The longest AFL roadtrip in the country will see more than 110 of the brightest young Aussie Rules athletes come together, in a bid to have their talent recognised.
The Chris Johnson (boys) and Angie Nadredre (girls) Cups will take place next Wednesday in Bamaga at the northernmost tip of Australia.
Athletes aged 15-17 from across Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands will not only compete for their respective teams, but also have a chance to impress AFL Queensland scouts.
“It’s a talent ID program. We’re identifying talent for 2019, to compete in the North Queensland development pathways,” event coordinator Sean Hunter said.
“But it’s also a chance to use AFL to access community and have conversations about positive life choices and change where required.”
The main convoy leaves Cairns on Monday for a 12-hour journey to Bramwell Station, before driving a further four hours to Mapoon to run a No School, No Play program, with games for the local kids. The final leg is a short drive to the Loyalty Beach Campground, where the main event is held on Wednesday.
The message: do well in school and you get to play footy.
The No School, No Play program is the overarching theme of the event which will also see Queensland Police travelling with the convoy to talk with kids about the issues facing their communities.
The Australian Army will also take part, running drills and educational messages for the participants that will give them a taste of life in the Army.
Former Brisbane Lions Premiership player Chris Johnson has supported the concept since its inception more than 10-years ago, when Angie Nadredre started her AFL journey.
Nadredre came up through the Chris Johnson Cup pathway and through her achievements in Far North Queensland AFL, as well as her support of the game off the field, she had the girls’ cup named after her.
Nadredre will travel with the convoy from Cairns next Monday.
“This trip is back at home for me, and this is a way for me to give back,” Nadredre said.
“I will talk with a lot of the kids about their challenges, one-on-one and in groups.”
“I’ve been counting down and texting everyone. We usually have a staff vs. kids’ game, and I’m keen to have a run.”
Tagai State College, based on Thursday Island, is sending a boys’ and a girls’ team. The criteria for selection in their teams stretches off the playing field.
“You have to turn up to training, but you also have to have a certain standard with school work, have 80% or better attendance rate, and achieve a level of good behaviour,” Tagai State College Sports Coordinator Matthew Arkell said.
Three Tagai students who played in last year’s cup have since been picked up by the Gold Coast Suns in their development program.
Tagai College will play games against five other clubs including: Mount St Bernard College (Herberton), AFL Cape York House, a combined Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls’ team, Northern Peninsula Area State College (Bamaga) and a team made up of several Clontarf Foundation academies.
AFL Cape York, a division of AFL Queensland, has been running the week-long event for over a decade and Hunter says it’s the region’s most recognised annual event.
“It shows who we are and what we do, the logistical travel of what we do,” Hunter said.
“Annually we service 37 face-to-face communities, including the islands.
“Despite the distance, we want to be able to show that there’s a pathway if you do the right thing in the community. You’re respectful, responsible and you’re proud.”
Hunter says AFL Cape York does everything it can to ensure the athletes who are selected maintain a connection to their community, even if they move south.
“We invest back into the community as we go. AFL want to invest into the community where our talent lies. We don’t just want to be taking you away from your community,” he said.
By Keiran Deck