Toronto Downtown Dingos A.F.C History
1996 - 1999
In 1995, Team Canada mates on a international tour in England began discussing to idea of coming together and forming a new club in the Canadian Australian Football Association (CAFA). These discussions were led by Terrance Wallis and Chris Cateno (from the Mississauga Mustangs) along with Chris Cunning, Tim Moller, and Paul Tinkler (from the Broadview Hawks). Paul Tinkler first put forth the idea of naming the new club the "Downtown Dingos".
In February of 1996, Mark Jones, an accomplished travelling Australian footballer, joined the initiative. Further recruiting from rival clubs was done, including Tino Riccio from the Broadview Hawks and Arco Van den Huevel from the Mississauga Mustangs (now High Park Demons).
Numerous meetings followed and Terrance Wallis (CAFA founder) was elected the first coach of the Dingos. The club quickly decided to adopt the Essendon colours of Red and Black, as it was agreed that dark colours showed strength and aggression that has always been a trade mark of the Dingos. The nickname of the Dingos was finalized by voting on numerous animals (Canadian and Australian) and so the popular catch phrase "Downtown Dingos" was born.
The club quickly sprang into action enlisting new players through intensive recruiting drives. A training facility was found, though a long way from downtown Toronto at "Fairfiled Park" near Bloor/Islington. 1996 was an exciting season for CAFA with eight competitive teams fighting out the battle for four positions, and the Downtown Dingos did not disgrace themselves in their first season, finishing 5th by percentage in a great year.
In 1997, the club worked hard to locate a new training venue and sponsor in the downtown area. Eventually David Balfour Park at Yonge & St Clair was chosen as the main training ground (and has remained so until this day), while the local Sports Centre Cafe quickly became the local hub of Dingo activity, and the clubs longest serving sponsor.
As the years past, the club continued to grow and develop, qualifying for the Finals and competing hard year-in and year-out.
2000 - 2002
The year 2000 was a very special season for the Toronto Downtown Dingos, as the club won its first OAFL Premiership and celebrated that win with the Club Song, a first for OAFL teams. 2002 saw the Dingos return to the Grand Final after beating the Toronto Eagles in the Qualifying Final, but another premiership was not to be had with the Eagles proving too strong in the re-match on Grand Final day. The series of matches with the Eagles was the beginning of a long and well-contested rivalry that saw the two clubs square off in a Finals match just about every year, with each team giving as good as they got.
2003 - 2005
The start of the 2003 season was dedicated to the memory of Mike Lazecko - another inaugural Dingo - who killed in a tragic car accident during the offseason. The arrival of some fresh Aussie talent and the continuing development of the Dingos Canadian players - among some of the best in the league - saw the Dingos storm undefeated through the 2003 season culminating in the Dingos second OAFL Premiership.
The quest for back-to-back flags in 2004 began with the Dingos in somewhat-patchy form, without a full-time coach and relying on talent alone. As a result they suffered some surprise losses due to a combination of discipline and organisational problems. Eventually, stalwart clubman and semi-retired player Peter "Brolsy" Gordan (who'd coached the team the year before) returned after a handful of rounds and again took the coaching reins - and from there on there was a continuous improvement in play. The end of the regular season saw the Red and Black hitting peak form, and another victory over the Eagles in the Grand Finals saw the club claim their third OAFL Premiership.
The 2005 season started with inagural Dingo Paul Tinkler taking the coaching reins for a third time after Brolsy returned to Australia. Up to this point, the Dingos had been blessed with a continual supply of good Canadian athletes, and season 2005 was no different - a fresh batch of new Canadians joined the team, along with Chris Cunning returning from retirement to bolster the reigning premiers. The '05 Dingos almost went undefeated for a second time, losing only to the Rebels, but finishing on top of the ladder regardless (and all this despite eight Canadians being absent representing Canada in the International Cup). The Dingos knocked off the Eagles in the Semi Final to advance to their fourth Grand Final in a row. The '05 Grand Final was a "slug-fest" with the Dingos holding off the Rebels by 8 points for their Fourth OAFL Premiership.
