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Sheedy still promoting Indigenous football ta -

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Sheedy still promoting Indigenous football talent

Reporter: Murray McLaughlin

KERRY O'BRIEN: Longevity is not something you normally associate with coaching football teams. But
Kevin Sheedy has been in charge of the Essendon Football Club since 1981, and has taken the club to
four premierships, the last in 2000. Over a quarter of a century he's come to be identified as the
AFL coach who's most promoted and nurtured Indigenous talent, and that reputation was once again on
display in Darwin on Friday night, when the Essendon Bombers overwhelmed an all-Indigenous team
selected from AFL teams around the land. Murray McLaughlin was with the legendary coach, whose
support in the Top End is as faithful as it is on his own home ground.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Every two years, Darwin hosts a match between a national Indigenous football
team and an AFL team, at the worst of the hot and humid wet season in the Top End. Friday night's
match against Essendon was the fourth such encounter and the first time an All Stars team has been
beaten. And after the 50 point thrashing, the All Stars coach, Michael McLean, was happy to pay
tribute to Essendon's coach, Kevin Sheedy.

MICHAEL MCLEAN, ALL STARS COACH: I'm more than happy for Kevin Sheedy to beat the All Stars.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Last week was Kevin Sheedy's seventh visit to the Top End. His popularity among
Indigenous footy followers in particular was obvious.

KEVIN SHEEDY, ESSENDON COACH: Hopefully our loyalty to the Northern Territory and the loyalty to
the Indigenous people of Australia pays out, because I feel it's a very important part of this game
that it can bring in the great young talent of the Indigenous players.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Kevin Sheedy's football career began with the Prahran club in 1964. Back then,
he was vaguely aware of only a couple of Indigenous football players.

KEVIN SHEEDY: Well, I mean, I lived in Chapel Street, South Yarra and you didn't get to meet any
Indigenous players or people in the '50s and '60s.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Kevin Sheedy was much more aware of emerging players from migrant families, who
tended to cop the sort of racist gibes that Indigenous footy players would endure in later years.

KEVIN SHEEDY: You would give them a mouthful just to see if you could get any reaction, but you
didn't know any better. We'd just been at war with Italy and they weren't called Italians then,
they were called dagos and wogs and everything else that you could name around the place. But for a
15-year-old, 16-year-old kid, you knew no better.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Essendon's visit to the Top End was more extensive than Friday night's All Stars
match. Players visited remote communities like Wadeye on the mainland and Nguiu, the administrative
centre of the Tiwi Islands north of Darwin. Kevin Sheedy's first visit to the Tiwi Islands was in
1974, when he came to appreciate that the special skills of Indigenous players could change the
game.

KEVIN SHEEDY: I mean, they actually are the best disposers of a footy and they actually kick the
ball to a site, not a person, the site being an area of the ground, and they make you run onto the
ball, and they make you run there because "I think that's where you should run to catch it. I can
see the next two steps down the ground will be safe for you." Very, very smart.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: It was in the early 1980s, soon after his appointment as Essendon's coach, that
Kevin Sheedy suggested the club look at drawing from the growing bank of Indigenous talent.

KEVIN SHEEDY: I just asked the board, "Is there any reason why we've never had an Aboriginal here
for 40 years?" That probably shocked them a bit. I think Ken Fraser said, "Look, there's been no
player ever put up to say yes or no to." I thought, well, that was a fair enough answer. So in the
end, I said, I think it is about time we went to look to see if we could get one.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Sheedy's most famous recruit was Michael Long, who went on to win the Norm Smith
Medal for best on the ground in the 1993 Grand Final.

KEVIN SHEEDY: Michael Long showed such an array of talents that he actually taught us a different
way of playing football by the way he played.

MICHAEL LONG, ESSENDON PLAYER, 1989-2001: Kevin Sheedy is a visionary. When I first got there there
was about five or six Indigenous players and over the years no doubt he saw talent in players and I
think other clubs have followed in his footsteps.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: The other clubs have followed to the extent that now more than 70 Indigenous
players are on AFL lists, and Kevin Sheedy has set a target of 100 by 2012. Essendon itself has
drafted eight Indigenous players this season. The club's also sponsored the Tiwi Islands' trial run
this year in the NTFL competition.

PETER JACKSON, ESSENDON CHIEF EXECUTIVE: Footy clubs in our opinion don't exist just to maximise
cash and profit. We believe we exist because the community supports us as a whole. So if we can
come up here and encourage young Indigenous kids to get involved in footy and go to school, then we
think we're playing a role of strengthening the community, which is what we're on about.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Kevin Sheedy says his promotion of Indigenous football players is a 20 year long
process of education and reconciliation.

KEVIN SHEEDY: I try to build bridges. Obviously I've smashed a few down in my life, but I think
I've built more than I've broken. I've found that there's another Australian there that I didn't
know about from when I grew up as a kid at South Yarra. As a matter of fact, they've probably
educated me from a point of view of Kevin, it's not all about you, it's about us, too.

JOHN AH KIT: Nowadays, Indigenous kids around the country just aspire to achieving the heights that
their heroes on the oval, and I think it's good for this country. It's good in terms of the
reconciliation that we need. It's a part of it and it's an enormous contribution, and Kevin Sheedy
will be recognised for that.

KEVIN SHEEDY: See, patience.

(c) 2007 ABC