For four years, Marlon Motlop worked through countless running and weights sessions, game review meetings and training drills for his five AFL games.
Between 2007 and 2011, Motlop played for Port Adelaide and successfully shifted his entire life to a new state and a new environment.
It’s those same barriers that Indigenous footballers continue to face when entering the AFL system today.
“The biggest challenge is the change in environment and the structure change in their life,” Motlop told Aflplayers.com.au
“I can only speak for myself and going from a really family oriented structure to a footy club that has a rigid schedule is really challenging.
“It took me a while to adapt and cope with life as an AFL player. I was lucky that I had my older cousin Daniel at Port Adelaide when I arrived there, so I followed him around.”
It’s part of the reason why Motlop got involved with his former club in a welfare role since exiting the system, where he helps make the transition in and out of the club as smooth as possible.
He’s also the Aboriginal Programs Coordinator and works as the coach of a group of 37 Indigenous teenagers.
The group forms Port Adelaide’s Aboriginal AFL Academy, who have travelled to Geelong to be a part of the Sir Dough Nicholls Indigenous Round when the Power run out to tackle Geelong at Simonds Stadium on Thursday night.
They also arrived with the news the Port Adelaide playing group has donated $5,000 of their Players Care funds to the Power’s Aboriginal programs and the academy.
How the money will be spent is up to the academy’s leadership group and Motlop believes it will go towards the team’s equipment and their studies.
Acknowledging the Power’s ability to be industry leaders in regards to supporting their Indigenous community, the 27-year-old said the academy plays an important role in showcasing more than just an elite environment to potential AFL footballers.
“We’re trying to give them a taste of that type of structure but also find a balance between being yourself and living your own life with family and friends.
“We help them understand the commitments of schooling and sport and try to implement a form of mentorship before some of these guys get to AFL or SANFL clubs.”
The reality is that some Indigenous footballers will slip through the cracks despite their undoubted Aussie Rules talents.
Part of Motlop’s job is ensuring those who leave the game do so with some form of a plan in place so they’re not back to square one.
Drawing on his own experience, the current North Adelaide player knows there’s more to athletes than what transpires on the field.
“Doing work experience and taking up a second job, while it might be seen as a risk because footy is their number one priority, it’s the only way you find out what you enjoy,” Motlop added.
“If there’s an opportunity to take up some study or work one day per week, jump at it, take the leap because the only way you’ll learn is through experience.”
While the AFL industry has made advancements in this space in recent years, Motlop is fully aware the job isn’t done yet.
“We’ve come a long way but we’ve still got a fair way to go.”