The rocky road to the AFL

TALENT will get a player only so far. North Ballarat Rebels and St Patrick’s College football programs both operate on the basis of wholistic development.

Rebels regional manager Phil Partington and St Pat’s head coach Howard Clark say dedication, a strong support network and the right attitude are imperative to making it to AFL. That and sheer hard work.

The AFL rookie draft earlier this week stirred up indigenous recruitment issues for perceived personal problems.

At the centre this time was Essendon for overlooking Perth teenager Dayle Garlett, after  going on bender until 4am, three days before the pre-season draft.

Unwillingness of clubs to renew Liam Jurrah’s career also flamed the issue.

Essendon Aboriginal veteran Nathan Lovett-Murray, a former Rebel, met with the AFL yesterday to put forward his ideas for how the pathway to AFL and about AFL clubs could be improved for indigenous players.

At St Pat’s, Mr Clark said it started with a lot of communication and understanding to ensure talented young indigenous students – not just the footballers – felt a sense of belonging, which they could draw on when needed after they have finished school.

The college’s indigenous education program, led by Rick Belchin, works with 34 indigenous students – 17 are boarders from Haywood, Swan Hill, Mansfield, the Tiwi Islands, Darwin and Alice Springs.

Mr Belchin continually visits the Northern Territory’s indigenous communities, including his students’ primary schools, and maintains constant contact with students’ families to ensure each boy has the best chance of educational success.

It was also about helping players embrace the wider Ballarat community.

“The main thing in their excelling in football and their education is the confidence and belief they can do it and to feel they belong,” Mr Clark said.

“We embrace them as family. It’s really important that, from whichever community they are from, we get the right structures,  and we’re derelict in our duty if we don’t do that.

“As a school we’re so much more enriched and have more soul because of it.”

St Patrick’s College and North Ballarat Football Club have a lengthy record of success developing indigenous players

Jake Neade (Port Adelaide) and Dom Barry (Melbourne) were taken in pre-draft trades this year and are among six Aboriginal players to join AFL clubs post-season.

Each took time to settle into Ballarat life after arriving from the Northern Territory, but Mr Clark said Neade became a “spiritual leader” in school football– a three-time MCC-Herald Sun Shield premiership player – and Barry, once he applied himself, was exciting.

Mr Partington said it was encouraging to know players like Lovett-Murray were leading a charge to help offer indigenous players support once they reached the AFL system.

He said all players were asked to give their best, on and off the ground, from the moment they start the Rebels program.

“When players come into the program, even pre-season, one thing we do is ask for their best on and off the ground,” Mr Partington said.

“All players are always being judged and that’s instilled into the boys when they first walk into the program.

“We work hard with our boys to ensure they’re all good citizens.”

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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