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Arnhem Land trip to further indigenous coaching cause

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This article originally appeared on and does not represent the views of the Port Adelaide Football Club

PORT Adelaide great Chad Cornes was surrounded by indigenous talent in his 239 matches across 13 seasons at the Power and again now as a development coach. 

From Peter and Shaun Burgoyne to Gavin Wanganeen and Daniel Motlop – and many more – Cornes appreciates the vast indigenous contribution to Australian Football.

Port Adelaide's Aboriginal Programs director Paul Vandenbergh has helped make his club an AFL leader in that space. 

With that in mind, Cornes jumped at the chance to further the indigenous coaching cause when an AFL coaching peer, Craig Jennings, asked him about going on a trip to Arnhem Land.

Cornes, Melbourne's strategy and education coach Jennings and ex-Demon Matthew Whelan, now the club's indigenous project officer, are heading north to help educate coaches not typically exposed to high-level practices.

It is important enough to Cornes that he will miss parts of the Power's first week of pre-season training to spend from Thursday to Sunday next week in the northern reaches of the Northern Territory.

Jennings and Whelan ran similar sessions in Cairns and Darwin in recent times, with the AFL and the AFL Coaches' Association supporting the initiative.

"I went on the Coaches' Association tour to America last year with Shane O'Bree, Ron Watt and Craig Jennings, and Craig impressed me straight away with how smart and switched on he is," Cornes told

"He has a lot of different ideas and we made a pretty good connection on that trip and have kept in contact, and he seemed really passionate about developing indigenous coaches. 

"I've had a few good chats with Pauly Vandenbergh, who runs Port's (Aboriginal) program, and a few others, like Peter Burgoyne and Dan Motlop, and they told me how good it is up there.

There has never been an Aboriginal senior coach in the AFL, but there were three assistants this year: Andy Lovell (Gold Coast), Roger Hayden (Fremantle) and Xavier Clarke (Richmond).

Lovell isn't continuing in 2019, but West Coast has hired Chance Bateman, so the number will remain steady. 

Part of this group's goal is to increase that figure to about 18, to represent about 10 per cent of the AFL's overall coaches, the same ratio as in the playing ranks. 

About 50 per cent of AFL assistant coaches never played at the highest level, so the same could eventually apply to their Aboriginal peers.

"You see how well the (indigenous footballers) play the game and see the game, and I'm sure a lot of them would make really good coaches," Cornes said. 

"I'm not sure why there aren't more than there are already, but this is a small step and I think it's a good thing for everyone." 

Cornes, who eventually wants to be a line coach at Port, said he was eager to make the most of his privileged position in the football landscape.

"(These sorts of experiences) definitely make you appreciate what you've been given throughout your footy career," he said. 

"So any chance you can give a bit back, you jump at it. Hopefully they get something out of it and we can give some ideas to help them with their coaching and the kids with their footy."

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