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Critical condition can't stop top-20 NT prospect

Michael Mummery has been touted as a top-20 pick in the 2018 draft. Picture: Justin Kennedy, NT News - AFL,Draft,Michael Mummery
Michael Mummery has been touted as a top-20 pick in the 2018 draft. Picture: Justin Kennedy, NT News

A MYSTERIOUS blood condition threatened Northern Territory footballer Michael Mummery's life in February this year.

The powerful forward-midfielder – tipped to be a top-20 AFL draft pick next year – lost about 10kg during a long stretch in hospital after doctors briefly put him on the critical list.

Mummery was back on the field by June for NT Thunder in the NEAFL, where then-head coach and ex-AFL player Xavier Clarke made him the club's youngest-ever debutant at age 15 in 2016.

But groin issues spoiled his year further. It was one of those seasons, not only for the prodigiously talented Mummery but the Territory as a whole. 

NAB AFL Academy member Domonic "Junior" Grant underwent surgery for foot stress fractures in June, while Kieren Parnell required a second knee reconstruction in barely a year at about the same time.

The first of Parnell's knee injuries was suffered in the opening minute of the 2015-16 NT Football League Grand Final, with AFL recruiters in the stands to watch him. 

Amid the carnage was speedster Zac Bailey's emergence from relative nobody to under-18 All Australian and onto the Brisbane Lions' list with the No.15 pick. 

Bailey gave the NT a player inside the top 30 draft selections for the fourth straight year, behind Ben Long (25) and Brandan Parfitt (26) in 2016, Daniel Rioli (15) in 2015 and Nakia Cockatoo (10) in 2014.

Pretty good for a place that remains an AFL outpost, largely misunderstood and perennially underappreciated.

Mummery, who AFLNT high performance manager Wally Gallio compares to Cockatoo, is poised to extend that streak as part of a potential bumper 2018 crop – in relative terms – from the Territory. 

Gallio reckons it might even be the new norm rather than a year out of the box.

Zac Bailey (left) and Kieren Parnell. Picture: AFLNT Media

The tantalising wait for the next Rioli – Richmond and Fremantle father-son prospect Maurice Rioli jnr – has already begun despite the 15-year-old not being draft eligible until 2020.

"We've got a pretty exciting crop in the next couple of years if we do the right thing," Gallio told this week. 

"It is similar to 2012, when we had Jed Anderson, Jake Neade and Dom Barry (join AFL clubs and the NT won division two of the NAB AFL Under-18 Championships). 

"That work you've done over the years starts to come to fruition."

Parnell, who may return via the NEAFL in June next year, and Grant will be in the frame again for next year's draft, while Mummery and fellow AFL Academy member Matt Green are leading hopes.

Green won the NT's MVP award as a bottom-age defender-midfielder at the 2017 under-18 championships after first making a name for himself a year earlier at under-16 level.

The 17-year-old and another 2018 draft prospect, Liam Holt-Fitz, hail from Tennant Creek, a town located almost 1000km south-east of Darwin and with a population of just 3000.

"One of the recruiting blokes said to me this week that he didn't realise, until talking to Matty Green, how much travel the Territory boys have to do to get to a game of football," Gallio said. 

"They're getting more understanding of where our players come from and how many miles they have to do to get to a game of footy. 

"They're landing at midnight and playing a game at 10am." 

Collingwood is seriously considering Holt-Fitz, who toured South Africa with Mummery in an Australian schoolboys' team at the start of last year, as a category B rookie selection.

Holt-Fitz has relocated to the Top End, while Green plans to utilise Darwin's Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre during peak playing and training periods next year. 

"Rivalry's probably not the word," Green told of he and Holt-Fitz.

"We're best mates and nearly all the footy trips we went on, the other one was there as well, so we got to know each other pretty well.

"I'm hoping for him to have a big year next year as well." 

The Magpies have their eyes on Liam Holt-Fitz. Picture: AFLNT Media 

There is still scope for a Bailey-like blossoming as well.

It may even be 190cm utility Barrindi Ngurrwuthun, who, like Bailey in 2016, represented the NT's under-16 side this year as an over-age player rather than being part of the under-18s. 

Ngurrwuthun, from Gove, turned a few heads and scored an invite to join the AFL Academy for its training camp in Darwin this week.

Territory bolters such as Adam Sambono, a long-limbed forward from Daly River, and Wadeye excitement machine Francis Kinthari will also try again. 

The AFL bent the rules to enable Sambono, at age 20, to play for the Allies at this year's under-18 Championships, because of his lack of exposure to elite football. 

They both, particularly Sambono, received media attention, whereas the interest in Adam Tipungwuti – cousin of Essendon cult hero Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti – was more classified. 

One club ran medical testing on Tipungwuti and was very close to plucking him straight from the NTFL, where he plays for the Tiwi Bombers, as a rookie selection. 

Gallio has advised the one-time Brisbane Lions academy member to play state-league football somewhere in 2018 to stay in recruiters' thoughts.

He wrinkles at the suggestion NT footballers must move interstate to enhance their draft prospects. 

Cyril and Daniel Rioli, Ben Long, Parfitt and Bailey were living in Victoria or South Australia in their draft year, but Gallio argues their exposure with NT underage sides was critical. 

"We've restructured all our programs and reshaped our staff and really turned it into a footy club, with the way we're going to go about it," Gallio said.

"Tony (Olango)'s a good example of us getting a broken soccer player who we've turned into a footballer and now he's drafted (to West Coast).

"We think we can do that with Junior (Grant) and Michael and Matty Green – and they don't have to leave home to do it."