From Tennant Creek to Casey: Cranbourne footballer’s remarkable journey

Andrew Green's journey to a VFL list spot started 2820 kilometres away in Tennant Creek. 386002 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Jonty Ralphsmith

Imagine this: you grow up in Melbourne’s southeast and want to pursue a sporting career but the best standard in the state exists in Swan Hill.

Recognising the importance of education, you’re intent on staying at home and in school despite spending your entire weekend travelling in friends’ cars, sleeping and playing.

For a period in year 12, you go a step further and commute 13-14 hours each way on your own on a bus, arriving back home on Monday at 6am, before going to school at 8am.

But even the standard in Swan Hill is below the bottom rung of local footy in other states so you decide to move out of home at 17-years-old to chase your dream.

Soon after arriving at your new home, you suffer a season-ending injury, having made the move knowing the measurement for success is entirely based on what happens every Saturday.

No job. No school. No footy. No friends. No guarantees. New home.

That was newly Casey contracted Andrew Green at the end of 2022.

The 19-year-old’s story to arrive on a VFL list, 13 months later following a strong season as a rebounding defender for Cranbourne, is as preposterous and unbelievable as it is inspiring and assiduous.

Andy had moved down from his home in Tennant Creek (NT) to Melbourne having been scouted by an eagle-eyed recruiter from Oakleigh Chargers in the talent pathway system.

A best-on-ground performance, playing a rare game in the midfield, caught the eye, with the subsequent feedback from Oakleigh the catalyst for the move.

It followed countless hours in friends’ cars enduring a 10-hour round trip to Alice Springs on weekends – equivalent to Melburnians driving to Swan Hill – and bus trips to Darwin to play in the NTFL.

No hyperbole is too great to describe his journey to Casey Fields.


Andy’s Dad, Wayne, holds one of the most important jobs in Tennant Creek.

Working for AFL NT, Wayne is Tennant’s competition and development lead; effectively, he is responsible for the smooth operation of what locals say is the web that binds townsfolk together.

Each year, a similar number of people finish year 12 as make the weekly trip to and from Alice Springs to play a higher standard of footy, such is the love of the sport.

Andy was the only student in his Year-12 PE class, his teacher also his footy coach at the Sporties Spitfires.

It’s in that competition, the Barkly Australian Football League (BAFL), where the most meaningful chapters of the town’s lore are etched.

In the suppressive afternoon heat, shops are closed and banners will fly, team colours glimmer and people will cheer.

Andy first played senior footy as a 15-year-old, a period when he was still playing junior footy on Wednesday nights.

In some years, the junior competitions are made up of just two teams.

He played in the Spitfires’ senior premiership threepeat from 2019-2021, having previously run drinks for the team, which also included his brother, Matthew.

While emphasising that he still would’ve keenly pursued a footy career regardless, Andy points to Matthew as a key source of inspiration.

The eldest of four tight boys, Matthew was in the 2018 AFL Academy, alongside the likes of Zak Butters and Bailey Smith.

At no point of the wide-ranging hour-long chat does Andy’s voice spruik up more than when discussing his brother’s impact.

“Seeing him [in the Academy] really gave me extra passion to chase it,” Andy said.

“I looked up to him and he was a massive role model for me doing all that work and that is what drove me really.”

For all his footballing achievements, it was getting to play against his brother’s St Mary’s in the NTFL in late 2022 – a game Gary Ablett played in – that is Andy’s favourite sporting memory.


It doesn’t take long to learn the name of every street if you live in Tennant.

The town in the middle of the Northern Territory is a speck on the map with less than 3,000 people.

For context – Pakenham’s population has increased by almost triple that number from 2016-2021, according to census data.

It’s the sort of place where you make your own fun, and part of that is driving around with mates in an air-conditioned car with the music blaring.

Probationary licenses are issued from the age of 16, providing a sense of independence to northern youth unbeknownst to their southern counterparts.

Andy’s time roaming the streets freely with friends, or having a casual kick was punctuated only by extra fitness sessions.

Preseason isn’t a phrase in the Tennant Creek footy vernacular – training begins in February – so Andy drove most of the extra work on his own.

A natural talent at a suite of sports including athletics and cricket, both which took him interstate at different stages of his childhood, footy was always the numero uno, even during the wet season.

“None of the boys or clubs get around preseason, there’s just a lot of drinking and partying, so nothing’s really going on,” Andy said.

