• Sir Doug Nicholls playing AFL. (Nicholls family archive) (Supplied)
Dreamtime at the ‘G is the marquee game in Sir Doug Nicholls Round of the AFL and for two young Aboriginal footballers, dreams are coming true as they make their mark on the game.
By
Will Davies

25 May 2017 - 12:56 PM  UPDATED 25 May 2017 - 2:44 PM

Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round is a celebration of the great and lasting contribution Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made to Australian Rules Football, and two players fast making a lasting impression of their own are Essendon’s Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and Richmond’s Daniel Rioli.

Both are from the Tiwi Islands and both will take centre stage in the showpiece event of Indigenous Round: the Dreamtime at the ‘G game at the AFL’s grandest venue, the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

“It’s unbelievable. I remember when I was going to school at St Pats in Ballarat, and I’ve been to nearly every Dreamtime game and the four years I’d been at St Pats, I’d been to four Dreamtime Games,” Rioli told NITV.

“To be actually out there and playing on the night it’s unbelievable and just thinking back, I was that fan out in the crowd supporting Richmond or Bombers players but to be out on the field and on the ‘G on a special night in front of 80-odd thousand people, to represent your culture and all that is just an unbelievable feeling and I’m super proud of what the AFL is doing for this.

“I’m sure heaps of good memories will come out of it.”

For McDonald-Tipungwuti, his journey to the AFL has been one of hard work and proving himself at the lower levels, before earning a spot on Essendon’s rookie list after strong and sustained performances in the VFL.

The 24-year-old has been a revelation for Essendon in their forward line in 2017, setting the competition alight with his tackling pressure and as part of one of the game’s most exciting goal-kicking units.

Ahead of the Sir Doug Nicholls round, McDonald-Tipungwuti said having to earn his place on the game’s big stage in that manner has made him even more thankful for the work done by other Indigenous Australians, like Essendon legend Michel Long, who helped pave the way.

“Obviously growing up watching Dreamtime at the ‘G, you want to be a part of it,” McDonald-Tipungwuti told the media.

“It’s a great opportunity for myself and other players in other teams to go out and I guess represent where you’re from and your people and your cultures.

“It’s an unreal feeling and I’m sure every Indigenous player playing in the Indigenous round, they’re going to make the most of it and I’m sure everything will pan out for them.”

“So it’s a good opportunity for us to play on the day and having Dreamtime, it’s good work by Longy and a few of the past players to open the door and give that opportunity for us to play our footy and to represent your culture and your people.”

While the Dreamtime at the ‘G game between Essendon and Richmond is the marquee fixture this weekend, the Sir Doug Nicholls Round is a special celebration right around Australia.

All 18 teams will be wearing Indigenous-themed jumpers and 10 players will wear the number 67 on the back of their jumper, to commemorate the 1967 referendum.

There will be celebrations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture at each of the nine games, as part of acknowledging and saying thanks for the rich and special contribution Indigenous Australians have made to Australian Rules Football and its biggest league.

For 20-year-old Rioli, who comes from a famous family of AFL stars, it’s a special experience to now have the chance to play in the AFL himself and celebrate the contribution of those who did so before him.

“It’s unreal,” he said.

“For myself, being involved as an AFL player, coming in and playing and being a part of the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round, and any other Indigenous players out there, it’s obviously a big honour and anyone can achieve anything.

“It’s an unreal feeling and I’m sure every Indigenous player playing in the Indigenous round, they’re going to make the most of it and I’m sure everything will pan out for them.”

To hear more from Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti and about Sir Doug Nicholls Round, tune into The Marngrook Footy Show this Thursday from 7.30pm, live on NITV.