Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (the footballer), is not known for being a quitter, but it was at half-time of one elite junior grand final that McDonald-Tipungwuti (the netballer) decided he’d had enough.
A student at Chairo Christian School in Drouin, the Tiwi Islander had returned from representing the Northern Territory Thunder at the AFL Under 18 Championships in time to don the goal attack bib for the final two days of an international secondary schools' netball carnival at Waverley.
The year was 2012. Chairo, coached by Anthony’s mother, Jane McDonald, had qualified for the Boys’ Division Grand Final in the Waverley International against Melbourne High.
“I was playing well and they put this six-footer on me, and at half-time I took my bib off and I was like ‘nah, I’m done, Mum, that’s it’,’’ McDonald-Tipungwuti’s recalls. “And Mum was like ‘no, you’re staying on, use what you can use. You’ve got pace, you’re pretty quick, so take him up the ground and you nip back’. And that’s what I did the whole time.’’
He also baulked, and dodged, cut and drove, shot almost perfectly and was named MVP in the grand final victory. The individual award came in the form of a netball that remains, proudly, in the centre of the mantelpiece in the McDonald family’s north-west Melbourne home.
Yet if AFL is McDonald-Tipungwuti’s present, then Essendon’s exciting 89-gamer retains a fondness for the sport he first experienced while at Tiwi College in the Top End and continued upon his move to Gippsland the following year. Now, while still keen to to play mixed netball once his AFL career is over - possibly, he smiles, alongside Bombers’ captain Dyson Heppell and with big ruckman Tom Bellchambers propped at goal shooter - the enthusiastic Melbourne Vixens’ fan has (jointly with mum Jane) become the club’s Number 1 Ticket Holder.
“I love the sport and I want to promote (it) more out in the outer world, to build the game up to a standard where the girls deserve to have the game,’’ McDonald-Tipungwuti says. “So I’m really keen to get involved and start building, and put it out there and get other AFL fans involved in netball, and hopefully I can do that and encourage young kids to play more netball at school, not just footy or cricket. So I’m really excited to get on board and help out with that.’’
“Tippa’s” own beginnings were slightly awkward, knowing little about the rules, and - not unusually - struggling with the footwork restrictions in particular. But Jane confirms that he took to it immediately; initially as a speedy wing attack with an ability to find space, then as an aspiring shooter.
“As he got more used to the game, he came up to me at school and said ‘I want to play goal attack’ and I said ‘well, you just don’t get to play goal attack, you’ve got to be able to shoot goals, and you can’t shoot goals’. And he said ‘fine, I’ll learn’,’’ McDonald says.
“But what I didn’t understand is that’s fine from the coach’s point of view, but as a mum we’d go home, he’d do all his homework and he’d say ‘right, we’ve got to get to the netball courts, because my coach has said I need to shoot goals’.
“So that’s what we did. About three or four times a week we’d go back to school and he’d stay shooting goals for an hour or so. So he was the one that wanted that, and you could then see that it became the challenge of how many goals he could shoot, and he wasn’t happy when he missed, so that competitiveness came out again.’’
Indeed, the ball skills were what appealed most about the sport, and the movements and strategies the 26-year-old has learnt on the court have also helped him on the field. For her part, Jane can often tell which footballers have dabbled in netball. ”I know for myself I try to put that in my footy, with cutting and driving to the balls, that’s what I learnt I guess from mum,’’ says Anthony. “But I watch it just to learn what I can do with my footy, so I can mix that up a bit.’’
Until quite recently, viewing was mostly limited to the McDonald’s lounge-room, with NSW-raised Jane having followed both the Melbourne Phoenix and Kestrels in the pre-Vixens days. “One day Anthony said ‘it’d be really good mum, if we go to a game’. And I said ‘well get your schedule out and have a look’, and basically that’s what he did: he went through his schedule last year and he said ‘right, we can go to this one, we can go to this one’, and we were actually in the Puma shop and he mentioned it and they said ‘oh, we’ll get you tickets’, so that’s how that all started.’’
Like McDonald-Tipungwuti and his mum, Jo Weston is another who is hoping it will end with a Suncorp Super Netball/AFL premiership double. “It’s pretty exciting to have ‘Tippa’ come on board as our No.1 ticket-holder for the Vixens,’’ says the Bombers-supporting Vixens and Diamonds’ goal defence.
“Obviously he’s an established athlete in his own right, and he’s pretty unique in the way he plays, and we’re very excited to have him on our team for this year.’’
Written by Linda Pearce
Join Jane and Anthony as Melbourne Vixens members in 2020: melbournevixens.com.au/membership/membership-packages