Few players in the history of the game have had the box-office skillset, the magnetic personality, and the universal appeal of Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti.
For a club as polarising as Essendon, it is a true testament to just how irrepressibly charismatic the man they call Walla was on the field that opposition fans would begrudgingly tell you all the time “I hate the Dons, but I love Tippa.”
That’s the effect McDonald-Tipungwuti had on the average footy fan, a genuine shining light in Australia’s favourite football code, but as a Bombers supporter; we all got a front-row seat to the Tippa show.
The Walla story is that of perseverance, persistence, and an unwavering belief that despite any and all boundaries that are placed in your way, we can always overcome, survive, and ultimately thrive.
Being elevated off the rookie list due to the suspension of Essendon players due to the ASADA saga in 2016, there’s every chance McDonald-Tipungwuti’s journey to the AFL mightn’t have come to fruition had it not been for the most diabolical of circumstances.
See what I mean about calling Walla a shining light?
Tippa quickly became a cult hero with Essendon fans in what would be one of the bleakest years in the club’s history.
The chase-down tackle quickly became a trademark for the speedy forward, but a four-goal performance in a shock win against Carlton in round 23 truly announced to footy fans that this guy has something special about him.
After flashes of brilliance throughout his first year at AFL level, Walla became a consistent performer and a genuine game-changing talent.
Teammates could walk tall on the field knowing if their opponent dared to attempt a bounce anywhere in his vicinity, they were risking getting chased down from behind, but his goal sense and ability to perform when it mattered most elevated Tippa from the typical mercurial forward pocket to something different entirely.
There’s a you’ve got to see it to believe it last-gasp goal against North Melbourne, a seven-goal haul against Brisbane, an evasive, elusive, and elite passage to secure a win against the Gold Coast, and a free-flowing finish against Carlton to bury the old foes at the MCG.
The term box-office gets thrown around a lot in sports, but Tippa was a man who genuinely drew crowds to the footy, but an underrated aspect of his career was the durability factor – breaking Essendon’s consecutive games record in the AFL era.
Walla truly was one of a kind.
McDonald-Tipungwuti leaves the game with a plethora of individual match-winning performances, a collective love from AFL fans nationwide, and even a pulsating punk song that fitted his electrifying persona.
From all Bomber fans: Walla – we hope you find solace in life and thank you for making us believe footy can be fun again.
We’ll never forget you.