2006 - 2008
In 2006, the Dingos were firing on all cylinders, winning their first five matches with relative ease and jumping out to an early lead in the standings. However, injuries and complacency at long last began to settle in and the Dingos began to crack, losing in the sixth round to the Guelph Gargoyles followed by another big loss two weeks later to the upstart Etobicoke Kangaroos. With no one coach to guide the cart, the Dingos went on a rollercoaster ride for the rest of the season, winning one game, then losing the next, and were eventually dispatched of in the second round of the finals by the Broadview Hawks.
The triumphs earlier in the decade had made the club complacent in terms of recruitment and on-field decipline, and as veteran players began to retire, replacements were hard to come by, leading to some tough years in terms of numbers and on-field performance.
Despite having Brolsy return from Australia to take the Dingos' reins for the 2007 campaign, the Dingos could only muster two wins in their first five games, losing handily to the Roos, Eagles, and Hawks - the new powers in the league. The rollercoaster ride of 2006 continued right on through 2007, as the club played inconsistently and were unable to string together a series of wins. The final game of the regular season was a particularly harsh blow for the Dingos as internal strife and backtalk to the umpires cost the Dingos a win against the Demons and halted any momentum heading into the Finals. The Dingos were fortunate to win their Elimination Final against the Wildcats from Hamilton, but the following week were beaten of by the eventual league champions, the Toronto Eagles.
The 2007 season was a devastating blow to the once mighty Dingos, leaving the team in disarray. Great changes were brought about in the offseason, with stalwart Aussie Craig Stewart taking over as team President, as well as Coach. Yoni Moussadji took over the club financials and an emphasis was placed on securing new sponsorship as well as recruiting new players. Right from the start, however, the 2008 season was going to be a tough one on the field as the Dingos lost several of their veteran Canadians, with Bryan Wells, Chris Ritchie, and Andrew Nisker each finally saying goodbye to the club after many years and multiple premierships. Their loss showed on the field and the Dingos struggled. The low point of the season may have come in Week 11, when only 13 players were available to make the trip to Hamilton and the Dingos were soundly thrashed by almost 100 points, the first time they had lost to the Wildcats in years. The Dingos barely put up a fight in their finals two games of the season and missed the Finals for only the second time in their history, finishing the season 4-9.
Despite the lack of success on the field in 2008, hope glimmered for the Dingos. New sponsorship and a hugely successful AFL Grand Final party put the Dingos on solid financial footing. As well, new leadership began to emerge on the field with Aussies Mick McFarlane and Anthony O'Brien beginning to assert themselves beside committed Canadians Chris Buczkowski, David Wells, and Yoni Moussadji. As well, the core of future years began to emerge with young players such as James Duggan and Everett Wells making great strides.
2009 - 2011
The Dingos entered the 2009 season with great optimism after a successful recruiting and off-season training program. Mick McFarlane took over as player-coach, instilling his own style of gut running and hard-nosed football on the club. And it showed on the field as the Dingos won their first three games of the year and at one point were 8-2 on the season. Confidence was high as the Dingos once again qualified for the Finals, riding a strong season from their veteran players but integrating a whole new cast of Dingos such as Andy Elleway, Ramsey Blacklock, JV Arnaldo, Steve Lanning, Andrew Bremner, Tom Bell, Joel Davies, Tim Simpson, and Matt Eddy. Unfortunately, despite all of their regular-season success, the Dingos were shocked in the Elimination Finals by the Central Blues, losing their cool and the game in startling fashion.
It was a sudden end to the season, but the Dingos got right back to work to prepare for the 2010 campaign. It was to be a year of great changes and surprising successes. In 2010, in conjunction with the Toronto Rebels, the Dingos formed a club (christened the "Rebel Dogs") to compete in the OAFL Division II. This club made up of rookies, retired players, and more casual players, showed great heart and determination in its inaugural season, making it all the way to the Preliminary Finals.