“I wasn’t doing anything too extravagant, I was just doing some running and some body weight and core stuff because I thought it was right.

“I didn’t have any resources other than a tiny gym which didn’t appeal to me.”

It was in 2020, the year most Melburnians’ footy stalled amid the pandemic, that Andy spread his wings.

The 1000 kilometre round trips to Alice started, Andy playing 11 games in the five team Central Australian Football League competition in 2020-21.

Six NTFL games for Palmerston alongside the likes of former AFL players Neville Jetta and Eddie Betts were sandwiched in between.

He continued to dominate footy in Tennant as well as he juggled playing for a host of different teams alongside his studies.

“It’s a pretty big commitment but (the trips to Alice) were always fun because you’re getting away from everything, you’re playing footy, you’re with your mates, so there’s nothing better,” Andy said.

“Looking back on it now, it seems ridiculous, and I’ve told a few people about it recently and they couldn’t really believe it.

“But I loved playing footy that much and wanted to play a good standard, so that’s what I did.”

The NTFL is seen as the pinnacle of senior football in the territory, but Andy wanted more.


No-one knew the full extent of Andy’s right shoulder injury following its dislocation in the weeks leading up to a Northern Territory All Star game in Darwin.

Determined to play, he sacrificed going to his year 12 formal and sharing the truth about his injury.

Many were aware he had popped his shoulder a couple of times in the weeks prior – but he concedes now it was more like “eight or nine” subluxations.

“I just wanted to play footy, and I had a couple of broken fingers previously and Dad told me not to play so I knew if I told Dad, I wouldn’t be playing,” Andy said.

“I thought I would go to my formal, but as it got closer, I just wanted to play and I don’t regret the decision for a second, because it got me here.”

Named best-on-ground, Oakleigh Chargers Head of Talent ID Greg Truman happened to be watching the sketchy stream on a tiny screen and was immediately taken by Andy’s talent, inviting him to do a preseason with the Chargers, giving him the chance to play a full season in front of recruiters in the Coates League.

“He was very poised and a lot of players in NT football get nervous with front-on pressure but he was able to buy time,” Truman reflected.

“It’s impossible to teach that stuff – you can either absorb pressure or you can’t – and every target in that game he hit.

“It was only off one game – usually I base judgement off 5-10 games, but as soon as I saw him play, he was the one that stood out.”

Having finished school that year aged 17, his plan for some time had been to pursue footy in Melbourne.

That performance brought the concept to life.


November 6 2021 was the day a dreamy-eyed Andy landed in Melbourne, aged 17, ready to shack up with his Aunty.

Living in different houses wasn’t a new concept for the teenager; during his footy adventures in Alice Springs and Darwin, he had stayed with different relatives before commuting home the following day.

A third generation Tennant local, part of the last generation of kids born in the town – birth givers are now sent to Alice Springs – the symbolic significance of his move didn’t phase him.

The bitter shot of adversity came late in preseason, when his shoulder injury flared up again, requiring a reconstruction due to a torn labrum.

In the blink of an eye, he went from virtual list certainty at Oakleigh to having his year of footy wiped out.

By far the cruelest blow, the forced footy hiatus was one of several elements that worked together to have Andy asking himself sweeping questions about his path.

His employment opportunities restricted by his injury, his support network consisting merely of his aunt and cousin, and footy off the cards, the call of home echoed resoundingly.

The isolation was a confronting juxtaposition to what the kid raised by a village was accustomed to.

“I was never one to be at home much back (in Tennant) but I was home all day watching the footy on TV, I didn’t have any friends,” Andy said.

“I thought ‘it’s a massive waste, what am I doing here?’ but I stuck it out because I came to the conclusion it would be just as much of a waste throwing it all away and going back home.

“I came down here to play footy and make my family proud, so I decided to wait it out for another year and I’m glad I did in the end.”

Andy identified the turning point of his time in Melbourne as a chance run-in late in 2022 with Cranbourne’s Tom Ostrom at Axis Performance – also linked with the Eagles.

It led to a move to the Eagles for the 2023 season, and then a move to the Ostrom household in Beaconsfield Upper in August last year when his Aunt moved to New South Wales.

“I didn’t know what to think of Tom at first because I didn’t have any friends but we hang out a lot together now,” Andy explained.

“We do a bit of fishing together, we play golf together, he’s been massive in me getting my nutrition and gym right.

