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AFL honours Indigenous contribution -

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AFL honours Indigenous contribution

Reporter: Mike Sexton

KERRY O'BRIEN: It took a long time for Australian Rules football to wake up to the potential of
Indigenous players at the elite level. Indigenous players now make up nearly 10 per cent of the AFL
and those figures are expected to grow. But you have to wonder why until the late '80s very few
made it to the top. Now, in recognition of their contribution to the game, the AFL has today named
an Indigenous team of the 20th Century from a squad of 35 greats. Mike Sexton reports on the career
of one of those players who has been out of the headlines for 40 years, but whose impact on the
game remains undiminished.

IAN DAY, FORMER SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PLAYER: It's the great reflexes that make Aboriginal footballers
very exciting.

MIKE SEXTON: Historians are divided as to who invented Australian Rules football, but almost
everyone agrees, Aboriginal players have reinvented it.

KEVIN SHEEDY, ESSENDON FOOTBALL COACH: They offer an alternative called vision. They kick a ball
into the space and make their team-mate run into it.

MIKE SEXTON: Today, the AFL celebrated the special qualities by naming an Indigenous team of the
20th century. Amid those honoured, is a man very few AFL fans have ever heard of, but one who paved
the way for the modern game.

IAN DAY: When he first came down South Adelaide was a lowly club. It was bottom of the premiership
table and going absolutely nowhere.

MIKE SEXTON: In 1961 South Adelaide was the doormat of South Australian league football. and was
desperate for quality players. In a radical move officials went to Darwin to see a Tiwi Islander
named Amparralamtua, whose English name was David Kantilla.

TED EGAN, FOUNDER ST MARY'S FOOTBALL CLUB: They wanted a particular type of footballer. They wanted
a tall ruckman and they saw Kantilla and said, "That's him."

MIKE SEXTON: David Kantilla was instantly noticed down south and not because he was the first Tiwi
man to play in the league. At 194cm, he was athletic and had skill to burn.

TED EGAN: I'll forever see the photo of him in his first game in Adelaide. He was above a pack and
taking the ball from them and way over the heads and the headline was "Canterlevered."

MIKE SEXTON: David Kantilla was judged South Adelaide's Best and Fairest player in his first two
seasons. He played for the state and in 1964 was best afield as the Panthers won their first
premiership in 26 years.

COMMENTATOR: In towards goal. There it goes through.

MIKE SEXTON: Ian Day roved at the feet of David Kantilla for four seasons and helped give him his
nickname "Soapy" because of his love of a long, hot bath after a cold game. He remembers the
restrictions placed on Tiwi Islander by the NT chief welfare officer, including no drinking or

IAN DAY: It was extremely difficult because the Souths players after training on Sunday morning
liked to sit around the changerooms and play probably two-bob poker in those days (20 cent poker)
and David would look over the shoulder and he badly wanted to sit on same trestles as the guy and
play the game, and the players had to fob him off.

MIKE SEXTON: David Kantilla's wife also came to Adelaide, but was deeply homesick.

TED EGAN: His wife was a deaf mute whose 'finguistics' would only be worked out in Tiwi terms so
she wouldn't have been able to communicate with anyone else other than David during the six or
seven years that he was in Adelaide, and I think it's the most remarkable aspect of his adventure
was that he was a companion to her and looked after her.

MIKE SEXTON: In 1967, David Kantilla returned to Darwin to coach the St Mary's Football Club. While
others followed his path to South Australia in the mid-1970s he opened the door for Indigenous
players to taste the competition, Victorian League Football.

KEVIN SHEEDY: I went there in 1974 and met a guy called David Kantilla who'd come from up there in
the islands. I actually promised him that if I ever became a coach I'd take a team up there, and
they helped me with that promise. They rang within 12 months of me becoming coach and said, "You

MIKE SEXTON: Kevin Sheedy is one of the most decorated coaches in AFL history, and one of the
hallmarks of his 25-year reign as Essendon coach has been his championing of Indigenous players.

KEVIN SHEEDY: And I think in general it's been good for the whole country because I think when we
look at it we've got probably half a million Aboriginal people, and we think that there's a lot
more talent there.

MIKE SEXTON: In 1993 the Bombers won the AFL premiership and their best player was Michael Long,
who'd been recruited from David Kantilla's old club, St Mary's.

KEVIN SHEEDY: He was like a matador with the bull, saying, "Well, if you want me, come and get me.
I ain't moving forward, but I've got plenty of space to back pedal." It was sort of like a Pele
with a soccer ball.

MIKE SEXTON: Michael Long also helped change football with his campaign against racial abuse. In
1995, the AFL became the first sporting competition in the country to adopt a specific rule
relating to racial abuse.

MICHAEL LONG, CHAIRMAN, AFL INDIGENOUS FOUNDATION: There's so many different cultures actually
playing within each club now, so there's a bit more understanding and respect but also that
education process has made a huge difference, and it's made a huge impact to the community as well.
And AFL being the main game in Australia and everyone watching and following it, it's impacted and
filtered down to the community as well.

KEVIN SHEEDY: It was important for this country and I think it was important for football. It was
important that a young person to come down as a very shy young man, to see him grow into that
decision was pretty powerful.

MIKE SEXTON: Today, Michael Long was honoured by being named in the Indigenous team of the century.
David Kantilla also made the team but was only there in spirit. He was killed in a car accident in
1978, leaving behind a legend both as a player and as a pioneer.

MICHAEL LONG: On a scale of what he's achieved and as a player and a person, like, he's been a
trailblazer that certainly made a pathway and inspiration for so many kids that actually now do
play in the AFL.