For the Division I club, 2010 held great success as well. Anthony O'Brien took over as Captain and with coach Mick McFarlane led the club to a strong 3-1 start. The Dingos lost their next 4 games, however, as they struggled to integrate new players such as Andrew Gaut, Andrew Crawford, Stewart Wilson, Ben Oryall, and Will Pattison, into the Dingos system. However, a close loss to one of the strongest clubs in the league, the Etobicoke Kangaroos, in Week 6 showed that the Dingos were not far from putting it all together. And with the mid-season addition of new aussies Shaun McKay and Steve Taylor, the Dingos really began to hit their stride, winning five of their last six games heading into the Finals. An Elimination Finals victory at home over the Gargoyles put to rest any bad memories from the 2009 Finals and showed how well a full-strength, healthy Dingos squad could play. Heading into the Semi Finals against the defending champion Eagles, no one gave the Dingos much of a chance. However, with little pressure, the Dingos played one of their best games in years, shocking the Eagles, knocking them out of the Finals, and ending a multi-year losing streak to one of their oldest rivals. Next up; the Kangaroos in the Preliminary Finals. Once again, the Dingos played with little pressure and pulled off another improbable upset, sending them to their first Grand Final since 2005. Unfortunately, the magical run ended a little short as the Dingos lost a close match in the rain to the talented Central Blues.
Overall, however, the 2010 would have to be considered as one of the Dingos' strongest ever, as their on-field success was matched by financial stability and strong social events, capped by 21 Dingos participating in the footy trip to Boston, USA.
Having come so close to their 5th club flag (and first since 2005), the Dingos were not content to rest on their laurels as they prepared to open the 2011 OAFL season. Ongoing offseason recruiting had netted new Aussies Tom Allen, Bryn Phillpot-Evans, Nathan Chenko, and Jeremy Cusack as well as such Canadians as Reid Conrad, Steve Johnson, and Kyle Timmons. As Round 1 drew closer, the Dingos worked hard to integrate their new players under the new coaching leadership of veteran Canadian and Northwind player, Chris Buczkowski.
Mother Nature played a large role in the start of the 2011 season, however, as seemingly endless rain turned the OAFL ground at Humber South into a quagmire and forced all clubs to travel to Guelph to play the first few rounds of the season. Looking to avenge their defeat in the Grand Final the year before, the Dingos opened up against the Central Blues. Unfortunately, with their full-forward Craig Stewart recovering from surgery, the Dingos could not seem to find the centre sticks and lost their opener, kicking a poor percentage. The following week, the Dingos were back in Guelph versus the Demons, but once again fell short and suddenly faced an 0-2 start to the season.
The Dingos bounced back, however, over the new two weeks with wins versus the Rebels and Hawks, but the theme of inconsistency would plague the Dingos for most of the season. Strong wins (v Eagles) would be followed by frustrating losses (v Blues) and the Div 1 Dingos found themselves near the middle of the OAFL pack as Finals approached. Hopes were raised as new Aussies Rick Strezovski and Lexi Leonard arrived to boost the club, but departures and injuries to Spider Wells (knee), Mick (nose), Reid (Vancouver), and Burger (Northwind) kept the Dingos from stringing together a long run of victories and building momentum towards Finals.
The Div 2 RebelDogs faced a similar up and down season, with veteran Aussies Paul Tinkler and Glenn Thompson leading the group of rookies/vets towards the Div 2 Finals. Great work was put in by the boys to teach new players the fundamentals of footy within the game and encourage both retired and new Dingos to come out and have a kick.
With losses in the last two weeks of the season, the Dingos backed into the Finals as the #6 seed and faced the resurgent High Park Demons in the Semi Finals. While the Demons had been near the bottom of the OAFL ladder for many years, a new influx of young Aussies and Canadians under the tutelage of coach Marty Walter had propelled the Demons to 3rd place overall in the OAFL. It was to be a tough match. While the Dingos started slowly, they were up at halftime and only a few points behind at 3-quarter time. Unfortunately, the young guns of the Demons were too much in the final quarter as the Demons kicked 5 unanswered goals to end the Dingos' Div 1 season in disappointing fashion. The Div 2 RebelDogs fared no better, losing both Finals matches despite a valiant effort by the club.