“I never gymmed back home, I didn’t go to the gym down here, I didn’t know how to gym, the right way to do anything

“Tom has helped me put on a bit of size but most of all it’s just been the friendship.

“Tom and the Ostrom family have given me a launching pad to chase my dreams – they could have just said ‘nup’ to me moving in but they’ve supported me and loved me heaps so I couldn’t be any more thankful.”


Cranbourne initially thought it would see Andy for only about three games, in between Coates League commitments.

Instead, he missed only three games.

During the Eagles’ preseason match simulation he immediately impressed coach Steve O’Brien with his flair and read of the play, growing into a critical piece in 2023.

Andy played 18 games in Cranbourne’s run to the Southern Football Netball League (SFNL) 2023 grand final, mostly as a rebounding defender.

“My focus for him last year was for him to take the game on a little bit more and be a bit more attacking,” O’Brien said.

It was a welcome change and show of Andy’s skill execution, having played mostly as a lockdown defender up north.

“If all he’s doing is shutting down opponents then he’s not going to be utilising one of his greatest assets, so it was identifying his strengths and getting him to play to them,” the long-time local mentor said.

“Once he started using that left foot, it was like ‘yep, let’s keep going with that because you carve it through opposition’.”

Again trialling for Oakleigh in 2023, following the previous year’s injury, he was lost in the wash of players but got three games of Talent League exposure for Northern Territory.

Those games were a brutal look at the ugly side of footy, the Thunder losing their matches by an average of 136 points, but playing on top-three pick Jed Walter was an experience Andy fondly recalls.

“We had a matchup going into the game but that matchup lasted half a game and it just wasn’t working, he had kicked six by halftime then I took it upon myself as one of the older boys on the team – I wanted that challenge,” he said.

“I actually looked forward to it, so I played on him in the last quarter and a half and he only kicked one more goal.

“Playing on him is ridiculous, he’s so big, strong and athletic.

“It was pretty cool knowing he would go well in the draft and be an AFL talent.”

For the most part, it must be reiterated too, how big a step up those games for Cranbourne were from what he grew up playing.

In Andy’s hometown, teams have a head coach, water-boys and a changeroom.

There are no assistant or development coaches, function rooms don’t exist, and neither do physios or other support staff.

After a procession of very good games, Andy identifies his 38-possession game against Mordialloc where he kicked at 93 per cent on a typically swirly Cranbourne afternoon as an important one for his confidence.

Also noting the positional versatility he offered a VFL club, O’Brien encouraged Andy midseason to continue going about his work and pause thoughts about VFL opportunities until post-season.

After being a lockdown defender for most of his career up north, Cranbourne promoted his attacking capacity in 2023, with Andy’s balancing improving as the season progressed.


On a day most commonly associated with festivals, parties and hangovers, Andy ran a half-marathon.

Bereft of high-performance staff in Tennant Creek, Andy’s primary method of fitness was running, which carried on once he moved to Melbourne.

On 31 December last year, he made the decision he would run 21 kilometres the following day around Pakenham.

It was part of an offseason grind which included sessions with Warragul running coach Andrew Moore which made a statement when he returned to Casey as he wiped 21 seconds off his two-kilometre time trial.

“He’s a hard-working young kid and has invested a lot in himself making the move down here,” Dees coach Taylor Whitford said.

“He’s got really good habits around how he prepares himself.

“He reads the play really well, he’s got good hands and he’s quite strong for a 19-year-old which bodes well for VFL footy.”

The running effort also highlights Andy’s current mindset: confident but not yet content.

Having given consideration to the well-versed debate of whether to go to a standalone club or AFL-aligned, Andy’s optimism that he could crack Casey’s lineup was one of several deciding factors.

“I’m not at the end goal but when I was in Tennant wanting to play high level footy, I always wanted to be in that facility where you have pools and a gym, and a high-quality footy oval,” Andy said.

“Casey give it all to you.

“Having all those resources gives me the opportunity to do my best.”

Andy played in the backline at Palmerston with Sam Clohesy in the 2022-23 NTFL season, eight months before Clohesy took out the 2023 Fothergill-Round-Mitchell medal (VFL’s best young emerging talent) and was drafted to Gold Coast.

Ambitiously, Andy has set himself the task of winning that award, 16 of the past 17 winners having earned an AFL list spot.

It would be an extraordinary denouement to an already majestic tale, but he’s arguably beaten longer odds just to get to where he is.