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The Patterns Of Africa

  • Tuesday, July 16 2019 @ 01:37 pm ACST
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It is wrong to say that the influx of players from African countries is an “experiment” in the same way that the influx of Irish is sometimes referred to as the “Irish Experiment”. It certainly isn’t. The increase in players of African descent is a result of Australian Rules football embracing the changing nature of our population and more players with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds will continue to grow.

That said, it is very interesting to see what is occurring with players in the AFL/VFL environment who come from Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and other African nations. For the purpose of this story, players who were born in Australia but parents were born in their African country of origin are included – but not an exhaustive list.

There is s small but growing thread of evidence to say that players from African nations could become the archetypal ruckman of the future. Here is some proof.
Currently, Mabior Chol (Richmond) and Aliir Aliir (Sydney Swans) are revolutionising their team’s ruck divisions. Born out of necessity rather than long-range planning, Chol and Aliir have become the fast, strong, high leaping ruckmen who have huge tanks and can inflict damage around the ground as well as at stoppages. Before being reborn as a defender prior to his injury, Majak Daw filled a similar role at North Melbourne.

A look at their physique already suggests power, athleticism and big engines (and guns). But that is now translating to the playing field as clubs realise that ruckmen don’t need to be 200cm tall – they can be mid 190’s and their athletic vertical leap can easily do the rest.

On average, the taller players from African nations are staying on lists longer, and it is that versatility to be ruck, key position player (KPP) or even oversized midfielder that makes them valuable.

Aliir Aliir (Sydney Swans/Kenya/Sudan – 196cm) has been a revelation this season since filling the hole left by injured Swan ruckmen in Sinclair and Naismith. His ruckwork obliterated Essendon ruckman Zack Clarke recently and has reset Swans’ thinking.

Mabior Chol (Richmond – 200cm) Is a giant and also got his chance through Tiger injuries to Nankervis. In recent weeks, he has become better and better with more game time and not coincidentally, Richmond has been improving.

Majak Daw (North Melbourne – 195cm) Whilst the focus has rightly been on his extraordinary comeback from serious injury, Daw has also worked hard to find his niche in footy. His early days marked him as a key forward and backup ruckman. Prior to his injury, his breakout season in 2018 saw him patrolling the defence as a tall intercepting half back. However, he has rucked to good effect in the past and can still offer that – especially in a post-Goldstein world.

Essendon’s Tom Jok (193cm) has been able to pinch hit in the ruck though his strength is more in the area of KPP or tall midfield type. It is too early to call his value, but he already has a reputation for baving great endurance and speed – especially for a big man. Gach Nyuon played for the club as well as a 198cm ruckman before being delisted. He is now at Doveton in suburban Melbourne.

This information augurs well for Sydney Swan Joel Amartey (Ghana – 197cm). Whilst born in Australia, he also possesses the hallmark athleticism and strength mentioned in other African nation players. When Swans NEAFL ruckman, Darcy Cameron, was injured, Amartey stepped up and hasn’t looked back. He hopes to get a Swans’ call-up this year and bring his talents to the biggest stage.

It could be argued that big-bodied types from African countries are the new prototype for AFL ruckman – big, strong, tall, fast, leap tall buildings and so on. Time will tell, but they bigger players are having better luck than smaller bodies. Emmanuel Irra (Port Adelaide – Uganda) was delisted by his club last year and former Brisbane Lion, Reuben Williams, was delisted and most recently came to fame playing for the Footscray VFL team receivingon-field tutoring from Hawk legend Jarryd Roughead. Both struggled to get high enough on the mid-sized hierarchy at their respective teams.

West Coast are still hopeful they will see their own Tarir Bayok (Sudan, 175cm) excel, but to gain a running midfield role or crumbing forward he has plenty of players ahead of his. Again, Tarir may be the exception and have a great career, but that isn’t reflected yet in his games this year with East Perth reserves averaging 12 disposals a game as a mid/forward.

It is way too early to make a definitive statement about the value of players from African nations to the fabric of the game. However, there is some evidence that the tall, powerful, athletic body types may one day change how ruckman play. As this pattern becomes clearer, you can bet that clubs will be seriously looking at all players for those roles, but ever so slightly more so the pool of talent coming from African countries.

Below - Joel Amartey (Sydney Swans)