2012 - 2014
Despite the on-field disappointment of the 2011 season, the Dingos club continued to be strong off the field. Offseason events such as the AFL Grand Final Party and Dingos Banquet were huge successes, solidifying the Dingos financial health and almost 20 Dingos players traveled to Veradero, Cuba, for a memorable footy trip. A new offseason training regimen, including intense cardio workouts once a week, was embraced by both returning and new Dingos. And with the strength of the club continuing to rise, it was decided that in 2012 the Dingos would go it alone in Division 2, ending the 2-year partnership with the Toronto Rebels. As well, following a trend in the OAFL, the Dingos would start the first Women's Team in club history.
With so many offseason plans, the Dingos had only a few short months off before getting together for both indoor footy sessions and weekly gym workouts. The focus of these sessions was to allow the Dingos to maintain their fitness over the long winter while introducing new men's players such as Patrick Bossey, Gary Conlon, Liam Sorrell, Sean Freedman, and Denis Cormier to the Dingos family. As well, during the winter months the first ever women's Dingos footy team began to take shape, with Rebecca Goldman and Meghan Peets spearheading the recruiting drive.
Club leadership was stable, with the Executive remaining intact and veteran Aussie Justin Robertson stepping up as Head Coach. As well, the Dingos' brief foray into forming a women's club was halted to keep focus on the Div 1 and Div 2 clubs.
On the field, positive results came quickly. Division 1 did not lose a match until Round 5, sitting near the top of the ladder for most of the season and cruising into Finals as a 2-seed, while Division 2 went undefeated throughout the regular season and was primed to bring home their first flag. Finals footy was a huge test for both Dingos clubs; in Division 1, a Qualifying Final thrashing by the Hawks, pushed the Dingos to the brink, but a strong bounceback win against the Rebels propelled the Dingos to their first Grand Final since 2010. In Division 2, the Dingos defeated the Blues in their semi-final and both clubs celebrated their imminent Grand Final appearances versus the Broadview Hawks. Unfortunately, while the Division 2 boys, led by Paul Tinkler and Mick McFarlane were able to soundly defeat their opponents, the Division 1 club came up a little short, losing a close match to the Hawks. Having come so close, the Dingos were optimistic that the 2014 season would end with the club finally winning their first Div 1 flag since 2005.
2015 - 2017
The 2014 AFLO Awards Banquet was held on September 6th in downtown Toronto. The 2015 season marked the 20th for the Toronto Dingos football club. Off the field, a huge gala celebration was planned for mid-season, spearheaded by inaugural Dingo Paul Tinkler. On the field, the Dingos were looking to celebrate the milestone year by getting back into Finals and making a run at the flag.
They were helped in this endeavor by the arrival of young Aussie Mitchell "Fridgy" Stewart, who joined Wade Edwards up front to give the Div 1 Dingos strong scoring options throughout the season. Along with another rookie Rob McNaughton and returning aussies Alex Aitken, Tom Humphries, and captain Shaun McKay, the Dingos Aussie contingent was as strong as it had ever been. To their Canadian core, the Dingos would also add backman Mike Bocian and Irishman Niall O'Kane. These newcomers would become vital to the Dingos efforts throughout the long season.
For the second year in a row, the Dingos headed out of town on a preseason footy trip under the guidance of returning coach Justin Robertson. Looking to work on a little fitness, develop strategies for the season, and bond prior to the start of the season, the boys had a great session and were eager to jump into the season.
