Girls rise up: Top three finish for remote AFL team in Far North Queensland

Even without AFL ovals back home, young female footballers from the nation’s remote far north are kicking goals with AFL Cape York.

This week (30 April), a schoolgirls side from Bamaga and Thursday Island thrilled  against the best schools in Cairns, despite only playing together for the first time on game day.

In a remarkable display of natural sporting talent, the team scored a top three finish in the StreetSmarts AFLQ Schools Cup at Watson’s Oval on Tuesday.

The junior high school players were selected on school attendance, positive behaviour and sporting talent.

As the most remote, northern team they made a 2000km return trip to play.

The team was proudly sponsored by Bamaga Enterprises Limited (BEL), AFL Queensland, (AFLQ), AFL National Indigenous Pathways, Community Enterprise Queensland (CEQ), Hinterland Aviation and Torres Shire Council with accommodation provided by AFL Cape York House for Girls.

AFL Cape York Development Coordinator Kieran Sciberras said the competition was a rare chance for the young footballers to test their skills and catch the eye of selectors. 

“AFL carnivals are a critical pathway to representative football for players from remote communities,” Mr Sciberras said. 

“Living in a remote region, players don’t have the same sporting facilities or opportunities to train together every week and play for a club, but the natural talent still shines.”

The 2023 StreetSmarts AFLQ Schools Cup competition put Torres Strait Islander player Mistee Sagigi, 15, on the radar for selection in the U16s Gold Coast Suns Academy.

Her trademark ferocity at the ball and hard tackling style continued to impress this week. 

The SUNS young gun was also a standout in recent matches against Brisbane Lions, Western Australia and Sydney Swans Academies, after recently learning the game through AFL Cape York school football clinics.

In 2023, AFL Cape York delivered more than 931 football clinics to over 13,500 young people in 58 schools across 44 communities – including across Cape York and the Torres Strait.

It’s a record effort the organisation hopes will get more young people in the game. 

“Some communities are only accessible by four-wheel drive or boat, plane and even helicopter, so we rely heavily on sponsorship to make it happen,” Mr Sciberras said.

“Last year AFL Cape York was the only organisation to run school sport clinics at every school campus across the Northern Peninsula Area and the Torres Strait, including all outer islands.”

The extra effort is paying off with participation rates growing across the region and more representative teams than ever before. 

The shift has taken decades of dedication and generous sponsorship to grow the code in the far north. 

AFL Cape York General Manager Rick Hanlon OAM said the organisation had a proud history of using football to create positive opportunities and outcomes.

“Over more than 20 years, AFL Cape York has connected thousands of young people with football, including from Bamaga and Seisia on the mainland to the outer islands of the Torres Strait,” Mr Hanlon said. 

“Since early visits in 2000, the program has grown from not just encouraging AFL participation, but using AFL to create pathways and nurture young leaders and role models on and off the field. 

“Schools and teachers tell us there is a noticeable improvement in school attendance and classroom behaviour when students can play in our AFL clinics or get picked for representative teams.

“Now we’re backing more girls and young women to have a go at AFL and access the opportunities it creates,” he said. 

“The day a player from Cape York and the Torres Strait makes it to the AFL will be a game changer.

“With the amount of talent up north, it’s just a matter of time,” he said. 

The AFLQ Schools Cup for girls was held at Watson’s Oval in North Cairns for players in grades 7,8 and 9.

AFL Cape York will next support teams in the Primary Boys AFLQ Schools Cup (May 17) Girls AFLQ Schools Cup (May 20) in Cairns before hosting the annual Chris Johnson and Angie Nadredre Cup in Bamaga (August 15).

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