The Australian Professional Athletes Who Broke The Barriers For Playing Overseas | Men's Health Magazine Australia

The Australian Professional Athletes Who Broke The Barriers For Playing Overseas

This is an excerpt from Men’s Health and Women’s Health Australian Sporting Heroes. Pick up your copy of Australia’s Sporting Heroes. Collect all four!


Craig Johnston

Craig Johnston’s parents sold their Newcastle home to fund their son’s dream of playing on the big stage in England, only to be told by Middlesbrough manager Jack Charlton that he was possibly the worst footballer he’d ever seen and to do himself a favour and catch the first flight home.

Instead of taking the easy option, Johnston worked his backside off for the next two years and eventually made his First Division debut for the club in 1978, aged only 17. Another two years on, after scoring 16 goals in 64 games, Johnston signed a £650,000 contract with glamour-club Liverpool. 

Johnston finished his career at Liverpool with 40 goals in 269 games, also becoming the first Australian to win the League Championship (1982), League Cup (1983), European Cup (1984) and FA Cup (1986).

Craig Shipley

After having grown up in a baseball family, Sydneysider Shipley spent three years playing college baseball at the University of Alabama before signing for the Los Angeles Dodgers and making his MLB debut in 1986.

Shipley was a utility infielder most renowned for his defensive plays, and went on to finish his career with 582 games over 11 seasons with the Dodgers, the San Diego Padres, the Houston Astros, the Anaheim Angels and the New York Mets. It was at the Padres that Shipley enjoyed his greatest year, 1994, batting .331 over 84 games.

Darren Bennett

Melbourne’s leading goalkicker in 1989 and 1990, Bennett retired prematurely from AFL in 1994 at the age of 29, only to somehow talk his way into a trial as a punter with the San Diego Chargers while holidaying in the US.

Bennett was rewarded with his debut the following year and over the next nine seasons averaged 43.8 yards in 771 punts, was selected in the Pro Bowl and All-Pro twice, earned membership in the NFL 1990’s All-Decade Teams, and is now a member of the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame. He moved to the Minnesota Vikings at the backend of his career, playing two seasons and finishing on a career total 160 NFL games.

Luc Longley

Longley spent four years building a name for himself at the University of New Mexico before becoming the first Australian to play in the NBA after being selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves at No.7 in the 1991 draft.

Two unremarkable years later, the 218-centimetre Longley was traded to the Chicago Bulls who at the time were trying to reestablish dominance following the retirement of Michael Jordan. It was only when Jordan returned to the Bulls in 1995 that Longley’s amazing journey began.

Starting in a truly all-star team consisting of Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Denis Rodman, Longley picked up three consecutive championship rings between 1996 and 1998, finishing his career on 567 games before retiring in 2001.

Michele Timms

When the time came to create rosters for the eight teams that would make up the WNBA’s inaugural 197 season, each club was assigned two superstars. Of the 16 initial 16 superstars, 31-year-old Michele was the only one from Australia.

Timms was sent to the Phoenix Mercury and proved to be an instant hit, guiding the Mercury to the Western Conference title in her first year and helping them to the finals again in the next year. She was named in the 1999 WNBA All-Star team and continued to play for th Mercury until her retirement in 2001.

For more stories about our greatest sporting legends and moments in time, pick up your copy of Australia’s Sporting Heroes. Collect all four!

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