“He was the whole reason I got to Essendon – because of his phone-call.”
More than a decade has passed since a surprise phone-call from Essendon champion Michael Long changed Nathan Lovett-Murray’s life forever. Ahead of tomorrow’s Long Walk and Dreamtime at the ‘G match, aflplayers.com.au caught up with Lovett-Murray to reflect on his journey as an Indigenous footballer and the “brotherhood” that exists between the AFL’s Indigenous players.
Lovett-Murray’s journey at Essendon began when – after being delisted by Collingwood, and preparing to play local footy – he found himself on the phone to Michael Long.
“He offered me the Michael Long scholarship,” Lovett-Murray recalled earlier this week.
“I had to move to Bendigo and play with Essendon’s reserves, the Bendigo Bombers. I did that and it was a second chance at playing AFL football.”
That second chance resulted in a decade-long career at Essendon, in which his influence went far beyond the 145 games in which he wore a red and black guernsey. In reality, Lovett-Murray’s legacy is still having an impact on the Indigenous players at Essendon today.
“The brotherhood that you see amongst Indigenous players is really strong” – Lovett-Murray
“The mentoring role that [Long] played for myself and also other young Indigenous people has been really important,” Lovett-Murray explained.
“And that’s something that was passed down through Dean Rioli – who was like a mentor and big brother for me when I first came to Essendon – and then it was a role that I played in my time at Essendon with Paddy Ryder, Leroy Jetta and Courtenay Dempsey.”
A culture that sees Indigenous players always looking out for each other permeates the entire AFL competition, and is perhaps most notably on show when Indigenous players from opposition sides come together at the end of games each week.
“The brotherhood that you see amongst Indigenous players is really strong,” Lovett-Murray said.
“The reason we come together after a game is because we understand the struggles and what we’ve had to sacrifice, leaving home and leaving family, to really have a crack at an AFL career. It’s just to acknowledge that as another Indigenous player [who’s] doing the hard work as well.”
To better support one another, last year the AFL’s senior Indigenous players formed the AFL Players’ Indigenous Advisory Board.
“It came from the discussions that we had at [the AFL Players’] Indigenous Camp”, Lovett-Murray said.
“It was something that we needed, [to ensure] that we have a voice. I was a part of that and it was just about speaking for the Indigenous players in the AFL and [seeing] that they’re right where they are, and that they’re being properly supported at the AFL clubs.”
“We’re lucky with the AFL Players’ Association’s Indigenous Camp, where we get to catch up every two years… it’s really good that the ‘PA supports that.”
Having retired at the end of 2013, Lovett-Murray has passed his position on the Indigenous Advisory Board to young Port Adelaide superstar Chad Wingard.
But while Lovett-Murray’s footy career is over, he’s still a key figure in the Indigenous community, and is looking forward to staying involved with the AFL’s Indigenous Round.
“I can’t wait for The Long Walk event, and also the concert and the Dreamtime Game,” Lovett-Murray said.
“It’s going to be a big day and big night – I’m very excited.”
There’ll be a Lovett-Murray running around on the ‘G this weekend – but not the one you might imagine.
“All the family’s coming down and my son will be playing in the half-time Auskick,” Lovett-Murray explained with a smile.
“He’s only six years old, and I’ll be able to watch him running around on the MCG instead of him watching me out there.”
Learn about Lovett-Murray’s record label, Payback Records, here.
Find out more about The Long Walk here.