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The History of Marn Grook at the SCG

The Marn Grook tradition returns to the SCG this Friday night, when the Sydney Swans face Carlton.

The Sydney Swans have been playing Marn Grook since 2002, to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture.

Origins

The meaning of Marn Grook translates to ‘game ball’. The traditional game was played with a ball made from possum skin, about the size of an orange, filled with pounded charcoal and grass. The ball was bound into a hard ball with kangaroo sinews and kicked and tossed by two opposing teams of up to 50 players each.

It is believed the founder of Australian rules football, Tom Wills, observed a game of Marn Grook in the 1840s and thought it would be an ideal way for Australian cricketers to keep fit during winter. This was the inspiration for Australian Rules football.

Sydney’s first Marn Grook match

Sydney’s first Marn Grook match was played three years before the first Dreamtime game and five years before the AFL’s first full Indigenous Round.

It was May 25, 2002, and the first AFL game played at the Sydney Olympic Stadium, now Accor Stadium. The Swans hosted Essendon in a two-point thriller in front of 54,129 people.

Essendon kicked the first three goals and led until Matthew Nicks kicked his third goal 12 minutes into the final term. Essendon got the next two to take back a handy buffer before Nicks jagged his fourth to cut it to four points.

In the dying seconds ruckman Ricky Mott, in his ninth game, took a towering mark but missed a shot from 20 metres out, which saw Essendon hang on 12.13 (85) to 11.17 (83).

The Sydney Swans run through the banner at the first Marn Grook game, R9, 2002 v Essendon

The match, in which teams compete for the Marn Grook trophy, was initiated by former Sydney Swans CEO and Brownlow Medallist, Kelvin Templeton, to celebrate the shared history of Indigenous culture and AFL football. 

Such was the significance of the event in the eyes of the club that in 2017 the match was added to the Heritage List in the Swans Hall of Fame.

The Swans have maintained the annual celebration of the rich and proud history of First Nations people, and the joy and excitement Indigenous players have provided. 

Chad Warner poses next to Michael O’Loughlin after winning the 2023 Goodes O’Loughlin Medal. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos )

Goodes O’Loughlin Medal

In 2016, the Sydney Swans introduced the Goodes-O’Loughlin Medal for the player judged best afield in Marn Grook at the SCG, to honour club greats Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin.

The medal features the blue and red colours of Sydney’s first Marn Grook guernsey, designed by Goodes’ mother Lisa Sansbury.

The medal has been won twice by Isaac Heeney (2018 and 2021) and Lance Franklin (2017 and 2022), and by Tom Mitchell (2016), Sam Reid (2019), Fremantle’s Luke Ryan (2020), and Chad Warner (2023).

Goodes and O’Loughlin, named at centre half back and full forward respectively in the AFL Indigenous Team of the Century in 2005, have worked tirelessly to promote First Nations participation in Australian football and zero tolerance for racism across sport and society more broadly.

The pair also founded the GO Foundation to empower Indigenous youth through education and to date they have awarded more than 1000 scholarships in Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra. The GO Foundation is our Match Day Partner for this week’s game.

If you haven’t secured your seat to Friday night’s game, there are limited Marn Grook Memberships available. Get a reserved seat this Friday night PLUS general admission access for any two other home games at the SCG.