When you’re only the second player from your country to make it to the AFL, you better get ready to hear countless comparisons to the first. This has been the case for Sydney’s Aliir Aliir in the first months of his career.
Aliir followed in the footsteps of North Melbourne’s Majak Daw by becoming the second Sudanese player to be signed by an AFL team and the first to be drafted by one (Daw was a rookie list upgrade).
The 19-year-old’s story is perhaps even more remarkable than Daw’s. Aliir was raised in war-torn Sudan, but his family was able to flee to a refugee camp in Kenya when he was a toddler, before finally making the move to Australia when he was eight.
The moving didn’t stop there, with the Aliir family initially settling in Brisbane, before moving to Perth to reconnect with family.
Aliir’s first sporting love was basketball, which he played up until his mid-teens before he decided to make the switch to football.
Since then he has not looked back and his play with the West Australian under-18 squad and good form at the 2013 national championships led to him being drafted at pick 44 by the Swans.
“It’s been fantastic. All the boys have been nice and welcoming,” he says of his inception with Sydney.
“It’s been fantastic. All the boys have been nice and welcoming” – Aliir Aliir.
“Sydney’s not a bad place, I’ve been there before and I was a Sydney Swans supporter before I got drafted, so to have all the boys at the club get around me has been really good.”
It’s hard enough coming from another country to forge a career in the AFL, let alone being drafted by the team you supported growing up.
The Swans have earmarked a key defensive spot for the 195cm Aliir, just one of the many features of his game that sets him apart from forward, Majak Daw.
Aliir is friends with Daw and has played with him before, but says the similarities between the two of them as players end with their country of birth.
“I met Majak back in 2010 when I was playing for the world team,” he says.
“Getting compared to him is unbelievable because he’s a great player and a great bloke, but I don’t really try to compare myself to him because he’s a different player, we both play different positions.”
One thing Aliir does share with Daw is an imposing build, with the 19-year-old already tipping the scales at over 90kg.
Having a ready-made AFL body is spoken about a lot as being important for a young player, particularly one looking to play on some of the power forwards of the AFL.
This should hold Aliir in good stead in the early years of his career, as he will most likely work on his game in the Swans reserves side.
While Sydney’s forward line will be dominated by the twin towers, Buddy Franklin and Kurt Tippett, the Swans defense is in need of a fresh face with key defenders, Ted Richards and Lewis Roberts-Thomson both over 30.
Aliir Aliir was one of the many rookies in attendance at the AFL Players’ Association Rookie Induction Camp on January 13th and spoke fondly of the experience.
“It’s been good because now we’re getting into the phase of becoming professional athletes, so they’re just helping us and giving us tips on what sort of stuff we need to do now.”
“Things like how to keep safe when you’re driving and other safety and finance information, so it’s been really good. I’m taking a lot in and I’m really enjoying it.”