The early part of the season was back-and-forth for the Div 1 Dingos, with tough close losses coming to the Roos and Hawks while defeating the Eagles and Demons. A win in Guelph, followed by a wet clash in monsoon rain vs the Rebels left the Dingos looking strong heading into the second half of the season. Following a loss in Ottawa, the Dingos reeled off 5 victories in a row heading into Finals, capped by Wade Edwards breaking a 15-year-old Dingos record by kicking over 70 goals for the season.
For the Div 2 boys, the 2015 season was a dominant march to the Finals, going undefeated and playing tough footy under the leadership of aussies Alvin Ranchhod and George Craig.
Locked into a top 2 spot in the ladder, the Div 1 Dingos felt that the time had finally come to win their first flag since 2005. Defeating the Rebels in the Qualifying Finals, the Dingos were up against the tough Etobicoke Kangaroos in the Semi-Finals. There, despite some valiant play, the Dingos were unable to overcome in-game injuries a fell to the 'Roos in a heartbreaking defeat. The loss was especially tough to swallow as the Dingos knew they would likely be losing a number of their core members in the offseason, including Shawn McKay, Tom Humphries, and Fridgey.
In Division 2, the Red & Black were able to overcome a tough battle versus the Rebels and secured their 3rd Mike Pyke Cup. C'arn the Dingos!
Off the field, the highlight of the season was the incredible midseason 20th Anniversary gala hosted by the Dingos and spearheaded by Paul Tinkler. With over 80 current and former players, supporters, wives/girlfriends in attendance it was a night of celebration and comraderie that will not soon be forgotten.
Following the season, the Dingos headed off to Syracuse for their annual footy trip, and held their annual Awards night where James Duggan and Wade Edwards took home the Stewart Award for Best & Fairest play.
Most veteran Dingos would describe the 2016 season as 'odd'. It was rare that the club faced such turmoil and turnover, yet on the field the club managed to qualify for Finals yet again, though falling short of their goal of winning the flag.
The Canadian core of the Dingos mostly remained intact, though losses of Denis Cormier (to New Brunswick) and Simon Sigler (to Ottawa) were felt. As well, veterans Chris Buczkowski, Ramsey Blacklock, and David Wells all had to take a step back due to growing families.
Within the league, the Dingos were saddened to learn of the collapse of the Division 2 competition. With only the Dingos and Rebels able to field a Div 2 team, there would be no opportunity for the boys to defend the Mike Pyke Cup. This lack of competition hurt the Dingos at training, as several Div 2 players fell away from the club.
Nevertheless, the boys in the Red & Black forged ahead under the leadership of Justin Robertson as new club President, and Geoff Hansen as Division 1 coach. Once again, the club was able to book a preseason trip, this year to Kingston to begin training and prepare for the season.
From the opening round, it was clear that the Dingos would be in a fight all season long, with few easy games. A close win versus the Swans was followed by a pair of losses, including one celebrating Chris Buczkowski's 200th match for the club. Soon after, however, the boys were able to string together some solid wins and climb the AFLO ladder. Rob McNaughton led the club from full-forward, kicking 24 goals on the season, while new rookie Thomas Santibanez-Espinosa tore up the league, kicking 20 in only 8 matches. In addition, the Dingos were proud to celebrate young Canadian gun Jimmy Duggan's 100th match for the club, an great feat.
Unfortunately, the Dingos faced challenges behind the scenes, as Justin Robertson and Mike Karas took over coaching duties, due to other commitments from Geoff Hansen. In addition, longtime Dingos' sponsor, the SportsCentre Cafe shut its doors after 20 years, forcing the club to look for new sponsorship and a post-training social scene.
Nevertheless, the boys persevered and finished the season qualifying for Finals as the 4th seed. Unfortunately, this seeding forced the boys to travel up the 401 to Ottawa for a clash against the high-flying Swans, where they fell in a close match in the Semi-Final.
After the match, club founder Paul Tinkler announced his retirement and was carried off by the lads. It was a bitter end to the 2016 campaign, though the boys soon turned their attention to hosting another successful AFL Grand Final party and the annual footy trip, this year to Montreal. Additionally, the club marked a bit of a turning point as two players won the Stewart Award for the first time at Awards Night - Rob McNaughton (Aus) and Mike Bocian (Can). The Red & Black would be looking to the two of them to lead them in 2017.
