How coaching is helping our people

THERE is an important development taking place in Darwin and one that, hopefully, will be replicated in football communities across the country; a development that can provide Indigenous Australia a sporting model to follow closely.

This season, more than half the Northern Territory Football League's (NTFL) senior football clubs are coached by Aboriginal men, all with high football pedigrees.

Wanderers, St Mary's, Darwin and Southern Districts have this season former AFL, WAFL and SANFL Indigenous footballers, all Territory grown or with strong links, calling the shots as senior coaches.

South Fremantle premiership player and former AFL North Melbourne Kangaroo Warren Campbell is senior coach at St Marys; former St Kilda and Brisbane Bear utility Gilbert McAdam has taken charge at the Buffaloes; NT legend, SANFL star, Nichols Medallist and premiership player Mark Motlop is in charge at Wanderers; and former Footscray and Brisbane great Michael McLean is calling the shots at Southern Districts after a five-year stint at Nightcliff and, in-between, a short-lived stint at Redland Bombers in the QAFL.

And if you add Tiwi Bombers coach Greg Orsto to that list (for the first 7 rounds this season plus the January 20 Challenge Trophy), that's two thirds of the NTFL's senior coaching positions taken up by Aboriginal men.

A one-time assistant coach to Leigh Matthews at the Brisbane Lions, McLean took Nightcliff to the finals in each of his seasons there, including two grand finals. He is among the most experienced of the group.

McLean (pictured with Chris Lewis) will also lead the 2007 AFL All-Stars as coach, a role he relished in 2003 and 2005.

Former Essendon 100-gamer Dean Rioli, who played five of the Tiwi Bombers' seven games, is also dipping his toes in at coaching. Next season he will be a senior coach in the Essendon District Football League in Melbourne. Should he one day move back to the Territory there is no doubt Rioli will be another to coach at the top level. His on-field leadership for the Tiwi Bombers was also invaluable.

Chris Lewis, a two-time AFL premiership player with West Coast, once coached in the Top End, leading Darwin Buffaloes for a time before a brief stint at a country Victorian club.

Lewis' premiership team-mate Peter Matera was this past season assistant coach at East Perth in the WAFL, as was former Fremantle and Kangaroos (premiership) player Winston Abraham, at Perth.

And then there's Jason Misfud, development coach at the Western Bulldogs, leading the way at AFL level.

In this context, Indigenous football can reap several benefits.

Former AFL players bring back home with them invaluable experience. A concentrated stint with an AFL club under an astute coach, for example, opens the body and mind up to the disciplines required to succeed at the top. If a returning former AFL player-turned-coach can harness just a third of that at State and/or community level the on-field benefits will be huge -- standards of play improves and the league or association can evolve into a commercially attractive 'product' attracting local businesses and sponsors.

Off-field, however, is where whole-of-being lifestyle changes can have a more lasting, tangible impact.

Statistically, Indigenous males are the most vulnerable in Australia, with life expectancy struggling to reach 50 years in some parts. A footballer who is determined to keep up with a new, more intense training regime improves his self in two fundamental areas: physically and mentally. These positive changes can have the effect of bubbling over into positive family living for he and his kin.

Of course, there are other fields where Indigenous Australian males should strive for excellence in -- education, health, academia. Not to trivialise those worthy pursuits but in some regions football offers a highly visible starting point for inspiration to others.

If quality Indigenous individuals can join the likes of Campbell, Lewis, McAdam, Mifsud, Motlop, McLean and Rioli that can only be a good thing.

Saturday 23 December 2006


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