Liz Lawrence, Narrandera Argus
The Sullivan name has been synonymous with Australian football in Narrandera for decades and now one of its favourite sons James Sullivan has been honoured for his commitment to the game as a teacher at St Francis de Sales Regional College.
James, son of Barry and Debbie Sullivan of Narrandera, has been named as a NSW/ACT Secondary School Ambassador for the game in the NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards.
His citation reads that James has proactively sought opportunities to expose the students of St Francis de Sales Regional College to all aspects of Australian rules football.
In 2021, and for many years preceding, he took the lead on being a strong advocate for Australian rules football in both the school setting and the broader community.
“His proactive and meticulous approach to planning, combined with an engaging in-school development program has resulted in consistently high player numbers in the AFL Schools Cup competition,” the citation read.
Recent examples of James’ passion and desire to ensure the code remains at the forefront of sport in his school include:
- Facilitating personal development opportunities for teacher colleagues
- Supporting AFL community camp player visits
- Implementing a mid-week school based AFL 9s competition
- Co-delivering an in-school umpiring academy.
“The connection and respect James has with and for his students is testament to his approach. He epitomises all qualities one would associate with an excellent AFL School Ambassador. AFL NSW/ACT congratulates James as one of the nine hardworking volunteers who have been recognised in the AFL NSW/ACT Volunteer of the Year awards for 2021,” the citation stated.
Like many youngsters in Narrandera, James been playing the game since he started Auskick at the age of five.
He was a student at St Francis College and played in every team he could from Year 7.
“Trav Doyle, who I now work alongside, was my coach back then both at school and CCC level. That shows how old he is!!” James quipped.
James played juniors from under 11’s to under 16’s as part of some great junior sides back then.
“We won every top age premierships and two as bottom age, but the main memories I have is just the fun I had playing with my mates and winning a lot of games of footy,” he said.
He started playing 18’s and then played seniors when he was 17.
“We made the GF in 2005 but we got flogged by Ganmain, but we had a lot of blokes playing injured that day. It was a really enjoyable year. We had a great team with a lot of great players but also great blokes.,” James said.
“I went to Canberra and played footy at Ainslie for four years, played a bit of seniors but mostly reserves. The 1’s won a few premierships so it was a good time to be at the club.”
James played in Narrandera in 2011 and 2012 and then again in 2015 after living in London for a few years.
“I just enjoy the game. I think the passion started with Baz, my old man, and my family such as my cousins, aunties, uncles. I enjoy the competitiveness on game day, but also the social side and the people you meet along the way.
“ I enjoy just watching other people enjoy the game, the improvement you see in teams and individuals and the life lessons you get along the way such as dealing with winning and losing, resilience, mateship etc.”
James has become more involved in the senior club since he returned through coaching and being on the committee. He helped set up the South West Girls Youth Competition and got a few teams started here in Narrandera which he rated one of his best achievements.
“It’s great to see the girls out there playing, although it was very disappointing to see the comp not go ahead due to the lack of teams from other towns this year. Hopefully it gets going again next year!! I know the girls here were disappointed,” he said.
Like most country kids he played a number of sports including cricket, basketball, tennis and golf.
“I was lucky to have great parents that encouraged me to do all of these and transported me to wherever I needed to go to play these sports,” he said.
The Sullivan family has been heavily involved with the football club at Narrandera. James’ father Barry coached him a lot through the juniors and was heavily involved in the code.
“Dad has always been a big supporter of the footy club, and both mum and dad are still big supporters – although mum won’t watch me play anymore as she got sick of watching me get hurt (haha),” he said.
“My uncle Gavin Sullivan has had a big involvement on all levels from the junior through to the senior club. He has been the main driving force of why the Narrandera Sportsground is the facility it is today with the lights and the new clubrooms. He doesn’t get enough credit for this.”
James said his award was for volunteers in secondary schools.
“St Francis is a great footballing school and football is a massive passion of ours. We have had some great footballers come out of there going back to Adam Schneider and more recently Jacob Townsend, Jacob Hopper, Matt Flynn and Cooper Sharman.
“ I think Harry Grintell who finished there last year is a big chance of getting picked up for next year as well. I think we’ll have a few girls in the AFLW as well over the next few years including Abby Favell and Mary Sandral. We train most weeks during the winter and have a lot of successful sides and have won some state titles over the years which have been a great achievement.
“The trips away are always great fun, especially for the students. I work alongside Trav Doyle with the AFL and he is a great person to work with here as he has plenty of experience. If you are a young kid who enjoys their footy (and any sport for that matter), St Francis is a great school to go to.”
James also coached the CCC u’15s girls side to a state title this year and rated that a great experience.
The NSW Volunteer of the Year award winners came from across NSW, from Leeton in the Riverina to Glen Innes in the state’s north, Bathurst in the Central West to metropolitan Sydney.
Each one of the recipients played a role in enhancing the game and encouraging others to get involved.
Tiffany Robertson, Head of AFL NSW/ACT, said without the efforts of countless volunteers across the code, the game would not be as accessible and enjoyable as what it is today.
“Thank you to everyone who has volunteered in footy over the past season. We have all experienced challenges along the way, but I feel confident our game is in a great position to continue its rapid development in NSW and the ACT.”
This article appeared in the Narrandera Argus, 14 October 2021.