Six years ago, Mabior Chol played his first game of school footy.
That year, he helped his team win the Lions Cup at the Gabba.
Five years ago, Mabior Chol played his first game of club footy at the Yeronga Football Club.
That day, he kicked ten goals.
There has always been something special about Chol from the first moment he picked up a footy, but his journey to the NAB AFL Draft tomorrow night differs from most.
Chol was born in Sudan. At three years old, he and his family moved to Egypt in hope of a better life, but they didn’t find it.
They lived in Egypt for two years, before moving to Brisbane as a family in 2005.
Mabior doesn’t remember a lot about his time pre-Australia.
“I wouldn’t say I know a lot at all. I stayed in Egypt for a while with my family, but didn’t really enjoy it there, it wasn’t a great place to live from my point of view and what my mum told me about it,” Chol said.
“Since we moved to Australia, my life has changed a lot.”
One thing they did take from it though, was the ability to stick together no matter how difficult the situation is; a trait Mabior employs in every aspect of his life.
“Loyalty is so important. It’s a huge thing to stay as a family, and not to split up in the bad times. I’m proud of my family, we stuck together all the way, now we are in Australia and enjoying a good life,” he said.
“With my family, knowing where you’ve come from, a small country where there is a lot of violence, a family could just split up like that. I’m proud of my mum and dad for sticking together, believing in what they can achieve.”
It wasn’t until high school, at Yeronga State High, that Chol picked up a Sherrin to kick around.
“A mate from school got me involved because we had the Lions Cup. We were playing well, made the grand final, and got to play on the Gabba, so that was a great experience playing in a huge stadium,” he said.
A humble Chol said it took him a while to pick up the basics.
“I wouldn’t say it came naturally. It was pretty hard from the start, not knowing how to kick a footy or even hand pass,” he said.
“Understanding the game, that was definitely my weakness. In the field just understanding where to run and where to stand. It’s definitely improved a lot, but I’ve still got more to learn.”
After winning the cup, Chol decided to take his game to club land.
He pulled on Yeronga’s red and black jumper, making a debut no one would forget in a hurry.
“It was just a really good day. My first ever game for Yeronga, getting to kick a bag of 10, it was a really great experience. Having the boys getting around me really built up my confidence going forward,” Chol said.
His footy took off from there. It changed from a social game he played with mates, to something he wanted to take as far as he could.
His first representative selection came when Chol was selected in the World Team and the Under 16 State Championships, and that’s when he got his foot in the door.
“I would say when I played in for the World Team, that was when I thought, maybe if I could make the Queensland team, I would take it a bit more seriously and see where it ended up,” he said.
“I got invited to come to the Lions Academy after that championships, and they have been great. Having people who know what they are doing, constantly helping you improve your game and your knowledge, and your body as well, telling you what to eat, what to do pre training and post training, they have helped me a lot.”
That all lead to Chol being picked in the Queensland State Academy, where in 2015, he made it his own.
Be it jumping over the top of other ruckman, taking big grabs up forward, or turning into more of a midfielder than a tall person when the ball is on the deck, Chol’s pure athleticism means he can play anywhere.
I asked Chol what it would mean to be drafted, but before he answered, his face told to the story.
He looked to the sky, exhaled, and gave a grin from ear to ear.
“Oh God, it would mean everything. Not just to me, it would mean everything to my family and the community as well. Coming from a small town in Sudan, to an AFL player in Australia would be huge,” he said.
There have been a lot of people who Chol credits for getting him to this point. His family, his school teacher Mr. Palmer, Tim Notting from Yeronga, Adrian Fletcher and Jim Urquhart from AFL Queensland, right through to his personal trainer, Paul.
Because of that, Chol loves giving back when he can, and that’s why, regardless of what happens at the NAB AFL Draft tomorrow night, he is a role model.
“I like to enjoy my time in the community, and the Yeronga community as well where I can help out the little kids. I love helping other people with their footy.”
By Andrew Wiles