For AFL legend Mick O’Loughlin one of the proudest moments of his life had nothing to do with sport, journalist Sue Osborne writes.
It was returning to his old primary and high schools to offer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students scholarships from the GO Foundation.
“Never in my wildest dreams as a kid did I think I’d come back to my old school to support their dreams and aspirations,” O’Loughlin said.
“It was a really proud and personal moment.”
O’Loughlin founded the GO Foundation for the betterment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ education in 2009 with long time Sydney Swans team mate Adam Goodes.
O’Loughlin played for the Swans his whole career, joining them straight from school as a 17 year old.
He attended Salisbury North Primary School and Paralowie R-12 School, just north of Adelaide. Both schools have a high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and life was tough. Many students ended up working at the Holden factory, which has now closed. O’Loughlin has many friends who lost their jobs.
Footy was part of the DNA and O’Loughlin kicked a footy around in the mornings, in the afternoons, in the lunch break and at recess.
“I went to sleep holding a football,” he said.
“It was a fantastic childhood. I wasn’t the best student, but my effort was there.”
O’Loughlin said his school, family and community instilled in him a philosophy of hard work and resilience which has influenced the GO Foundation.
He remembers hearing his name called out during the AFL draft and turning up to school the next day the coolest kid in the class.
It was a steep learning curve as a 17 year old, saying goodbye to his family to live in Sydney.
“My mum helped me pack my bag. She said you’ve got to go and make the most of this opportunity.
“I had no idea what I was getting into. It was a culture shock; the hard work was only just beginning.”
O’Loughlin said one of the great things about sport is that you are surrounded by role models you can learn from, something else which informs the way the GO Foundation operates.
O’Loughlin looked to senior players and club members for support to survive those early years.
Every week the club would carry out school visits where the players had to promote not only AFL, but education and a healthy lifestyle.
“I wasn’t much older than the students we were visiting, but older players taught me how to behave in a professional manner.
“In those years I learnt how to talk to kids, how to be a role model, how to articulate a plan and talk to teachers.”
Upon retirement, the GO Foundation was a natural next step for Goodes and O’Loughlin after many years of school liaison, and with both men concerned about the inequities affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“When we started we tried to help every community and do everything we could and ended up being jack of all trades, masters of none.
“We soon realised we could achieve the best results by focussing on education.
“While sport has been great for our people, not everyone can achieve through sport. Getting to Year 12, going to university and to leading roles in organisations is the great outcome we are focused on.”
O’Loughlin encourages schools to get in touch with the GO Foundation to have a conversation about how they communicate and interact with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Goodes and O’Loughlin spend a lot of time visiting schools, acting as role models to students, encouraging them to work hard and pursue their goals.
O’Loughlin said both himself and Goodes want the GO Foundation to be their legacy, rather than their achievements in sport.
“Our football careers were great, they’ve given us a profile.
“But we need to do more for our people. This is where we can add value and allow others to achieve their dreams. The GO Foundation will be our legacy rather than our sporting achievements.”