Emma MacNeill during a break in a game for Wilston Grange in the QWAFL in 2023. Picture: Brooke Sleep

Renowned Indigenous artist Emma MacNeill is usually the one creating impressive pieces of art, but in a role reversal of sorts, she is the subject of a captivating series of pictures submitted to the AFL's Footy Focus competition by photographer Brooke Sleep.

MacNeill is featured playing for QAFLW club Wilston Grange, some pictures with her wearing the Indigenous guernsey she designed.

It's a bit of a departure for the mother of three and partner of former Carlton and Brisbane midfielder Mitch Robinson, but one she's thrilled to be part of.

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"It's exciting … this is something that Brooke loves and she has such a unique spin on her work," MacNeill says.

"She has this amazing ability to capture moments that may have seemed like nothing much at the time, but turn out to be something that you cherish forever.

"She can capture the human element of sports, which is really special.

"She's amazing, she blows me away with the stuff that she can do, with her unique style."

While MacNeill features heavily in Sleep's submission to this year's competition, it wasn't necessarily a conscious decision by the photographer who regularly shoots Wilston Grange games.

"I just picked ones that are compelling to me in some way and she has this powerful gaze, those kinds of photos are my favourites," Sleep says.

"She's very determined on game day and she's got the strong family aspect as well. It just works for the photos.

"The Indigenous guernsey shoot was a bit of a last-minute thing.

"They wanted some photos to help launch the new guernsey so I went down there and let Emma do what she thought would be good.

"We got some pretty good photos considering how dark it was and I didn't have any lighting."

MacNeill, who has designed guernseys for North Melbourne, Carlton and Brisbane to wear in the AFL's Sir Doug Nicholls Round, cuts a striking figure in traditional face paint and the guernsey she created.

"For the first time since I've been at Grange, we had six or seven Indigenous players and that guernsey acknowledged the totems of where we're all from," she says.

"It's a bit of a special one.

"Funnily enough, the emu is the totem for all us girls, there's a little moon bird, the mighty Fitzroy River … we're really from all over, but at the same time, I love that a footy club can bring us all together.

"Even though we come from different mobs and upbringings, when we come to Grange we're just a family, which is pretty special.

"We wanted to incorporate face paint to show how strong our culture is.

"Back in the day it would be about going into battle … it's a significant part of how strong we are and how passionate we are for our culture.

"It's about our pride and our strength."

MacNeill's artwork has received significant public exposure, with the proud Yamatji/Martu woman having also designed boots for Dustin Martin, Bradley Hill and Eddie Betts as well as Robinson.

With Mitch's retirement at the end of last season, MacNeill is planning to channel more energy into her art career.

"I've been a stay-at-home mum for nine years, so I'm the chef, the doctor, the cleaner … you name it," she says.

"I've been so grateful to 'Robbo' because I've been able to watch my family grow.

"It's been really special for us.

"So now I'm at the point where I think it's time for me to start taking the business to the next level and focus on new goals."

For now, Sleep is content to indulge her passion for photography on weekends, but wouldn't rule out pursuing it full-time if an opportunity arose.

Sleep has previously won praise for her work, in particular the picture she took of Broadbeach Cats player Jessica Harvey breastfeeding her daughter in the changerooms.

Her keen eye for capturing the touching human side of sport was evident recently when she snapped a heartfelt embrace between Wilston Grange player Grace O'Donnell and her mother.

"She shared a hug with her Mum at half-time and it was going to be her last time watching her play because she had cancer," Sleep says.

"It was just a really nice photo.

"Those are the kind of photos I love because they show that footy is more than just a game. It gives me a lot of purpose and I think it does that for a lot of people.

"It gives you a community, a family, and might fill gaps you have in other parts of your life."

The 27-year-old has been photographing AFL games since she was 14, having been inspired by her grandfather, Ian Sleep, who was a loyal volunteer at Goulburn Valley League club Shepparton United.

"My love of AFL came from how passionate he was about the game," she says.

"I love sports photography and I love AFL. I would do other sports, but AFL is where my passion is.

"That comes from my Pop, who is not with us any more, but his love and passion and everything he did to stay involved … it really gives you purpose.

"I feel like I can still be in touch with how he was as a person … it keeps his memory alive for me."

#FootyFocus23, thanks to Toyota's Good For Footy program, is now open for entries! Here's your chance to shadow and shoot with Michael Willson and Dylan Burns at a game in 2024.  We want to see your photos that capture the essence of our great game at a grassroots level. To enter, upload your best community footy photos taken during 2023 to: http://footyfocus23.afl/