Cheap shots only enhance Michael’s Long walk to a better place; Rioli

The recent Indigenous Round showcased how much the AFL and the footy community appreciate the contributions of Indigenous Australians to our game.

It was great to see the many different Indigenous designs on the different club jumpers and how each club had promoted this great idea in their own different way.

But sometimes some people overstep the mark and in their attempt to be funny or get attention, they end up with egg on their face.

Take former AFL Indigenous manager Jason Mifsud, who sent a tweet during the recent celebrations saying: “Long stands on Kulin nations & calls for Treaty. Got away walking to Wangaratta (Not Canberra) now trying to claim more undue credit”.

The Long he was referring to was Michael Long, the Essendon legend who has been a huge advocate for Aboriginal affairs and a very influential brand on the community, corporate and Government levels.

Longy has been pivotal in his own unique way of putting issues which need to be addressed on the national agenda, unlike his detractors.

The cheap shot sent out by Mifsud was a clear attempt to get back at Longy after the Bomber’s legend called for Mifsud to be sacked when Mifsud was running the AFL’s indigenous programs.

Anyone in our country that is playing a part in improving the lives of any disadvantaged person should be encouraged and supported, and should not have to cop negative cheap shots from people who, in my opinion, do not deserve to stand in the shadow of a man like Michael Long.

The Long Walk Charity Longy set up raises much needed awareness and funds to improve the opportunities for young Indigenous people with dreams of succeeding in life.

I remember receiving a phone call from Longy after a weights session while playing at Essendon. He called to let me know he was walking to Canberra to meet with then PM John Howard and he needed my support. Michael was my idol growing up so when he asked I was there without hesitation.

And I remember driving to meet him and walking with him for the last couple of hours before the sun set. Each night I would then drive back to Melbourne and fulfil my commitments with the club before driving back out to walk with him again.

Each day the drive to him got further and further, and the tough gruel was starting to show on the great man. His already injured knee started to blow up and inflame the more he walked and I had to consult with Essendon Club Doctor Bruce Reid to collect anti-inflammatories.

I also went to Puma to ask for new walking shoes for him to help make things as comfortable as we could.

Michael walked all the way to Albury in NSW and his efforts generated so much discussion and awareness all around Australia.

Thanks to people like Longy, one of the biggest games of the year now evolves around “Dreamtime at the G” between Richmond and Essendon and the scheduled activities before, during and after the game.

The AFL, the clubs and the Indigenous communities put on a great show for the entire football community. Every footy fan in the country looks forward to the celebration of indigenous skill, talent and achievement.

So many past Indigenous players with a profile are doing amazing work with their charities around Australia. David Wirrpanda, Andrew McLeod, Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin all are making positive change in their own way.

A great mentor of mine, John Quinn, used to always say; “A little upon a little becomes a lot”, and past players who have set up community engagement and educational programs are doing their little bit to make a positive change for our people.

Dean Rioli


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