By HARRY CLARKE
ONE of outback Queensland’s finest rugby league exports in recent years, Michael Purcell, has tragically passed away.
Purcell, a former Queensland Cup player for both the Ipswich Jets and East Tigers who many believed belonged in the NRL, was 29 years old.
Tributes are flowing on social media for the charismatic and highly admired footballer, who originally came from Cunnamulla but was raised in Charleville.
The lightning fast fullback and winger was nicknamed the “Kangaroo Catcher” from the day he jumped out of a team bus and managed to chase down and wrangle one of the Australian mammals.
Teammates and friends have told the Caller the humble and gifted footballer had experienced mental health struggles in recent years, exacerbated by a season-ending ACL injury he suffered while playing for the Tigers in 2021.
Purcell’s former coach at the Tigers, John Buchannan, told the Caller the club and his teammates were devastated by the news of his passing.
“It’s just tragic,” Buchannan said.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Michael. He was just really genuine … always had a smile on his face. The thing that I’ll remember most is that big, beaming smile.
“He gave you that persona that he was really laid back, and he was, but he was extremely competitive as well.
“It’s really raw. Tomorrow night we’ll get together as a club and just make sure everyone’s ok. The Queensland Rugby League provides really good support for everyone, so we’ll make sure that’s available to any of our players if needed.
“I had the pleasure of coaching him last year.
“He was a freakish talent. Just an athlete. I remember watching him through a preseason and just thinking it was all effortless, everything he did. I’ve got a lot of good memories of watching him play footy, that’s for sure.”
Purcell’s former Tigers teammate, Luke Dobel, told the Caller that he was shocked and saddened by his death.
“He was just a great footy player and an even better human. It’s just horrible to see that this has happened. I’m sort of lost for words, just numb,” Dobel said.
Charleville mayor Shaun Radnedge said the tight knit community in Purcell’s home town was reeling.
“It’s a bloody shame. He was a really good kid and very well respected,” Radnedge said.
“He was a very, very good sportsman and footballer. About ten years ago he went away and ran in the New York Marathon as part of an Indigenous program.
“He had a pretty tough life early on. He came from a family in Cunnamulla who were in a bit of strife and was raised by a couple here in Charleville. They helped turn his life around.”
Those who knew Purcell have said on social media he was a “a freakish talent and definitely a true gentleman on and off the field”, and “one of the nicest young men you could cross paths with”.