Matthew Stokes of the Cats kicks during the round nine AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the Geelong Cats at Etihad Stadium on May 25, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.
Matthew Stokes of the Cats kicks during the round nine AFL match between the Western Bulldogs and the Geelong Cats at Etihad Stadium on May 25, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

The Northern Territory a gold mine for top AFL talent

THE AFL should bankroll a franchise from the Northern Territory.

It probably won't happen - Tasmania can't even get a look in - but imagine the excitement a team comprising a host of mercurial gems from the Top End would bring to the competition.

Being able to stay close to home, it would be a surefire way to keep many a young NT player, otherwise lost to it, involved at the elite level.

Then-Adelaide recruiter Matt Rendell found himself in hot water early last year when comments he made about the difficulties associated with keeping some young indigenous players due to the strong 'go-home' factor were aired.

Though any young player from remote areas - black or white - can struggle to deal with city life and the demands of professional football (just ask Shane Crawford's brother Justin), the much-maligned Rendell had a point.

Clubs just need to take as much responsibility as the player for any union to be successful.

For every Andrew McLeod or Michael Long, far too often over the years there has been an Adrian McAdam, who bursts on to the scene only for their career to be burnt out as quickly as it started.

From the Southern District Crocs, McAdam debuted for North Melbourne in 1993, kicking bags of 7, 10 and 6 in his first three games for a total of 68 in his first season.

But after failing to replicate those performances in his second year, then suffering a broken jaw, and his older brother Gilbert being traded from St Kilda to Brisbane, Adrian headed home.

"Had I grown up in Melbourne I would have been all right, would have known how to be more professional and more dedicated. I didn't work hard enough when things went bad," he said in a 2007 interview.

"I needed a mentor, someone to guide me and show me the right way to do things. I think that happens a lot more now."

Clubs have certainly learnt to be more patient than the Kangaroos were in the mid-'90s, and, more importantly, have the right support structure.

Ex-Port Adelaide skipper Shaun Burgoyne now plays a senior role at Hawthorn as mentor to players like Cyril Rioli and Amos Frank who hails from the APY Lands in far north South Australia.

Then there's Geelong, which has Matthew Stokes as a leader to the club's six indigenous players, including fellow Territorian Steven Motlop, part of the Larrakia people of Darwin.

While Motlop's older brothers, Shannon and Daniel, were unable to deliver for long periods at North and Port, respectively, Steven is flourishing alongside Stokes and Allen Christensen in the town known as 'Sleepy Hollow'.

While away from the field they are involved with the club's Closing the Gap program - which addresses Aboriginal issues - on the field they are linking superbly and were catalysts in their team's impressive win over Sydney last week, the run and flair of Stokes (31 disposals, 2 goals) and Motlop (15 touches, 3 goals) a highlight.

The Western Bulldogs, who have tried to become the 'NT's own' by hosting a couple of games in Darwin each year, suffered two losses during the off-season when their two Territorians returned home.

Zephaniah Skinner, who former coach Rodney Eade said had the ability to "leap tall buildings" when he arrived from the NT Thunder, walked out of Whitten Oval soon after Nathan Djerkurra did.

AFL engagement and talent co-ordinator Chris Johnson explained at the time: "Nathan would have put him under his wing and helped him out a fair bit. The Bulldogs went to massive lengths, but when someone's made up their mind that they want to be back with their family and cultural belongings, it's a bit hard to change that."

Of course, then there was the 'Warlpiri Wizard', Liam Jurrah, who after 81 goals from just 36 games with Melbourne, headed back to Yuendumu, 300km from Alice Springs, last year, following in the footsteps of Tiwi Islander Austin Wonaeamirri (31 games, 37 goals), whose own time at the Demons was far too brief.


PRESENT NT PLAYERS

  • Shaun Burgoyne (209 games) PA/HAW
  • Jared Brennan (162) BL/GC
  • Aaron Davey (161) MELB
  • Matthew Stokes (135) GEEL
  • Richard Tambling (119) RI/AD
  • Cyril Rioli (109) HAW
  • Tom Logan (104) BL/PA
  • Alwyn Davey (90) ESS
  • Steven Motlop (31) GEEL
  • Curtly Hampton (20) GWS
  • Steven May (13) GC
  • Liam Patrick (11) GC
  • Shaun Edwards (10) GWS
  • Jed Anderson (3) HAW

 

NT'S RETIRED GREATS

  • Andrew McLeod (340) ADEL
  • Nathan Buckley (280) BL/COLL
  • Darryl White (268) BL
  • Joel Bowden (265) RICH
  • Peter Burgoyne (240) PA
  • Michael Long (190) ESS
  • Michael McLean (183) WB/BB
  • Ronnie Burns (154) GEEL
  • Maurice Rioli (118) RICH
  • Gilbert McAdam (111) SK/BB

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