By Mark Perriman
It only took five goals for Elijah Baru to fall in love with AFL.
Hailing from the coastal areas of Papua New Guinea, Baru’s family moved to Townsville when he seven years old.
For the oldest of four, what was initially a foreign game quickly became his calling after first catching sight of the stars kicking goals on the big stage.
In his debut game for the Townsville Tigers, as a 12 year old, Baru booted that bag and has never looked back, last month representing the World XVIII in the U16 National Championships.
“Basically when I started kicking goals, I knew that it was the thing for me,” he said.
Despite being new to the game, AFL Queensland Multicultural Programs Co-ordinator Keith Shangare says promising combine results and raw talent lead to Baru selection the Queensland All Nations U-15 side.
“He seemed promising in terms of his development and his eagerness to learn”, says Shangare.
“Elijah presented more courage and leadership qualities to try to get involved throughout the game.”
Baru’s standout performances for the inaugural Queensland Diversity at the state U16 championships earned him the coaches’ award for that team.
However, Shangare believes it was Elijah’s mental application that lead to his selection in the 2014 World Team, a junior multi-cultural All-Australian equivalent.
“His leadership and willingness to learn, he’s one to take charge of the team,” says Shangare.
“He gets up early, organises the team, what time breakfast is, where people are supposed to meet.”
Coached by Hall of Famer Anthony Koutoufides, the World side participated at the NAB AFL Under 16 Championship on the Gold Coast.
In addition to matches against the South Pacific and WA North West team, the squad will also visited Suns HQ as well as undertake education and leadership training sessions.
Aside from the experience of representative selection, on a personal level, Shangare has seen the positive impact that footy has had on Elijah’s life.
“His confidence has increased, his ability to play football, the fact that he’s joined a club as a new person,” he says.
“He’s found a sense of belonging.”
And it would seem that Elijah agrees.
According to the young man, it appears that the AFL’s mantra “Many cultures, one game” seems to be ringing true within the game’s growingly diverse following.
Reflecting on his selection, Baru noted his joy in making many friends of indigenous and multicultural backgrounds.
“AFL definitely makes people from other countries settle in very well because racism and all this aren’t used in the game,” he said.
As for his highlight of the week, the Bushman Beach Barramundis junior is keeping things in perspective.
“Getting to meet the boys and playing good footy,” he said.