By Beth Newman
He has been likened to Lions premiership star Jason Akermanis and hopes to emulate the feats of Cyril Rioli, but you can’t shake the feeling that Sandgate’s Adam Tipungwuti will soon be blazing his own trail in Aussie Rules.
The 16 year-old moved from the Tiwi Islands to Brisbane last July to pursue his football dream, leaving his family and childhood home behind.
Almost a year on, the youngster is flourishing playing under-18s with the Hawks, and will line up for Queensland at next month’s NAB AFL Under-16 Championships.
While admitting it was a tough decision to leave his home, Tipungwuti says his family supported him all the way and he has no regrets.
“I’m just trying to follow my dream (of playing AFL),” he says.
“It was pretty hard but all my family really encouraged me and I want to make my family happy.
“I’ve got the chance while I’m down here so hope I can keep it up.”
“I miss home especially hunting and fishing and my family.”
Growing up in the footy-mad Tiwi Islands, Tipungwuti first played Auskick when he was four.
“Footy’s in my blood. Back home, everyone just likes to play footy,” he says.
When the conversation turns to his favourite elements of footy, Tipungwuti’s face lights up.
“I like kicking goals and I like to carry the ball and just keep running,” he says.
Tipingwuti hopes that he can following the footsteps of Rioli and Geelong’s Steven Motlop and make it to the AFL.
“I hopefully want to be like Cyril,” he says.
“I look up to Steven Motlop as well, because I like his speed and when he plays forward, he’s kind of the same as Cyril.”
As he works towards his ultimate goal of AFL, Tipungwuti has a pretty reasonable role model a bit closer to home, in Hawthorn’s Brendan Whitecross.
Whitecross’s family are playing host to Tipungwuti in Brisbane and have really embraced the youngster as a part of their clan.
While Brendan is based in Melbourne with the Hawks, Tipungwuti says he had time to pass on some important advice to the youngster.
“He said stay in footy and stay at school and make sure you do what you’ve got to do on the footy field.”
Tipungwuti, a mad Hawthorn fan, also plays in number 11 for Sandgate, a number he chose because Whitecross plays in 11 for Hawthorn.
He has shown plenty of potential through his junior footy, representing the Northern Territory in under-14s and under-16s. but when he starts talking about his ability to snap bananas from the boundary, it’s clear he also possesses the potential X-factor that sets some footballers apart from the rest.
Sandgate under-18 coach, Scott Cooper, says sometimes all he can do is sit back and watch Adam play in games.
“As a coach, I don’t try to put too many restraints on him.”
“I get to enjoy it with the players.”
“I’ve been coaching for about 20 years in senior and junior footy and he’s the best two-sided player I’ve seen, probably apart from when Jason Akermanis went through,” Cooper says.
“Adam’s skills on both sides at such a young age are exceptional.”
While not wanting to put too much pressure on the youngster, Cooper says he certainly has the ability to join the ranks of the Motlop and Riolis as some of the game’s most notable Indigenous talents.
“All those kinds of players you can rattle off, he’s got those sort of skills,” he says.
“People were to chase him, would not know which way he’s going to go can turn left to right and he can do it easily, like the Motlops.”
Tipwungwuti doesn’t say too much, but straight away it’s clear how much he loves footy, and Cooper says he is a keen member of the club, both on and off the field.
“He’s not all about Adam,” he says.
“He’ll happily dish off the handball, even though he’s got the ability to go himself.
“He enjoys hanging around his footy teammates and the boys. He is very quietly spoken, not a showboat or anything like that.”
Even if he doesn’t crack the big time, Tipungwuti, currently doing work experience with AFL Queensland, says he wants to stay involved with football.
“When I leave school, if I don’t make it in the AFL, I probably work at AFL Queensland,” he says.
“I like doing Auskick clinics and teaching kids how to kick a footy and handball because a lot of them are rugby kids.”
“It’s important for the kids to learn another skill.”
While he has plenty of raw talent, Tipungwuti knows there’s a hard road ahead before he can think about being drafted, but with over a year before he is eligible, he has no shortage of time.