It lasted just 15 or so minutes, but while it was happening an entire future of footy flashed before my eyes. When today’s AFL match between the Sydney Swans and North Melbourne started on a cold and showery Blundstone Arena in Hobart, Tasmania, two Sudanese players lined up on each other in key positional posts in an AFL match.
When the siren sounded to get the match started, North’s Majak Daw, armed with more muscles than are probably necessary, lined up at Full Forward. Beside him in the goal square was Sydney’s Aliir Aliir, the Full Back responsible for keeping club veteran Ted Richards out of the team. Well, that’s probably unfair as injury and other players have also had a hand in that…but let’s not ruin a good story!
Majak Daw may have kicked open the door for future Sudanese players, and others from a variety of African countries, but this year has seen first Aliir Aliir debut for the Sydney Swans and now this weekend, the AFL’s showcase 2016 Toyota AFL Multicultural Round, Brisbane Lions rookie, Reuben William, will debut.
William was one of three Sudanese born players to be rookie listed at last year’s draft along with Gach Nyuon (Essendon) and Mabior Chol (Richmond). But William is the first of the three to be upgraded from the rookie list and be selected for his first senior match.
Majak Daw has a firm place in AFL history as the first Sudanese player to reach the highest level of the AFL. What might have been seen as a novelty at the beginning has now changed with Daw proving last weekend that he has much more to offer. He was retained as a rookie by North Melbourne last year and played his first senior game against Essendon on Saturday.
His return of 14 possessions, 5 tackles, 2 goals and 4 hitouts showed off his array of skills, despite a much publicised horror shot on goal, kissing on the run from only 15 metres out. But the outing proved that Majak can still play at the highest level.
Pick 44 in the 2013 AFL Draft was Sydney’s. They had plenty of other players to choose from that later made other team’s lists. Some of the names that went after 44 included Ben Brown (North Melbourne - 47), Orazio Fantasia (Essendon – 55), James Sicily (Hawthorn – 56), Tom Langdon (Collingwood – 65), Sam Lloyd (Richmond – 66) and a few other decent picks.
But the Sydney Swans had already seen something they liked better. Their scouts had been up in Queensland watching the skills and potential of Aliir Aliir, the Sudanese boy who had been firing at junior levels for years. When he went to Western Australia in 2013 to improve his drafting chances (after being overlooked in the 2012 draft), Sydney’s eyes followed. The Swans, not afraid to take a chance, picked a fruit from the draft tree that might take a while to ripen, but when it did it would likely be a delight.
The tour of South Africa by the School Sport Australia Under 15's squad has come to an end with a domination across three games against the South African Lions. But the scores are secondary to the developmental value of the tour as the players shred their skills with their South African counterparts as well as giving assistance and advice to young kids at clinics across the country.
The second game of the series was played at Rustenburg, to the west of Pretoria. Once again the schoolboys team was too strong, though the South Africans certainly learned from the opening game, closing the gap and going down by just 55 points. The final score in Game 2: School Sport Australia 16 18 114 d South African Lions 9 5 59.
The 2016 School Sport Australia tour of South Africa is underway with highly talented Australian school footballers taking their wares to towns and villages across South Africa as well as experiencing cultural, social and scenic delights as they mingle footy and travel.
Amid the excitement, the touring team will play in three matches against the South African Lions and possibly another team. The players will also be heavily involved in clinics with school kids across the Johannesburg-Pretoria-Potchefstroom triumvirate as well as later in the journey across Cape Town and Khayelitsha.
The itinerary is exciting, and for many of the players may forever be a highlight of their personal lives as well as footy career. But the opportunity for these players to work with AFL South Africa to grow the game across the nation might be the most valuable legacy of the journey.
In a remarkable AFL Rookie Draft held today, four players from Sudan made it on to the AFL lists of clubs for 2016. The AFL may never be in a better position to market the game in African countries after Gach Nyuon (Essendon), Rueben William (Brisbane) and Mabior Chol (Richmond) were added to club lists. Additionally, Majak Daw, arguably the highest profile Sudanese player so far, was re-rookied by North Melbourne as expected.
Essendon had been tracking the journey of Gach Nyuon (pictured left) for some time and it was little surprise that they called him as their first selection (fourth overall) this morning. Essendon has only recruit Matthew Leuenberger and young gun Joe Daniher that stand over 200 centimetres, so Nyuon will address the height issue, especially if a key ruckman is injured during the season. Nyuon is a raw talent but is super-exciting and highly athletic. His form with the Dandenong Stingrays in the TAC Cup saw him the premier ruckman of the competition and this continued for Vic Country and eventual All-Australian U18 selection.
The second season of the recently revamped South African national Australian Rules football competition concluded recently with the Gauteng Province based team, Warriors, defeating the Nyanga Blue Birds team from the Western Cape Province.
The new format commenced in 2014 and was considered a success as eight teams from across South Africa competed in a ten round format. There are two teams from each of four provinces – Gauteng, Western Cape, KwaZulu Natal and North West.
The Warriors and Blue Birds teams finished the home and away rounds in first and second place respectively, and met in the final which in the end was dominated by the Warriors on the scoreboard. Final scores saw Warriors 5 9 39 defeat the Nyanga Blue Birds 2 7 19.
Following in the wake of fellow AFL listed countrymen, Majak Daw at North Melbourne and Aliir Aliir at the Sydney Swans, two more Sudanese footballers have set their sights firmly on succeeding at the highest level. Their results at the recent AFL Draft Combine prove conclusively that they will give everything they have to give and more.
Mabior Chol and Gach Nyuon (pictured) are both very similar in many ways. Both were born in Sudan and both saw their families flee their home countries and spend time in camps elsewhere. Gach’s family spent time in refugee camps in both Kenya and Ethiopia before his journey brought him to Melbourne as a seven year old.
Mabior’s family also fled, via Egypt. Leaving the war in Sudan as a two year old, violence saw his family leave Egypt when he was eight for Brisbane.
North Melbourne’s young Sudanese ruckman, Majak Daw, has taken out the 2015 Grand Final Sprint, an event which has traditionally been a part of the half time entertainment since the late 1970’s. Whilst North Melbourne bowed out of the finals race last weekend, losing to West Coast, Daw has given the club something to cheer about.
After loping through the heats held earlier in the day, Majak Daw started the race well behind early leader, Charlie Cameron from the Adelaide Crows. But once the athletic and muscular Daw got his rhythm he raced past the leader and cruised home to an easy win.
Daw becomes the first Australian Rules footballer born overseas to win the event. Born in Sudan, his family fled with Majak in tow to escape the civil war in their country. After living for three years in Egypt, the family moved to Australia where Majak found his way to Australian Rules football and the Kangaroos.