Remembering the ways of the Walpiri Wizard, five years on

There’s only a handful of footballers I’ve seen that are at least as good as what Liam Jurrah was.

The first initiated Indigenous player in AFL/VFL history was called the ‘Walpiri Wizard’. Then again, I’m not even sure the term ‘wizard’ cuts it for the things Jurrah could do. Actually, I reckon Jurrah was a once-in-a-lifetime footballer, with a way-too-short career that truly mesmerised us all.

On the eve of the Sir Douglas Nicholls Indigenous Round, I just wanted to go back in time a little bit and just go through all these things Jurrah could do on the field, because, blimey, he could play.

He had the skillset and speed of Eddie Betts, coupled with the height of Clayton Oliver, a jumping ability that had even Russell Robertson and Jeremy Howe covered, and the overall football nous that could rival Gary Ablett. It all sounds a bit far-fetched. But Jurrah had it all.

Jurrah’s first few games were reasonable enough — his first goal against the Bombers on debut would become typical of what he’d provide as he leaped high, failed to take it, but had the time to kick it as he fell back on the ground.

But it was game #4 against Port Adelaide on a lukewarm Sunday afternoon which captured the imagination. I don’t think I can recall a 12-disposal game that ever won over the collective hearts of everyone who was there — especially the Channel Seven commentary team. Ever heard Dennis Cometti, Bruce McAvaney and David Schwarz wax lyrical over one footballer in purely utter amazement in one afternoon? I don’t even think Cyril Rioli managed it.

The three-effort play at 2:54 though. Like, fair dinkum, he could do everything. Offensively, defensively, he was a dangerous footballer.

Unfortunately for the game of footy, Jurrah was sidelined for much of 2010 with a serious wrist injury, sustained in a pre-season game against Adelaide. However, he came back just in time to go sky-high against the Power again…

In 2011, Jurrah finally played a full season of footy. From 18 games, he kicked 40 goals. I think it was still a bit of a tease of what he could genuinely do. There was the Brisbane game where, coupled with Brent Moloney’s super-human effort in the guts, he won us the game…

From the end of that season, it would have been interesting to see what kind of role he would have played under Mark Neeld — particularly in tandem with Mitch Clark.

It never happened.

Jurrah, as we know, was charged with assault with a machete, where it was alleged he struck his cousin, Basil Jurrah. The ensuing controversy was a factor in Jurrah playing just the one game in 2012 — a forgettable game for the club up in Sydney, where Jurrah broke his ankle. He was never seen again.

Jurrah was delisted at the end of 2012, spending the remainder of the year on leave with family, before quitting the club.

Jurrah trained with Port Adelaide briefly, in the hope that the Power would pick him up. However, they wouldn’t. The Power put in a structure which could allow Jurrah to audition for a spot on the Power’s 2014 list by spending the 2013 season working at the club, as well as training and playing with the Power’s SANFL side — an offer Jurrah refused.

Jurrah was eventually found not guilty of the machete attack. However, he has since found himself on the wrong side of the law for crimes such as drink driving, aggravated assault and domestic violence, which took away his dream of making a return to the AFL.

It’s too bad that a promising career was wasted by extremely poor decisions that harmed members of his community, making it firmly impossible to justify a return to the big time.

One could only imagine what Melbourne’s forward line would look like with Jurrah and Jesse Hogan playing alongside each other in 2017.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Michael Thompson’s story.