Another ‘first” for Aliir. By Peter Blucher.
The 2016 season has been an astonishing procession of “firsts” for Sydney Swans defender Aliir Aliir.
Since his first AFL game in Round 6 at the Gabba, he has added one line after another to a CV which in isolation almost seems too remarkable to be true.
There’s even a surprise “first” for the former Kenyan refugee that, while still in the confidential stage, will be revealed during television coverage of the Toyota AFL finals this weekend.
And after Thursday night selection ahead of week two of the finals Aliir, a star in the Swans first final against the GWS Giants last Saturday, will add another first to his list.
He’ll play against the Adelaide Crows for the first time.
In fact, the 11-game 22-year-old has never played against Adelaide, Collingwood, Essendon, Gold Coast, Richmond, West Coast or the Western Bulldogs.
About the only familiarity about Aliir’s football at present outside the Swans environment which has nurtured his development so extraordinarily well is the SCG.
He’s played five times at the SCG, and once each at the Gabba, Etihad Stadium, Blundstone Arena (Hobart), Simonds Stadium (Geelong), ANZ Stadium (Sydney) and Domain Stadium (Perth).
Aliir was an automatic selection in the Sydney outfit that will run out onto the SCG Saturday night looking to pick up the pieces after a second-half hammering from the Giants in his first final.
He was named at centre half back as the Swans made two forced changes, replacing injured Queenslander Kurt Tippett with ruckman Toby Nankervis and injured NAB AFL Rising Star winner Callum Mills with Jeremy Laidler.
Tippett’s hairline jaw fracture will deny him a finals match-up against his former side.
But, in one small positive coming out of the Sydney camp, there is now some hope that he may be available to play in the preliminary final next week if the Swans can get through without him this week.
Laidler will play his first senior game since round 15, while Nankervis will play his first final and just the seventh game of his career.
Adelaide, coming off a resounding finals win over North Melbourne last week, named an unchanged side.
In selection for the Friday night final between Hawthorn and the Western Bulldogs, Queenslander Brendan Whitecross was an automatic pick for the Hawks after a similarly outstanding performance last week.
Whitecross will play his 97th career game and his ninth final as the Hawks look to avoid a loss that will end their phenomenal three-year reign as kings of the AFL.
The Hawks made two changes to the side that lost by a kick to Geelong in the qualifying final, adding forward James Sicily and wingman Billy Hartung.
Sicily, who sunk the Bulldogs with the match-winning goal in a three-point thriller at Etihad Stadium in Round 3, returns after being a late omission last week through illness.
He and Hartung, who was omitted for last year’s grand final, come in for Daniel Howe, who was the late replacement last week, and first-year utility Ryan Burton, who suffered a badly corked calf against the Cats.
The Bulldogs made one forced change, including second-year midfielder Toby McLean to replace the injured Lin Jong, who suffered a broken collarbone in the Dogs’ first final demolition of West Coast
It will be McLean’s second senior match since round 11 after working his way back from a mid-foot sprain, and his first final.
In the VFL this weekend, Queenslanders Adam Oxley and Jake Spencer will play in the preliminary finals for Collingwood and Casey Scorpions respectively.
And in the SANFL, Queenslander Paul Hunter will return to the Adelaide Crows side for a preliminary final against Sturt.