A Wanderers player lays a tackle.

How a luckless Aussie Rules team in the tropics kicked a goal for the ages

None of the Wanderers players expected their season to go quite like this.

By the start of round 13, last weekend, in the highest-level tropical football league in the country, the team had played nearly 1,000 minutes on-field, mostly in extreme heat.

They hadn’t yet scored a goal, while conceding 276 to their opposition.

For months, during the run of goal-lessness, each time the ball was in play at the Wanderers’s attacking end, supporters would stir, sometimes mildly, sometimes maniacally.

There were shots directly in front, shots that cannoned into the post, and ones that went agonisingly to the wrong side of it.

There were times, with the ball in Wanderers hands deep in attack, you would have put your life on a goal being kicked.

A Wanderers player is tackled during a match earlier this season.(Supplied: Alison McGowan/AFLNT Media)

“You think you’ve got it, and just at the end it falls short. Sometimes I try not to get caught up in it but it’s so bloody hard not to,” Wanderers coach Mark Hounslow said in the changerooms after a match in November.

The Wanderers, a Darwin club with a more than 100-year history, play in the premier division of the Northern Territory Football League — the only league in Australia that plays the sport through the summer months.

Their first point of the season came back in November, in round 7, after more than 1,250 points had been scored against them as the team battled a long injury list and continued to blood many first-year players.

A Wanderers player lays a tackle.

A Wanderers player lays a tackle during the match when the team scored its first point of the year.(Supplied: Alison McGowan/AFLNT Media)

It came in the form of a rushed behind, ran over the line by a Southern Districts Crocs player.

There were screams and yells, with players and supporters on the sidelines all-to-aware of its significance.

“Just to get a score on the board is great,” Hounslow said after the game.

“Even though we’re celebrating a point, and I’ve never had that before in my life, these girls are celebrating the little wins. And they’re a team.”

Tiffany Parriman running with the ball.

A Wanderers defender runs out of the backline at TIO Stadium during round 7.(Supplied: Alison McGowan/AFLNT Media)

That cliché of celebrating the little wins, a mantra perhaps as common in everyday life as it is in sport, came alive for the Wanderers this season.

It formed a glue that stuck the team together, as their players kept showing up through one of the roughest runs of results a team could go through.

With the arrival of the tropical monsoon, that goal drought ended on Saturday, when a young footballer, Anne Marie Collins, who travels four hours each week from a small remote community to play, conjured a moment of brilliance on the boundary line.

Players fight for the ball on the field in muddy and wet conditions.

Last weekend was the first round of the year that teams played in wet season rains.

She says she can’t remember her kick hurtling through the big sticks, while others on the field have recounted the moment and its lead-up in precise detail.

This is how one of the most eagerly-awaited goals in Northern Territory Football League history was seen by those who were there.

‘I had the perfect angle’

Jasmyn Hewett, AFLW premiership winner with the Adelaide Crows, and captain of PINT, the league’s only undefeated team: “It was wet, slippery, horrible. In the midfield we were stomping around in mud, which felt up to our ankles. It was a pretty scrappy game.”

A PINT player kicks the ball forward as the rain comes down.

A PINT player kicks the ball forward at Tracy Village Oval in Darwin.(Supplied: Tymunna Clements/AFLNT Media)

Ivana Schober, Wanderers captain: “We obviously went into it knowing that PINT were on top of the ladder, so I think we all had a bit of a fire in our belly. In the first quarter … there was a quick clearance out of the middle. Then a hit out off a pack, a good shepherd and a strong kick down the line into the safe hands of Anne Marie.”

Mark Motlop, Wanderers president: “The young girl got the ball deep in the forward pocket on the boundary line. It was a low ground-level kick that evaded everybody.”

Mark Hounslow, Wanderers coach: “It happened that quick. She controlled the ball beautifully out of a bit of a contested and congested situation, and paddled it in front and picked it up and just a quick snap. Of all shots all year … this one, the hardest of the lot, it rolled around and went straight through.”

Mark Hounslow addresses the Wanderers players.

