Already the pin-up boy for young Indigenous footballers in the Sunraysia region, Richmond rookie Derek Eggmolesse-Smith now embodies what can be achieved through the Club’s Next Generation Academy.

The 21-year-old became the first NGA Tiger to play AFL football when he debuted against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium last weekend, collecting 19 disposals and holding his place in the team for another solid showing against the Giants at the MCG.

“Derek represents a lot for the younger people coming through our program,” Richmond Academy Manager, Todd Sigalas said.

“When the news came through (of Derek’s debut), I was standing with two younger NGA participants and seeing their faces was absolutely gold to me.

“Our Club now has a clear line of sight for the kids and there’s an understanding that if they do the work and connect and engage there’s an opportunity to thrive within our organisation and within our partners’ organisations such as the KGI and AFL Victoria.”

Eggmolesse-Smith with current NGA Tigers. The 21-year-old assisted coaching at the latest Academy Camp at the Swinburne Centre.

Eggmolesse-Smith’s debut was a tick for many of the Tigers’ Indigenous youth programs, with the Wentworth product a former participant of KGI and Laguntas.

Outside of football, a key component of Richmond’s NGA program is cultural connection and understanding.

Eggmolesse-Smith performed a tribal dance pre-game to the Tigers’ Dreamtime VFL Clash with Essendon

Fittingly, Eggmolesse-Smith was part of a record-breaking lineup for the Club as he joined Indigenous teammates and close friends Shai Bolton, Sydney Stack, Daniel Rioli and Shane Edwards in the team.

It was the most Indigenous players ever in a Richmond VFL/AFL side.

Sigalas said the NGA program was all about giving Indigenous and Multicultural young people the best opportunity to be the best they can be.

“Credit has to go to the AFL for setting up these NGA programs, it’s a wonderful thing and it’s making our Club and our game better,” he said.

“From an Indigenous and multicultural point of view, some of the numbers coming through were not where they should be.

“We need Indigenous kids from a broad range of Indigenous communities representing our great game, and Derek- who has done a lot of hard work to get where he is, is a great example of that.”

Eggmolesse-Smith, who won a league best and fairest in the AFL Sunraysia League as a 17-year-old, but played just three games for the Bendigo Pioneers was someone who traditionally could have slipped through the cracks.

Based over 450km from any capital city, Eggmolesse-Smith was supported by the Club and nurtured through its VFL program before being drafted as a Category B Rookie.

Richmond’s NGA Zone includes AFL Central, Central Murray, Goulburn Murray, North East Border, Sunraysia and Wimmera Mallee – the Murray Bushrangers and Bendigo Pioneers catchments.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JULY 14: Derek Eggmolesse-Smith of the Tigers runs with the ball during the round 17 AFL between the Richmond Tigers and the Greater Wester Giants at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 14, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images via AFL Photos)