By Ant Wingard @AntWingard
It was the moment which captured the hearts of football fans around the nation.
During a routine match between the Hermit Park Tigers and Northern Beach Suns in the Townsville Reserves competition, came a moment players from both teams, and the entire football community, will remember forever.
Images captured the first gesture, when Hermit Park’s Scott O’Donnell knelt down to tie the shoelaces of a disabled opposition player, who was playing as 23rd man.
Then, in the closing stages of the game, players from both teams joined forces to ensure the player would end the game on a high.
After receiving a handball in the goal square, the Northern Beaches Suns player ran into an open goal and kicked truly before being engulfed in a mass of celebration including players from both sides.
Speaking on Channel 7’s morning breakfast show, Sunrise, O’Donnell, said the decision to tie the player’s shoelaces was merely a spur of the moment gesture.
“For me to stop and help him out wasn’t something I thought of at the time,” he said.
“Honestly, I did notice his shoelaces were undone and I asked him if I would like to do them up for him. He said he couldn’t do them by himself so that’s all just where it started from.”
The proposal to help the Northern Beaches player hit the scoreboard wasn’t planned either, but O’Donnell said it is something all players will remember forever.
“To be completely honest, it was just a spur of the moment thing. It was after half time we thought what was in the spirit of the game, which was to get this young fella a goal.”
“It was something we were able to make happen which was good.”
“You could see he was stoked. It was one of the biggest moments of his life and hopefully something he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
“For us as players to be able to get around him as opposition players I think was great for him but for the whole AFL community.”
Images and video from the match quickly went viral on Sunday.
Tweets from AFL Queensland State Operations Manager, Barry Gibson, were seen by over 100,000 people, while the same post on Facebook earned over 107,000 – the highest reach a post by the AFL Community Football page has ever received.
AFL Queensland CEO, Dean Warren, said “The moment encapsulated everything that’s great about our sport.”
“We’re privileged to have such selfless people playing football in Queensland and it’s a credit to both teams and AFL Townsville for giving the Northern Beaches player a moment he’ll never forget.”
“Sport brings people together and we are pleased to provide an opportunity for anyone to feel welcome and accepted on the football field.”
The moment was football’s highlight over the weekend, coinciding with last week’s AFL National Inclusion Carnival – a national championship aimed at providing footballers with an intellectual disability the chance to play against other states.
The 2018 Inclusion Carnival commenced on June 18 and concluded with the Grand Final as UTAS Stadium as a curtain raiser to the AFL game between Hawthorn and Gold Coast on June 24.