Queenslanders in the AFL – Round 4

By Peter Blucher

There was a moment in the last week of November 2013 when two newcomers to the Sydney Swans from extraordinarily different backgrounds with extraordinarily different football profiles met for the first time.

One was a Kenyan-born refugee of Sudanese parents who moved to Australia when he was eight, learned football in Brisbane and was drafted from Perth. And the other was an AFL superstar.

Aliir Aliir, meet Lance Franklin. And vice-versa.

Aliir, who learned to kick a football at Kedron High School and was introduced to football as a 14-year-old with the Aspley Hornets, had been drafted by the Swans with pick #44 in the 2013 AFL Draft.

While the record books say he was drafted from East Fremantle, the 199cm dasher is a proud product of the Queensland talent pathway, having played with the State U16 and U18 sides. He is only classified otherwise because he moved to Perth to join his family in his draft year.

Long before he joined East Fremantle Colts Aliir had been identified by AFL scouts, and in a draft in which Tom Boyd, Josh Kelly, Jack Billings and Marcus Bontempelli filled the first four spots he was chosen ahead of some big names.

Ben Brown, Melbourne premiership player and four-time North Melbourne leading goal-kicker, went at #47, while Darcy Byrne-Jones, 2020 Port club champion and All-Australian choice, went at #52, and James Sicily, the new Hawthorn captain, went at #56.

Aliir, who had just turned 19 when drafted by the Swans, arrived at the SCG with fellow draftees Zak Jones (#15), George Hewett (#32) and Toby Nankervis (#35), with Franklin who had moved from Hawthorn in one of the biggest recruiting coups in AFL history.

The wide-eyed Sudanese 19-year-old, who inherited jumper #36, and the 26-year-old superstar in #23, were not far apart in the Swans locker room. But in just about every other way they were at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Aliir, the rawest of raw recruits, spent his first seven years in the AFL playing alongside Franklin, who arrived in Sydney a two-time premiership player and Coleman Medallist, a four-time All-Australian, a six-time Hawthorn leading goal-kicker and twice winner of the AFL Goal of the Year.

He played his first 26 games alongside the great man, and but for injury they would have been teammates in the 2016 grand final. He got a pat on the back from ‘Bud’ when he kicked his first goal in game #21 and played in Franklin’s 300th game.

But the shared journey ended there. Franklin missed the entire Covid season of 2020 through injury, and just as he was ready to return to the playing group Aliir was traded to Port Adelaide.

But they split good friends, with the superstar forward having had a profound effect on the ever-smiling African. Off-field certainly, but more so on-field after they spent a mountain of time directly opposed on the training track.

The pair were reunited in Round 15 2021 when Sydney played Port at Adelaide Oval. Port won by 10 points but Franklin kicked four goals and earned two Brownlow votes. Bud 1, Aliir 0.

In Round 14 2022 at Adelaide Oval Port won by 23 points. Aliir, enjoying a new level of confidence after winning All-Australian selection in 2021, had 16 possessions and held his direct opponent to 13 possessions and a goal. Bud 1, Aliir 1.

And so, to last Saturday night when they met again. This time at the SCG, but in a game that Aliir will never forget he got much the better of Franklin in a thrilling two-point win decided on the last kick of the night.

Aliir had 16 possessions, including a game-high 12 intercept possessions, and more importantly held Franklin to four kicks, one mark and no goals. Plus, he provided a mountain of drive from defence.

The ex-Swan, now in jumper #21, was the match-winner on the last kick of the night, or at least the match saver, making a brilliant defensive play on the goalline to deny the Swans’ Ollie Florent what would have been a match-winning goal after the siren.

Aliir polled seven votes in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award, behind only Sydney’s Chad Warner, and won huge praise from Power coach Ken Hinkley.

It was his 111th game and his 59th win, and one he will count among his most memorable.

In the same game fellow Queenslander Charlie Dixon was held goalless for the first this time year but was still a key contributor for Port. He had 18 contested possessions – a team high by seven and a career-best – and a game-high three contested marks.

In other Queensland news from Round 4, Charlie Cameron kicked an equal career-best six goals to lead Brisbane to an impressive 33-point Gabba win over the previously unbeaten Collingwood. Cleverly deployed by coach Chris Fagan to do much of his work behind the Collingwood defence, he doubled his goal tally from the first three games of the season combined and topped the votes from the coaches with nine.

Harris Andrews continued his outstanding season in defence for the Lions, while Will Ashcroft topped the Lions possession count for the second time with 26.

Noah Cumberland had a career-best 21 possessions – 50% up his previous best – to go with a goal and an equal team-high 10 score involvements as Richmond fell by five points to the Western Bulldogs at the MCG.

Lachie Weller continued his outstanding comeback from injury, posting the third 30-possession game of his career in a Gold Coast side badly beaten by St.Kilda at Marvel Stadium, and ex-Sun Jack Bowes enjoyed his first win in Geelong colours after the Cats mauled Hawthorn by 82 points at the MCG.

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