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Footy working its Magic at Wadeye

Posted: Thu, October 27, 2011

Wadeye’s Murphy Longmair weaves his magic at Darwin’s Gardens Oval. Picture: Epic Moments

FOOTBALLERS from the remote Aboriginal community of Wadeye could soon be mixing it with the best that established Northern Territory Football League clubs have to offer.

The Wadeye Magic Football Club was invited to play a ten-game trial in the NTFL’s Division 1 or reserves competition in season 2011-2012, but after a stunning run of success, the men from the NT’s largest Aboriginal community are eyeing an even grander stage next season.

“Providing the NTFL would consider it, we’d be pushing pretty hard to push up into the Premier League next year,” the Magic’s playing coach James McNamee said.

“Across the ground we’re playing with a side which is fully from Wadeye and I think that at this stage we’d be reasonably competitive, particularly with the lower end sides and that’s sort of what we want to aim towards.”
McNamee knows too well what’s required to be successful in the Territory’s premiere AFL competition.

Last season he secured an NTFL Premier League flag with Wanderers and walked away with the Territory’s highest individual footballing honour, the Nichols Medal.

McNamee has lived at Wadeye for the past two years, working as AFL-NT’s regional development manager in the region.

Much like the community itself, where new houses and even new suburbs are being built as part of the Commonwealth government’s commitment to closing the gap, AFL in Wadeye is booming.

A fiercely-contested local competition sees matches played on both Saturdays and Sundays and participation rates have gone through the roof in recent seasons.

McNamee said the success of the local competition paved the way for the great leap into the unknown which was the NTFL.

“Football had progressed to the level that it was pretty good in the community and the local competition was running really well, but the big issue that we saw was that the best players in Wadeye were still only playing in Wadeye,” he said.

“We needed to broaden the horizons and get them to have the experience of playing against better players and in a better competition.”

Wadeye Magic was an instant hit.

The team thrashed Palmerston in their first Division 1 outing and after four rounds had dropped only one match – a narrow loss to competition powerhouse Banks in round four.

“These guys are only going to get better. Most of them, they’d never trained properly, they’d never really played structured football,” McNamee said.

“At the end of the ten-week trial, if we played the side that we played in round 1 again, I think we did win that game by 78 points, but I think we would probably do it even easier so we’re definitely getting better as this goes on.”

McNamee says measuring the success of the Wadeye Magic Football Club concept was not just a matter of looking at the wins and losses column on the Division 1 ladder.

The club, while committed to achieving strong results on the field, is dedicated to improving the social structure of the communities it represents.

McNamee points to a high number of young men aged between 15 and 30 and sees an endless supply of footballing talent.

Wadeye Magic, though, demands much more of its players than an ability to take a high mark or convert a goal from long-range.

School-aged players must be attending classes, while their older teammates are expected to be employed or undertaking training.

“They’re saying that by 2020 or something there’s going to be 4500 people in Wadeye so these guys are going to be the leaders of the community,” McNamee said.

“We’re really focussed on trying to re-engage them in their education, employment and training so that’s been our main focuses I suppose.

“We’ve got 44 players on our list so there are probably 16 guys that were doing nothing that we’ve now got going into employment and training every day.”

Several Wadeye players have attained NT driver’s licences for the first time this season, while many have also undertaken first aid training.

McNamee says family pressures had often prevented players from Wadeye and surrounding communities from playing in Darwin.

He uses the example of former Darwin Buffalo Gary Ariuu, who has been a star for the Magic in the Division 1 trial.

“For him to play NTFL last year, he used to have to fuel up his car on Thursday and take Friday off work.,” McNamee said.

“He’d drive in and train Thursday night, miss Friday’s work and then play footy on Saturday and drive home on Sunday.

“He’d be away from his family for three or four days and he’s got young kids and that sort of thing. Whereas with this, he lives at Palumpa, he works every day of the week and then on Saturday morning he gets in the car and drives across and jumps on the plane.

“We fly in, we fly home after the game and then he drives home to Palumpa. He’s probably only out of the community for 12 hours so he’s loving it.”

McNamee knows the biggest challenge facing the Wadeye Magic as it looks to become an established NTFL force is not attracting playing talent, but securing the required funding.

It costs about $10,000 to fly the team into Darwin and back each weekend.

“If you have a successful year and you play finals in Premier League, you play 18 games and you might play four finals so you’re spending around $220,000 in flights you’ve got to be securing a lot of funding to be sustainable so that’s the biggest threat to the club.”

McNamee said the club had received strong support from the local business community and had a policy to source local sponsorship, rather than outside dollars from large corporates.

“It’s just more sustainable,” he said.

“When you get money from outside you never know when that’s going to dry up so we’re a local footy team which needs local support.”

McNamee said the Murrinpatha Nimmipa Store had made a major contribution as the club’s inaugural major sponsor, while Murin Air and Thamarrurr Development Corporations had also made sizeable contributions and assisted with in-kind support.

At the completion of its ten-game Division 1 trial, the Magic’s players will return to their local clubs in the Wadeye competition.

McNamee says improving the local leagu and lifting the professionalism of coaches and players will be crucial to Wadeye’s chances in the NTFL next season – either in Division 1 or Premier League.

He will look to select a squad of around 40 players early in the New Year, before putting them through an arduous pre-season regime which is sure to have the Magic primed for big things in 2012/2013.

“If we can win a few games of footy along the way, while we’re increasing the social values within the community, that’s a great outcome.”