Vale Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale

St Kilda champion Kevin ‘Cowboy’ Neale has died aged 78 after a lengthy health battle.

A hero from the Saints’ 1966 VFL premiership, Neale ranks 11th on the club’s all-time games list after a 256-match career, which was at the time a St Kilda record.

He later captain-coached Canberra club Ainslie to four premierships in the ACT and led the ACT to a famous victory over a Victorian team in a pre-cursor to State of Origin. Cowboy then coached Central District in the SANFL

Cowboy’s career in Canberra is a storied one. He came to the Ainslie Football Club in 1978 as Captain Coach. Over a period of six years (1978-1983) he played in successive Grand Finals and was successful on four occasions with two of those years undefeated.

Cowboy still holds the goal kicking record in AFL Canberra of 149 goals in 1980. Cowboy was captain-coach of many ACTAFL representative teams, and a highlight was his achievement of being Captain-Coach when the ACT team beat Victoria in 1980.

He is a champion of St Kilda, but Cowboy’s influence at Ainslie is unparalleled, and he was an inaugural member of AFL Canberra’s Hall of Fame in 2006 and achieved Legend status in 2019. In his six seasons as Captain Coach, he kicked an incredible 430 goals, won four Premierships from six grand finals and drew thousands of people through the gate to grow the game of AFL in the region.

After his playing days in Canberra, Cowboy was senior coach at Central Districts in South Australia for four seasons (1984-1987) after which he returned to the ACT to coach Tuggeranong for a further three seasons (1993-1995).

In 1998, he was again coach of Ainslie FC and the ACTAFL representative team.


Neale celebrates Ainslie’s 1980 Premiership in front of a huge crowd.
(Main image also 1980 Premiership)


Hailed by St Kilda as a “larger-than-life character” Neale returned to St Kilda after his retirement and worked in its marketing department and was president of the Past Players Association.

“Cowboy was truly a beloved figure at the Saints, not only among his teammates and fans, but by those who worked alongside him at the club long after his playing days,” a club statement released on Sunday morning read.

“Renowned for his great physical strength as a footballer, he was also blessed with exceptional skills for a big man which enabled him to play as either a key defender or forward.

“Truly a larger-than-life character in every way, Cowboy was always able to engage with people across various generations.

“His health struggles in recent times were well-publicised, and his teammates regularly visited him in Albury as a group… his wife Georgina was always a constant pillar of strength and the club extends its deepest sympathies.”

Named in a back pocket in St Kilda’s Team of the Century, Neale will always hold a special place in the hearts of Saints’ fans, having booted five goals in their only Grand Final win to lead the side to a one-point victory against Collingwood.

Neale’s death comes as Australia’s biggest football code mourns the loss of Ron Barassi, an icon of the game who, like his St Kilda contemporary, became a household name in the 1960s.


Neale and fellow St Kilda Premiership hero, Barry Breen, in 2016