YOU’RE 12 years old. You live in a town of 3,000 people.
The nearest city is 500km away, but sometimes feels like it’s in another world.
Attendance rates at your local high school hover around 50 per cent.
There’s one thing you look forward to more than anything else each week. It’s the time when all the worries in your life fade into the background. For that brief moment, all that remains is optimism. Then you and your mates grab the footy and head home.
This is the atmosphere that greeted Brodie Grundy more than 18 months ago – fuelling his desire to make a real change to an often-forgotten part of Australia.
In this day and age, there’s a growing trend of AFL players who don’t fit the stereotype of a professional athlete – Grundy is one of them.
What really sets him apart from his peers is deep seeded inside of him. The 24-year-old has a sense of emotional openness and perspective. He doesn’t just ‘take things one game at a time’. He worries and cares about the legacy he’ll leave behind.
“I suppose for me, an important part of what I do is not being just pigeonholed and defined as just a footballer,” Grundy said in an exclusive interview for CGU. “That’s one of the main reasons why I’m pursuing higher education and … getting involved in humanitarian projects.
“I think I have the potential to leave a mark on the game, and if I don’t, I would be disappointed.”
A pre-season trip to the Northern Territory was a pivotal turning point for the Collingwood ruckman. Grundy and a few of his Collingwood teammates were welcomed to a new world when they arrived at Tennant Creek.
“The kids are running around on this oval and there was no grass – it was just dirt … Stray dogs are running around and none of the kids had footy boots on,” Grundy said. “They’d run around in their bare feet, and that really was indicative of the whole journey.
“Football for these kids is basically something that brings them together.”
The journey began when Collingwood formalised a relationship with the remote region of Barkly in the Northern Territory, home to the Warumungu people, as part of the AFL’s Next Generation Academies initiative.
The Pies offer training, coaching and mentoring, but it’s a two-way relationship; the club is hoping to find genuine AFL talent, a task Grundy describes as “trying to find a needle in a haystack”.
He was determined for his relationship with the Tennant Creek kids to be a long-lasting one – and when he returned to Collingwood’s state-of-the-art training base in the shadow of the MCG, he knew exactly how he was going to do it.
Grundy decided to round up the gang and start a community boot drive where he collected 200 leftover boots from his teammates, Collingwood’s feeder teams and the local community.
It was a wonderful, symbolic moment for the players, the club and the Tennant Creek community, but even Grundy admits he thought that was the end of the initiative.
A collection bin was left at the club’s training base almost as an afterthought, but boots continued to be dropped into the bin. More than a year after Grundy first headed to the Northern Territory, the boots are still arriving in Tennant Creek.
“One of the greatest things that came out of this trip was instilling the value of optimism and making these kids realise that they matter and that they have a bright future ahead of them, an optimistic future ahead if they're willing to apply themselves,” Grundy said.
It was crystal clear to Grundy that playing AFL was a dream for many of these kids living in rural Australia. His big message to little footballers – dare to dream.