Thursday 14 February 2019, 07:49

The inspiration driving Australia’s young indigenous footballers

  • Former player John Moriarty aiding football in Australia’s Aboriginal communities

  • Moriarty a passionate advocate for the indigenous community

  • Young player from a remote community recently made national league debut

In Australia’s dusty Northern Territory outback lies the small town of Borroloola.

To say Borroloola is remote would be an understatement of immense proportions. To reach the nearest city, Darwin, involves a full day’s drive and then some. Reaching the nearest major supermarket involves a jaw-dropping 600-kilometre drive along a dusty dirt road, where a check for crocodiles before passing through any waterways is advisable.

Yet football is thriving in Borroloola, despite Australian Rules football traditionally holding sway in Australia’s remote north.

Spreading the gospel of the world game in Borroloola and, indeed throughout all of Australia’s indigenous population, is John Moriarty. Energetic, articulate and with an understated but strong-willed determination to succeed, octogenarian Moriarty has a life-force that can match those half his age.

Driven by wanting to see more Aboriginal Australians playing football, and the notion that active interest in sport can change lives, the Borroloola-born Moriarty decided to take action. In 2012, John and his son James founded the John Moriarty Football (JMF) program, with those twin ideals at its centrepiece.

John Moriarty with John Moriarty Football players in Sydney (Image courtesy John Moriarty Foundation)

The results have been spectacular. Some 90 per cent of the town’s youth have participated in the program, with many discovering football for the first time.

Through the program’s scholarships, local children have the opportunity for a life-changing opportunity to pursue education and football opportunities in Sydney. Former Australia captain Craig Foster and Socceroos great Tim Cahill have been among those to actively lend their support.

More recently global acknowledgement was forthcoming. The JMF was one of three finalists for the FIFA Diversity Award 2018 – the first Australian to receive such recognition.

The establishment of the JMF broke new ground, but Moriarty has always been something of a pioneer. He is considered the first indigenous Australian to earn national team selection, although the planned 1960 international tour was eventually abandoned. By the time Australia returned from a seven-year international hiatus, injury saw Moriarty’s career come to a premature end.

A dynamic, pocket-sized winger on the pitch, Moriarty took his artistic creativity off-field and in 1983 he founded with his wife Ros the Aboriginal strategy and design business Balarinji, whose distinctive indigenous designs have appeared on objects ranging from posters to Qantas planes.

John Moriarty playing for Port Thistle Adelaide in the 1960s (Image courtesy John Moriarty Foundation)

Seven years ago Moriarty returned to his football roots. The JMF was designed to bring together six to 16-year-old children through football, promoting education, good health and well-being. With the program embedded locally, there is also a positive flow-on effect to the young players’ families and the wider community.

“An important part of our mission is allowing these children to become an individual with a clear vision and aspiration so they can see the future themselves.” Moriarty said. “The game did so much for me, and I hope football can bring a brighter future to the young players our program works with.”

Its success has been extraordinary. Thirty per cent of the 12-14 year-old participants have been selected for representative teams at some level, resulting in opportunities for travel and broadened horizons.

That slow climb up the football pyramid reached a new level a few weeks ago with Shadeene Evans debuting for W-League heavyweights Sydney FC, becoming the first Borroloola local to play at national league level. The youngster also made an appearance for Australia’s national U-20 team last year.

Success rate for indigenous Australians has historically been mixed. Notably, Harry Williams appeared for Australia at the 1974 FIFA World Cup™, while more recently Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams have been key contributors at the past two FIFA Women’s World Cups™.

Thanks to Moriarty’s passionate endeavour, Evans and some of her townsfolk could well add to that list in the future.

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