2017 was to be one of the hardest years in the long history of the Toronto Dingos. The club struggled all year with low numbers. The club finished last on the ladder, for the first time ever. And soon after the season ended, tragedy struck the club. Certainly, 2017 was a season to forget.
It started, as they all do, with the rotation in and out of players. Longtime Canadian stalwart James Duggan departed for Australia, a key loss in the midfield for the Red & Black. Additionally, Australians Wade Edwards, Tom Humphries, and Dane Roberts all said their final goodbyes to the club. Recruiting continued to be a challenge, but the boys were happy to welcome Timothy Indian, Ben Moller, Eoghan Bergin, Lynden Evers, Alex Cataford, Mike McMurrich, and Curtis Parker - more new Canadians than the Red & Black had seen in many years.
Preseason was busy with a training trip to London planned around social events at the Marlies, Blue Jays, and St Paddy's Day parade. New head coach Mike Karas put the lads through the paces and helped push fitness as the boys headed into Week 1, where the boys responded with a big win over the Gargs. However, the results fell off afterward, with the Red & Black losing their next three matches. Even a mid-season victory over the Demons couldn't stop the slide. Great seasons by Aussie midfielders Michael Ladd, Steven Speers (2017 Steward Award winner) and Patrick Bossey (Stewart Award winner) went for nought.
The Dingos finished the season at just 2-10, at the bottom of the ladder for the first time in their history. Perhaps most disheartening, the Dingos struggled to field a full side most weeks. Attrition through departures and injuries left the boys depleted with few bench options. As a final insult to the 2017 season, longtime Dingo Dave Wells, middle of three brothers who have played for the club and closing in on 150 games, tore his ACL in the final meaningless game. Carted off the field in the 2nd quarter, the boys ended up losing by a single point.
Heading into the offseason, the Dingos were looking to bounce back and build their club back into a powerhouse in the AFLO. Veteran Everett Wells took over as Club President and Dingos recruiting seemed to be bearing fruit.
In the midst of this, however, the Dingos family was dealt a staggering blow with the shocking passing of longtime president, teammate, and friend Tim Shaw. As Dingos old and new gathered in Toronto to pay respects to Shawy, it was clear that, win or lose, the Red & Black were a family and would move forward together, trying to bear the burden of Tim's loss through the upcoming years.
Trying to move forward despite heavy hearts, the Dingos began preparing for the 2018 AFLO season. Under Canadian coach Mike Karas preseason trainings were well attended and club social events such as marching in the St. Paddy's Day parade through downtown Toronto helped to lift some spirits and provide optimism for the upcoming season.
Amidst this optimism, however, the Dingos family was staggered again, learning of the passing of Alex Aitken a dynamic australian midfielder who had won the Stewart Award as Best & Fairest for the club as recently as 2014. His loss was a blow and left a hole in many on the club.
With the folding of the Broadview Hawks leaving a 9-team league, the Dingos were perhaps fortunate to have a bye week to start the season. This gave the club a little extra time to sort themselves out and integrate new players into the fold. And for the first time in many years, it seemed as though recruiting would significant bolster club numbers, rather than simply make up for the attrition of players lost in the offseason. And with players such as Steven Speers and Dave Wells gone for the season, successful recruitment was more valuable than ever.
The rookies integrated well with veteran stalwarts such as Michael Ladd, Rob McNaughton, Tom Bell and Michael Bocian and carried the club to a bounce-back year, finishing with a Finals berth after missing out in 2017. A close loss to the Etobicoke Kangaroos in the Elimination Finals spelled the end of the 2018 season, but the club had turned itself around from the bleakness of 2017. And the club celebrated at a raucous Awards Night, where Irish players John Curtin (best rookie) and Steven Donnelly (Stewart Award) along with aussie Michael Ladd (Stewart Award) were honoured.