Noah Cumberland’s official AFL debut… almost

Submitted by Peter Blucher.

Noah Cumberland has become the 191st Queensland football product to play in the AFL, with a story like none before him and an asterisk on the word ‘play’.

Officially Cumberland is player #1180 on the all-time Richmond playing list which begins with player #1 Bill Bourke, a 32-gamer in 1908-09 who played in the club’s first VFL game in 1908 and topped the Richmond goal-kicking list in each of their first two seasons before retiring to drive a taxi because it paid more.

The 21-year-old Sunshine Coaster slots in behind #1177 Josh Gibcus, #1178 Robbie Tarrant and #1179 Bigoa Nyuon, the club’s other 2022 debutants, and two 2021 Tiger debutants from Queensland – #1170 Will Martyn and #1173 Samson Ryan.

Cumberland’s debut is listed as Round 11 2022. It was Friday 27 May – Richmond v Sydney at the SCG – when Lance Franklin kicked five goals in a second half clinic to come from 33 points down to win by six points in a circumstance of sheer chaos.

It will forever be remembered as the game when Richmond’s Dion Prestia received a free kick 65m from goal on the siren but was denied a 50m penalty which would have put him on the goalsquare when Sydney’s Chad Warner kicked the ball away.

The source of much controversy, it was described as ‘a common sense ruling’ when the umpires deemed that Warner could not reasonably have known of the free kick, and had merely been celebrating a win after hearing the final siren.

But not even Richmond games record-holder Kevin Bartlett has a debut story to match Cumberland, who was two quarters, 14 possessions and a goal into a VFL match with the Richmond Reserves against the Swans Reserves at nearby Lakeside Oval in Sydney when he learned of his selection.

He was hurriedly slotted in as the medical substitute by coach Damien Hardwick after first-choice sub Sean Ralphsmith was elevated to the side following the late withdrawal of Marlion Pickett due to illness.

As it turned out, Cumberland was not required. He had a front row seat for the epic contest and the extraordinary last 60 seconds but did not get on the ground. So, he joined a group of “Clayton’s debutants” caught in the same way since the introduction of the medi-sub in 2021.

Still, he banked his first AFL match payment, and even if he is never selected again he will forever be regarded as an AFL player. Just like the other 99 one-game players at Richmond.

But if a hurriedly organised jumper presentation for Cumberland by 157-game Adelaide and Richmond ruckman turned Tigers player development manager and ruck coach Ivan Maric is any sort of guide Cumberland will soon get the chance to play.

In a fantastic ceremony recorded and shown on the Richmond website, Maric spoke of the courage and character Cumberland has shown at Punt Road in a career hit by a 2020 knee reconstruction and the double impact of Covid on second tier football in 2020-21.

Maric talked of Cumberland’s great character and attitude, the growth he’d shown through his difficult time at the club, how he’d tackled adversity to learn as a player and as a person, and how far he’d come since being drafted in 2019.

“This is only the beginning of your journey. It’s going to look so different and random and that’s a great characteristic of yours … that’s we love about you Noah.

“This is something your family should be super proud of because you’ve gone through so much. You always handle adversity and success with great attitude and that’s going to be really important for you moving forward.

“So congratulations … we love who you are as a person and what you’ve brought to the football club, and we look forward to the future.”

It was all done in a rush, as Cumberland exchanged his #38 VFL jumper for a number #38 AFL jumper, worn most famously by Kevin Morris through 110 games from 1971-76, and more recently his son Steven, an 87-game Tiger who is now the Richmond VFL coach.

The clock in the background of the Maric presentation shows it was 6.10pm – 90 minutes to the first bounce. And while his night on the bench wasn’t quite 20 possessions and a goal on debut, it was the culmination of a wonderful football journey that began at Mountain Creek State School and High School on the Sunshine Coast, and later the Maroochydore Roos.

When Cumberland, then sporting long blonde hair, was drafted the school posted a touching message on Facebook congratulating him and telling how he had played for the school of excellence team from 2014-16.

It explained he received special permission to play in the school team while still enrolled at the State School as a year 7 student and played through to year 9 before leaving to become a qualified stone and take his football to Maroochydore and later the Brisbane Lions Academy.

He left a younger brother and twin younger sisters at Mountain Creek, but regularly returned to support the school, most notably when they won the AFLX Sunshine Coast final for the first time in 2019.

The school proudly claimed Cumberland as the third graduate to the AFL/AFLQ competitions after Tahlia Randall, originally with Brisbane and now equal games record-holder at North Melbourne, and Courtney Webb, a multi-faceted sporting talent originally Tasmanian who has played with Tasmania in the WNCL, the Melbourne Renegades in the Women’s Big Bash and with Carlton in the ALFW.

Cumberland, born 15 March 2001 and listed at 183cm and 80kg, was described in pre-draft scouting reports ahead of the 2019 AFL National Draft as “a left-footed medium forward who wins his own ball, is tenacious in contents and has a net step through traffic. Impressed for the Brisbane Lions Academy early in the year, with his best performance against the Dandenong Stingrays in the NAL League where he gathered 26 possessions, and later for the Allies in the 2019 NAB AFL Under 18 Championships, with 18 disposals against South Australia putting him in his team’s best players”.

He was tipped to go between 40 and 60 in the draft in which ultimately the Gold Coast Suns snared Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson at #1 and #2, and Brisbane took Deven Robertson at #22, Brock Smith at #33 and Keidean Coleman at #37.

True to predictions, Cumberland was claimed by Richmond at #43. Brisbane, already committed to elevating Oscar McInerney and Mitch Hinge to the senior list and re-draft Sam Skinner, Corey Lyons and Archie Smith in the rookie list, had effectively one spot left.

They chose not to commit it to Cumberland, or fellow Lions Academy product Martyn, who was taken by Richmond at #44, and instead saved it for Jaxon Prior at #59.

It hasn’t worried Cumberland, who, according to the Richmond website, was considered for a senior game late last season and tipped to play at AFL level this year. As he has done. Almost.

In other news from Round 11 of the Toyota AFL season, Lachie Weller was the best-performed Queenslander in the Suns’ excellent 67-point win over Hawthorn in Darwin.

He picked up seven votes in the AFL Coach’s Association Player of the Year Award, equal with co-captain Jarrod Witts and behind only best afield Brandon Ellis.

Weller had 27 possessions and kicked a goal as fellow Queenslanders Mabior Chol (three goals) and Connor Budarick (13 possessions) were also important contributors.

Brisbane’s Eric Hipwood continued his comeback from knee surgery, looking lively with 10 possessions and a goal in the Lions’ 16-point comeback win over GWS at the Gabba.

Photo above courtesy of the Richmond Football Club – Ivan Maric presents Noah Cumberland with his debut guernsey in the SCG changerooms on Friday.

Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.

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