round robin, they came in and played the winner of the southern zone (on their home ground).
``So Mount Isa had to win two games against the leading side to win what essentially was a semi-final. In 1968 they finally included us as a full-time member (of the Foley Shield).''
After several painstaking years vying to be accepted in the North Queensland competition, it took Mount Isa just two seasons to claim the illustrious title.
``After missing out on finals by one point (1968), Jock Butterfield, who had the record number of New Zealand test appearances at the time, took us to Foley Shield winners in '69,'' Coghlan said.
Mount Isa claimed the Shield again in 1972 under Buck Rogers before achieving the grand slam three years later, winning three successive titles under the legendary Johnny Grew.
Such was the popularity of Mount Isa's Foley Shield warriors that the locals would flock to the train station and await their arrival.
``The Foley Shield guys were our heroes,'' Coughlan said.
``We never had TV and that, we didn't watch Sydney rugby league. We watched Wanderers, Black Stars, Town and Brothers.
``They represented the whole town. They made Mount Isa successful and the town's esteem turned into something else." Mount Isa went on to win four more titles (1981, '83, '85 and '88), marking nine triumphs, and 11 finals appearances, in just 20 years.
The team was effectively kicked out of the Foley Shield in 1995, as the town struggled to be competitive due to work.
Despite that setback, Coghlan dreams of a future where Mount Isa is once again feared across North Queensland.
``It would give the kids the opportunity to go somewhere and represent their town,'' he said.
The Foley Shield will be on display in the Mount Isa Civic Centre from Monday to Friday next week.