Home Australia Essendon cult hero retires to National Football League

Essendon cult hero retires to National Football League

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Five football players listen to Tippa speak at quarter time.

As the rain eased and echoes of victory lingered on the muddy regional football field, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti walked out of the park in his first domestic football match in 15 years as a winner.

The recently retired Essendon AFL favorite known as “Tippa” has swapped the bright lights of the AFL for the allure of grassroots football, joining the Imperials of the Sunraysia Football Netball League.

Despite the Imps winning the wooden spoon in 2023, the cult hero’s arrival sparked a surprise 85-68 victory in the season opener against last year’s grand finalists Robinvale-Euston.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but I really enjoyed going out and playing country soccer,” McDonald-Tipungwuti said.

“Everyone is very welcoming and has treated me like a normal person.”

Tippa was named best on dirt for the Imps, alongside Aaron Laskey, Ryley Buntain, Brad Hards, Jarrod McNally and Riley Burns.(ABC News: Tamara Clark)

‘Everyone was there to see it’

Tippa’s arrival brought a much-needed dose of optimism to the Green and Whites, who had a highly respected roster of players but failed to win a game in 2023.

Playing coach Brad Vallance said Tippa had wasted no time immersing himself in the community.

“He’s here to inspire, to set an example both on and off the field,” Vallance said.

The coach said McDonald-Tipungwuti’s journey from the Tiwi Islands to the AFL and now Sunraysia was a story of personal triumph as well as a testament to community spirit.

“He shows them that with hard work and determination they can achieve anything,” Vallance said.

“There were about 1,000 spectators at the game and I think everyone was there to watch it.”

A team of male soccer players listens to their coach at halftime.

Playing coach and former Ouyen United utility man Brad Vallance talks tactics.(ABC News: Tamara Clark)

McDonald-Tipungwuti has started a new role as community engagement officer at the Mildura Base Public Hospital Foundation.

“I’ve been going to schools and interacting with underprivileged children, doing clinics and being there for the younger generation,” he said.

“I like going to school, staying at lunchtime and playing soccer with them.

“It’s good to see the drawings they make for me. Now I have some at home.”

“He’s not just a footballer”

Rumors of Tippa’s arrival at the club excited the SFNL ranks and inspired 13-year-old Keelan Roper, who has played for the Imperials for seven years, mainly as a forward, and dreams of becoming an AFL star .

Blond boy kicking a soccer ball in the middle of a soccer game

Keelan Roper wants to play in the AFL when he grows up.(Supplied: Matt Roper)

Despite being a loyal Richmond Tigers fan, he said the excitement of wearing the same colors as the former AFL star spread like wildfire among his friends.

“He’s not just a footballer,” Keelan said.

“I think he could have a big impact on our club.”

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