The Muluwurri Magpies have won the first Tiwi Islands Football League women’s premiership, defeating the Tapalinga Superstars by a single point in front of a frenzied crowd at Wurrumiyanga oval on Bathurst Island.

About 1,000 Tiwi Islanders and a full ferry’s worth of spectators from Darwin watched on Sunday as another chapter was written into one of the greatest stories in Australian sports: the brilliance of Tiwi football.

The Muluwurri Magpies run out onto the field.

The Muluwurri Magpies run out onto the field.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

The Tapalinga Superstars run out onto the field.

The Tapalinga Superstars charge out under their banner.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

 “It was pretty emotional,” said Mary Dunn, who the premiership cup was named after, and who has worked for years to bring a women’s competition to the islands.

“It took a long time for it to all come together. It finally did, which is amazing,” she said.

“Football is really the heart of our community.

“It brings the communities together and it brings a lot of the family groups together. Especially for our women, making them strong women in the future.”

A magpies player gathers the ball on the field as a dog runs nearby.

At times, Tiwi players need to dodge more than just their opponents at Wurrumiyanga oval.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

Gathering the ball, no shoes

Some of the greatest players in Aussie Rules hail from the Tiwi Islands.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

Muluwurri’s Jodie Palipuaminni won the medal for best-on-ground, edging out Tapalinga’s 16-year-old star Shakayla Gardiner-Dunn, who kicked four of her team’s seven goals.

Jodie Palipuaminni holds up the best-on-ground-medal after the match.

Jodie Palipuaminni made history as the competition’s first best-on-ground medal winner in a grand final.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

Tapalinga had its chances in the last few minutes, with the ball locked close to their goal as the final seconds ticked down.

But Muluwurri fended off Tapalinga’s final charge just long enough.

Players and supporters celebrate on the footy oval.

There was relief and joy for Magpies supporters after the final siren.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

Magpies players and fans embrace on the field.

The Tiwi fans rushed the field in customery fashion.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

Premiers

The Muluwurri Magpies with premiership medallions around their necks.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

“The atmosphere was incredible. As soon the siren went the crowd was full of black and white streamers and everyone was running on [to the oval],” Danyon Smillie, AFLNT’s remote development manager, said.

“The umpires after the game said they reckon they couldn’t hear a thing out on the oval.”

Tapalinga supportes point and yell on the sidelines.

Tapalinga supporters try to will their team over the line.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

Seven teams and about 300 players competed in the inaugural year of the women’s league.

Community participation in the sport, according to AFLNT, has for years been the highest in the country.

Now, nearly half the islands’ population is playing across the men’s and women’s leagues.

Players fly for the ball in a ruck contest.

Players fly for the ball in a ruck contest.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

The match caps off a landmark few years revolutionising the game for Tiwi women, following the introduction of the Tiwi Bombers women’s team in the Northern Territory Football League and now the establishment of a local women’s competition.

The local men’s competition, which began in 1968, has long been one of the most popular events in town, drawing thousands of tourists onto the islands each year.

“It’s been like forever for me … to have our own women’s competition going and also have the Tiwi Bombers in our second season, it’s always been my dream,” Ms Dunn said.

“I’ve always wanted to see our women showcased like this.”

Two players from opposite teams embrace on the field.

Next year’s women’s competition will be held in the dry season.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

Ms Dunn also said the game had given the Tiwi community a boost after a tough period of mourning. On the day of the grand final, the Tapalinga coach’s mother died.

A wide shot of Wurrumiyanga oval with clouds in the sky.

Typical tropical build-up rains threatened to pour down at Wurrumiyanga oval.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

It was also another step, she said, towards improving women’s health on the islands.

“Us mob in Aboriginal communities, we have a lot of health issues, especially with [diseases] like diabetes,” she said.

“It’s good that a lot of the women actually come out and are starting to take care of themselves in regards to the illnesses that we have out here and getting fit and healthy and being stronger mums.”

A Magpies player kicks for goal.

Grassroots growth in the women’s game could help players transition into the AFLW and VFLW.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

On the field, the players showcasing their talent and skills were part of a new generation that would, Ms Dunn hoped, bring even more pride and excitement to the islands in the years ahead.

“We have to give them all of that support, and to take them to the next level,” she said.

“We’d love to see any of our girls play in the top leagues down in Melbourne one day.

“The ladies are already talking about next season.”

A big group of players and supporters pose for a group photo after the game.

The Muluwurri Magpies will be back to defend the premiership with a short turnaround to season 2024.(Supplied: Patch Clapp/AFLNT Media)

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