Mark Hounslow addresses Wanderers players during round 13.(Supplied: Tymunna Clements/AFLNT Media)

Natasha Hagan, goal umpire: “It was quite quick. All I can remember is the Wanderers player putting it on their boot, like a banana kick, and it came rolling in.”

Wanderers players celebrate their first goal of the season.

Players begin flocking to Anne Marie Collins after her goal.(Supplied: Tymunna Clements/AFLNT Media)

Ricky Nolan, PINT coach: “In the pocket, it was very windy, not a good day for footy, so it was a real good goal.”

Hewett: “It was a pretty impossible goal, actually. I think I was about midway down the field so I had the perfect angle to see it unfold, and unfortunately couldn’t do anything about it.”

Schober: “Anne Marie, she’s dangerous anywhere you put her. And we know we can get it to her and she’ll make magic happen. That’s proof right there.”

Anne Marie Collins kicks the ball forward.

Anne Marie Collins says she was determined to kick the team’s first goal of the season.(Supplied: Tymunna Clements/AFLNT Media )

Tiffany Parriman, Wanderers veteran: “Anne Marie is deadly. Her ball skills are amazing. I was standing in the backline and then we were all jumping up and down in the air and trying to run down to the forward line to try and congratulate her. It was a great feeling.”

Hounslow: “The girls were pretty pumped … the monkey’s off the back.”

Anne Marie Collins: “I can’t remember. I was aiming for the goals. I was just really desperate and wanted to get the goal. It felt excellent. It was the whole team that ran out to me.”

Anne Marie Collins (right) on the sideline with her teammates.

Anne Marie Collins (right) on the sideline with her teammates.(Supplied: Tymunna Clements/AFLNT Media)

‘It’s small, but it’s huge to us’

Parriman, an experienced campaigner who joined the Wanderers three seasons ago, says the season has been challenging, but without doubt worthwhile.

“It’s been hard … we’ve soldiered on and we’ve kept pushing each other,” she says.

“But it’s actually been a positive year for all of us … we’ve got lots of new players and the girls are wanting to learn and are showing it on the field.”

Tiffany Parriman stands with her arms folded.

“I have seen a lot of improvement,” Tiffany Parriman says.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

Despite the losses, Collins, who was born in Katherine, grew up in Urapunga community and now lives in Barunga, says she hasn’t thought twice about making the trip to play each week.

“It’s been really nice to play with a team that actually welcomes me and I feel really comfortable with them,” she says.

Hounslow, who took over the coaching role in round five, says he is glad to be a part of this team.

“They’re unbelievable. Every week they turn up, they’re smiling, they all turn up to training, and you rarely ever get anyone miss,” he says.

“It’s just huge respect to them, the way they keep showing up. They’re so resilient.”

Tiffany Parriman scans the field.

Tiffany Parriman scans the field.(Supplied: Celia Whan/AFLNT)

Schober, the captain, says she has at times felt the weight of the results.

“We’ve definitely been through a bit of scrutiny with the amount of losses we have had so far … stuff on social media,” she says.

“I think it was a bit tough mentally on all of us.

“To have a team that was willing to stick it out and ride it out, it’s just actually phenomenal.”

Ivana Schober stands with a football with the TIO stadium grandstand behind her.

Ivana Schober says she is proud of her team for sticking together through a trying season.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

In the past month, the Wanderers have reduced their losing margins from earlier in the season by half. Across the season, Schober says the team has improved its play immensely.

“When we kicked the goal we thought, all this hard work we’ve been putting in, it’s paying off now, and the rest of the season is going to be awesome living off that,” she says.

“It’s a 10-second thrill but it really does stick with us and make us want to push further.

“It’s small, but it’s huge to us. We’ve been working at it and working at it. Persistence pays off, I think.”

Wanderers and PINT players fight for the ball during their round 13 match.

Wanderers and PINT players fight for the ball during their round 13 match.(Supplied: Tymunna Clements/AFLNT Media)

For the final five rounds of the season, Hounslow says the team will continue to strip it back, focusing on tackles, clearances and forward half stoppages.

“What are the little things we can do … the little wins, the little targets?” he says.

Collins, although, has a slightly different view on what the focus will be.

“To get more goals,” she says.



Author: Russell White