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‘Best thing ever’: Tigers and Pies clash in Wheelchair AFL grand final

“First three years after that was just hell, literally hell,” the now 30-year-old says. “Negative thoughts, suicidal thoughts; I felt like no one mattered anymore, my life’s over.”

Alone with his dark thoughts, Naidu gained more than 50 kilograms within nine months. But eventually found resilience and strength within himself to do things he used to love, such as play sports.

Rules of Wheelchair AFL

  • The game is played on an indoor basketball court divided into thirds
  • A handball is the equivalent to a kick 
  • An underarm throw is the equivalent to a handball 
  • There are five players on court: two forwards, two defenders and a centre
  • Men and women can compete on one team
  • Up to two players without a physical disability are allowed on the squad
  • Only one player without a disability is allowed on the court 

First he signed up to tennis and played in national competitions at Hisense Arena. And then became involved with AFL Wheelchair – a league still in its infancy.

The game is an adapted version of the iconic Aussie rules, played between two teams of five (plus interchange players) and the court divided into thirds (like netball) with goal posts at either end of the court.

A handball replaces the kick and an underarm throw replaces the mainstream handball.

“It’s still footy,” Naidu says. “It’s just footy on wheels.”

The Lyndhurst man was drafted to St Kilda in the mid-season draft and picked up by Richmond earlier this year where he’ll be playing in the grand final clash with Collingwood on Sunday.

The 10-round competition kicked off on May 12 with Essendon, Hawthorn, Collingwood, St Kilda and Richmond the teams involved.

“It’s been awesome – seriously the best thing ever,” Naidu says. “Being affiliated with the club, you feel like you belong to a part of something.

It’s been awesome – seriously the best thing ever. Being affiliated with the club, you feel like you belong to a part of something.

Vincent Naidu, Tigers AFL Wheelchair player

“Richmond has made me feel so welcome, made me feel important and as an important member of the club.”

The Pies beat the Tigers in last year’s grand final, so Naidu, a forward, is hoping he and his teammates can reverse that result this weekend.

Richmond’s Yasmina McGlone and Collingwood captain Brendan Stroud battling it out.

Richmond’s Yasmina McGlone and Collingwood captain Brendan Stroud battling it out.Credit:Nerissa Turner

AFL Wheelchair is still a relatively new concept and everyone – the clubs, players and the league – is “still learning”, Naidu says. 

An AFL Victoria spokesman said the game was created to provide more opportunities for people with a physical disability to take part in footy.

“Following on from the success of the first season of the league, the AFL is continuing to work with Disability Sport and Recreation, and the five AFL clubs involved to develop more opportunities for people to play,” the spokesman said.

“This will include more come-and-try opportunities and social programs as a pathway to the league.”

The AFL Wheelchair 2019 grand final between Collingwood and Richmond starts from noon, Sunday, September 1, at Boroondara Sports Complex, Balwyn.

Lifeline 13 11 14; beyondblue 1300 224 636

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