Twelve children from John Moriarty Football (JMF) came to Sydney to be part of the first Indigenous Football Week, which launched on Tuesday.
The not-for-profit organisation based in the Northern Territory town of Borroloola aims to better the lives of young Indigenous children through football, and is proving to be a big incentive for youngsters to apply themselves further - especially in the classroom.
Zakira Lansen and sisters Aleira and Shanielle Johnston all agree being given the opportunity to play on the pitch encourages them to try harder in school.
“Playing football makes me feel good, happy and excited,” Zekira said.
“If you don’t go to school, you don’t go on all of them trips.”
Shanielle said football is “our life”, and admits she wants to see herself playing alongside the Matildas one day after watching them play on television.
Borroloola, while being the little football-crazy town, is also the birthplace of the first Indigenous footballer chosen to represent Australia and JMF founder, John Moriarty.
Moriarty says, there is no doubt the children will go on to play at elite level, but the program is about changing lives.
Many of Borroloola’s current crop look at recent program-graduate Shadeene Evans who has moved away from the town to further pursue her football.
“She’s under the auspice of Alen Stajcic who’s the Matildas coach and she’s jumping ahead in leaps and bounds, and no doubt these kids here will be doing the same,” Moriarty says.
He says playing football changed his life and it isn’t any different for the children at JMF.
Program manager Elvis DeMarchi says the foundation collaborates with the community through Indigenous elders, but schools have the final say on whether a child is allowed to participate in the program or not.
Mr DeMarchi says selection is based on a range of factors other than skill, such as a student’s school attendance, behavior and attitude.
“That’s how we chose kids to go on tour.”
Professional Footballers Australia chairman Craig Foster says he believes Indigenous children such as those in Borroloola will “unquestionably” one day be the country’s world footballer of the year.