Dees triumph in NT thriller

I love my footy. Always have; always will. That’s probably the main instigation in my relocation to Elcho Island, a remote aboriginal community located 500km east of Darwin. And even though my role as a Development Manager for AFL NT involves running footy programs 24/7, I couldn’t help but be excited as I travelled to TIO stadium to watch my beloved Demons. Alongside me were 3 aboriginal boys who were being rewarded for their excellent school attendance (95% for a whole term) with an all-expenses paid trip by AFL NT. Surprisingly, although the boys were 17 they had only been to Darwin 3 times each, so I was intrigued to see how they would react to being amongst the 10,000 screaming fans during the game.

Before the game the crowd was treated to a great performance by Tiwi Island band, B2M, who are managed by my good mate Mark Grose, Managing Director of Skinny Fish Music. A true footy lover, Mark has lived in Galiwinku on and off for about 12 years and sees footy and music as the 2 main driving factors in aboriginal communities. Apart from chatting about aboriginal issues and his love of Elcho Island, I love talking to Mark about his other main passion; Collingwood. At the moment he is infuriated with ‘Ed’s’ decision to give Nathan Buckley the top job. ‘How can the biggest sporting club in Australia be so short-sighted?’ he often bellows. I give him kudos for stipulating that Collingwood is just one of the biggest clubs in Australia, and not the world, as most other magpie supporters will have you believe.

A couple of funny incidents happened just before kickoff. Both involved the banners of the respective clubs. Ports read; ‘Up in Darwin, our second home base, let’s show our supporters our blistering pace.’ The lady in front of me, who may have had a session at the local before her arrival, was clearly confused, shouting ‘blitzering place! What’s a blitzering place??’ She then looked over to her companion and said ‘what’s a blitzering place and who are they blitzering??’ Alas, her companion had no answers and the 2 of them, I imagine, were left to ponder the cryptic message on the banner for the remainder of the night. The second involved Melbourne’s banner, where one of the cheer squad, Ian, had proposed to his girl-friend, Mary, by way of a message on the banner. Some may think of this as a romantic way to propose, but I think perhaps Ian wasn’t all that confident of getting a positive response given that he’d put Mary on the spot in front of 10,000 people.

The game was played at a hectic pace from the get go and one thing was blatantly obvious, particularly early on; we were a massive chance of a win. We kicked the first 4 in a hurry, 2 absolute gimme’s to Jack Watts included in those. I haven’t been a big fan of Jack’s, or, rather, I haven’t been a big fan of Melbourne’s decision to draft someone who was always going to need at least 4 years of developing to make an impact at senior level over someone like Daniel Rich, who was a readymade AFL player  when drafted the same year. Big Jack moved well, is a lot taller than I expected, but grassed a few marks he should have taken and will need a few big games to sway my opinion.

Brad Miller, the perennial whipping boy of the Dees faithful, was proving a great target at Centre half forward. At least when he attacks the ball in the air he attacks it with conviction, meaning that if he doesn’t mark it the ball usually spills, giving our crumbing players a chance.

For the second and third quarters this game was played as a lot of games at AFL level are played these days – a team gets a lead early in the match and then holds that lead for the remainder of the game. This game looked to be going that way, with the unheralded James Frawley, who must getting discussed at the All-Australian selection table, embarrassing Daniel Motlop with his added height, strength, intensity and fitness proving sufficient enough to quell the goal-sneaks threatening genius. Colin Sylvia seemed to have the ball on a string and went for 2 all mighty ‘hangers’ that both would have been genuine contenders for  of the year had he of been able to hold them. Our ground level players in James McDonald, Aaron Davey, Tom Scully and Jack Trengove were working hard and Port were looking very ordinary.

Mark Williams and his men had different ideas at three quarter time, however and it was if he said ‘ok boys, let’s kick a few quick ones, put the pressure back on the Dees and put on an absolute nail biter for the crowd.’ Indeed, apart from the day I watched Ablett kick 14 goals for Geelong while Paul Salmon feasted on 10 of his own at the other end and the day we came from 46 points down against Freo a couple of years ago, I don’t think I’ve witnessed a more pulsating game of footy. With about 5 minutes left it looked like Port had done enough and we were again going to fall just short of knocking off a quality side. We tightened up through the midfield and matched their intensity. It was turn-over versus turn-over during the end of the match, the humidity obviously taking a toll on both sides. Mark Jamar looked as though he’d taken a strong pack mark in our goal square with only minutes remaining and the scores tied. Although the roar of the crowd was deafening, the mark wasn’t paid and the umpire instead opted to throw the ball in the air. Ironically, it was one of the youngest players on the field, Jack Trengove, who showed the most poise and experience to punch the ball through our goals and give us the slenderest of margins. The next 2 minutes were gripping, the occasion heightened for Dee’s fans due to close losses to Collingwood and the Bulldogs. Fortunately, the siren went in Port’s attacking 50, just before they were about to snatch the game, much to the rejoice of the demon faithful.

I turned around to witness the 3 aboriginal students I’d brought to the game with me were having the time of their life – hugging strangers, patting each other on the head and singing the Demon’s theme song (which they didn’t know the words to) loud and proud. That’s what that kind of win does to people, fuel their passion and excitement for the contest. For the next 2 hours the 3 of them were like everyone other demon supporter at the ground – on cloud 9.

My votes

3. Colin Sylvia (Melbourne)

2. James McDonald (Melbourne)

1. Aaron Davey (Melbourne)


  1. Tavis,

    One of my favourite footy experiences revolve around AFL practice matches (of all things) in Darwin. In the late ’80s, AFL clubs played a combined NT side at the Gardens Oval on the last weekend in January – and the NT side invariably won because they were match-hardened whereas the AFL clubs were still working through their pre-seasons.

    The roar when Ninny Briston slalomed through a sea of Essendon defenders before kicking a goal is something I’ll never forget. That roar was sustained for most of the afternoon. There were 10,000 shoe-horned into the ground and most of them seemed to scream for the entire match.

    A Top End footy crowd is chaotic, voluble, and life-affirming. Thanks for bringing that back to me with your report.

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