Not many young boys describe their school as “awesome,” but it’s a different story at Clontarf Academy in Perth. 

Founded in 2000 by Gerard Neesham, an ex-AFL player and coach, the not-for-profit organisation works to improve the lives young Aboriginal men in Western Australia, Northern Territory, Victoria and New South Wales.

The foundation partners with high schools to create football academies for young Aboriginal men to build their capacity so they can participate meaningfully in society. It’s an expanding network, with plans in place to increase operations across the country and reach more boys who would benefit from the program.

It’s changed lives of students such as Daniel ‘Doc’ Reardon who attended high school at Clontarf in Perth between 2000 and 2002.

He was unlike any other school. “It had all the good coaches there, looking after you in the footy academy,” he said.

Daniel was a student at a Perth high school when a friend told him about Clontarf’s footy program. “I went and tried out, and I got picked,” he said.

The mid-fielder, one of 21 boys who made up the first class to graduate in 2002, said a trip to Melbourne was a highlight of his time as a Clontarf student.  

“We played at the MCG,” he said. “We played all the schools over there, and went to all the footy clubs.”

The trip included a meeting with AFL and Essendon legend Kevin Sheedy, one of the longest serving coaches in the league who’s popular among indigenous footy fans for his support of talented Aboriginal players.

Another highlight of Daniel’s Clontarf days was the friendships he made with his fellow students, with many of whom he still keeps in contact. “They’re all good blokes,” he said.

When school finished, Daniel entered a pre-apprenticeship program at WesTrac in Guildford before beginning his apprenticeship in 2004. To follow was a year at a workshop in Perth before moving to work in the Pilbara.

Daniel’s now a heavy-duty diesel mechanic for a drainage company at Port Hedland in WA, fulfilling Clontarf’s aim to prepare the boys for employment once they leave school.

He’s also the father of two children: Taliah, 9, who loves sport just like her dad, and Hayden, 2 and a half.

The young dad and diesel mechanic said graduating from Clontarf gave him unique opportunities in life.

“I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now. I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t think I’d be as well-off as I am now, at this age,” he said.