IDPwD Athlete Profiles: Jesse

Meet all abilities football player, Jesse Cullinan. 

The Ballarat Bulldogs are an all abilities football and netball club for people with intellectual disability. They are mixed gender teams consisting of people aged between 14 and 50 years. The Bulldogs compete in the AFL Victoria FIDA Western Country Conference and play against other all abilities teams from the Grampians, Hamilton, Warrnambool and the Wimmera.

17 year old, Jesse Cullinan is one of the newest members of the Ballarat Bulldogs. Jesse comes from a family of five brothers who all love their footy, and as the youngest it is no surprise that Jesse loves his footy too. Jesse has been playing football for many years and has been lucky enough to chalk up over 100 games between Waubra FNC and Ballarat Bulldogs FNC.

Jesse joined the Bulldogs this year after retiring from Waubra in 2016. Jesse and his parents made the tough decision that Jesse would hang up his boots for Waubra after playing his last Under 15’s match in 2016. “He wanted to continue playing but unfortunately Michael (Jesse’s father) and I didn’t think it would be fair on Jesse, or the other players, for him to play in the under 18’s. The step up in quality is just too big” Jesse’s mother Bernadette explained.

“At the time of Jesse’s retirement we didn’t know the all abilities league even existed. So we thought Jesse had played his last game of football” said Bernadette.  “If the Ballarat Bulldogs didn’t exist then Jesse wouldn’t have played football anymore. He now has the chance to continue playing for years to come, which is something I didn’t think was going to be possible.” she explained.

Bernadette admitted that she had some initial concerns about Jesse playing in the all abilities football league, as she was worried how Jesse would physically go playing against other fully grown men. Bernadette explained that all of her worries were put at ease during the first quarter of Round 1 when she witnessed how well managed and coordinated the all abilities games are. “The coaches and umpires coordinate the game so well to include everyone” she explained. Bernadette encourages other parents of children who have disability to get involved with the all abilities football as it is very welcoming and inclusive. “I really enjoy seeing people of all different ages, genders and abilities coming together to play the game. It’s good that there is a place for them all to interact and socialise, whilst playing sport” she said.

Jesse loved his first season with the Bulldogs as he was able to participate as much as everyone else and the modified match style suited his abilities. Jesse enjoyed spending every training session with his new teammates and his coach, Ian. Due to Jesse’s great attitude and ability both on and off the field he was awarded the Best Junior Player for 2017.

Jesse’s football career has had a number of other highlights, the greatest of which was playing his 100th game for Waubra in 2016. This milestone was to be Jesse’s final game for the club and the celebrations were huge, with both teams creating a guard of honour as Jesse left the field. Another big highlight came in August this year when the final siren of the all abilities grand final sounded, seeing the Ballarat Bulldogs triumph over the South Warrnambool Hurricanes. Jesse was incredibly chuffed to be the only one in his family to win a premiership this year, which was something that he could now hold over his older brothers for some time to come!

Another special moment of Jesse’s career was kicking his first ever goal for Waubra. The goal resulted in the entire ground erupting in celebration, including cheers from the opposition Skipton players. Bernadette explained that throughout Jesse’s career everyone from Waubra and the entire football league has been so supportive, so the celebrations by everyone for Jesse’s achievement came as no real surprise.

In the future Jesse hopes to one day play another game for Waubra and would love it if all of his brothers could play with him too. For now Bernadette just wants Jesse to continue having the opportunity to simply play the sports of his choosing.

Sports Central work closely with the Ballarat Bulldogs FNC and other organisations to provide inclusive sporting opportunities so that Jesse and other people with disability can enjoy the sports that they love!

For further details about the Ballarat Bulldogs All Abilities Football Netball Club please visit www.facebook.com/ballaratbulldogs