Aliir Aliir was born in a Kenyan refugee camp in 1994 after his Sudanese parents had fled the civil war ripping apart their country.
Aliir spent the several years in the Kakuma desert camp with 150,000 others, kicking a soccer ball around. His father, Mayom, predicted he would one day grow up to become a footballer, but did not live to see his family leave the camp and settle in Australia.
They headed to Brisbane, and Aliir started playing AFL in high school, representing Queensland in the under 18s in the ruck. After a move to Western Australia and a shift into the backline, he was spotted by a Swans recruiter and picked up as Sydney’s fourth draft pick in 2013, alongside the likes of Brandon Jack and Dane Rampe.
Now aged 21, Aliir Aliir will make his debut for the Swans this Sunday against the Brisbane Lions, replacing the injured Teddy Richards.
Coach John Longmire say he was impressed by his effort during pre-season intra-club games by defending against the likes of Buddy Franklin and Kurt Tippett.
Longmire kept news of the new debutant quiet until Wednesday’s pre-training meeting and the team reacted as he’d hoped.
“I announced it and his was probably the best grin I’ve ever seen,” he said.
“He’s had a few challenges along the journey, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s making the most of his opportunities now and it’s terrific to see.
“It’s really exciting for him, he’s put together a great body of work in the reserves, he’s played a good 5-6 weeks of absolute quality football now and deserves his opportunity.”
The 193cm defender is just the second player with Sudanese heritage in the AFL and the first to make the draft.