A football team that hasn’t won a premiership since 1977 is hoping to break its 40-year losing streak with a fresh crop of talented Indigenous players.
The Perth ‘Demons’ Football Club, a West Australian Football League team, has tapped into a gold mine of new Indigenous players from Northam, a country town 97km north-east of Perth.
To help the players reach their full potential, the Demons have appointed a full-time Aboriginal Engagement Officer – a first for the WAFL competition.
But even the new appointment Callum Walley, a senior Demons player himself, is at a loss to explain why so many talented young players are coming through from the Northam and Central Wheatbelt areas at the same time.
“We’re trying to put a handle on that and we’re not really sure,” Walley said. “But with the success of the boys we’re getting out of there and coming into our Perth Colts … I think there are a few strong family connections as well.
“Especially over the last few years, it’s been astounding to see the footballers we’re getting from there and I wish I knew why.
“It’s the new ones coming through, young boys who have so much talent. A lot more people will know their names in the next few years as they hopefully make the AFL system.”
To make the players feel more comfortable living away from home, the Demons have also set up a home-away-from-home for them in Perth.
Walley currently lives in the house with three of the country players — one aged 16 and the other two aged 18.
The Demons now have about 80 Indigenous players in the club from its Year 8 players up to the League, accounting for about 25 percent of its total player pool.
Walley, who also runs football programs inside a local detention centre, said the Demons felt it was important to invest time in its players of the future — and hopefully it would help break the club’s premiership drought.
“The Perth Football Club has been starved of a premiership since 1976, so if it is something that will lead to on-field success, that is going to be the ultimate goal,” he says. “(But) developing these young blokes as people and making sure they are positive rolemodels to society and the community is going to be a success story as well.”
Part of Walley’s role is to help players with any off-field stress so that when they go on to play, they can focus on their football. He also tries to give country players living away from home a sense of family.
“The club realised with so many Indigenous players coming through that they need someone in a support capacity, looking after them and just overseeing how they are going, not just with their football but also outside the footy club, whether that be school or work or uni,” Walley said.
“We can obviously see how talented they are with their football – that was very clear. It’s just making sure … football isn’t the be all and end all. It’s not going to be there forever. It’s just making sure their support away from the footy club and with life has a bit more structure.
“I think it was just establishing a connection as well so there is always communication and the boys have someone they can rely on and someone they can talk to. If they don’t feel comfortable talking to a coach or a senior player, then they have someone like myself in that role.
“It’s just something really good. If the boys do get drafted we can sort of map out the pathway they have taken and that can be something boys coming through, especially our Year 8, 9 and 10s can obviously follow suit and it will be something special for the football club.”
By Wendy Caccetta