THE AFL seemed a world away when Aliir Aliir first arrived at the Aspley Hornets to try his hand at Australian rules football.
No one would have thought seven years later the Sudanese boy, who had been born in a refugee camp in Kenya and moved to Brisbane with his family at age eight, would be making his AFL debut.
Already the first Sudanese player to be selected in a national draft - outdoing Majak Daw who was first rookie-listed by North Melbourne in 2009 - Aliir will tomorrow play for Sydney when hosted by Brisbane at the Gabba.
Aliir had been introduced to Aussie rules by mates at high school in Kedron, before being tempted to take it further with one of Brisbane's top clubs.
"He came to us as a 14-year-old, typical shy Sudanese boy," long-time Hornets football manager Mark Perkins told Australian Regional Media.
"One of our directors, Ian Young, got him to come down to training.
"He was always a player who had tremendous athletic ability.
"But there was always doubt whether he could actually comprehend what AFL meant playing at the top level.
"There was no doubt he was a challenge in terms of trying to get him into a structure of a NEAFL team."
Aliir, of course, proved the doubters wrong, cementing a spot as ruckman in the Hornets side and representing Queensland at the 2012 national under-18 championships.
He followed his family to Perth the following year, and went from strength to strength with East Fremantle in the WAFL before the Swans took a chance and drafted him.
The 196cm Aliir recalled last year his mother Zainab, and four siblings, had fled Kenya after fighting had escalated around the refugee camp.
"The place became a little bit dangerous, and mum didn't want us to grow up without an education," he had told ARM.
Little did they know that education would involve knowing the finer points of Aussie rules football.
He added: "I'm learning every day. At the moment I'm taking it session by session. I've still got a lot of things I need to work on.
"I'm still kind of new to the game. I'm trying to get around to the coaches and older boys and pick their brains as much as I can, and fast-track my development."
Transformed into a key defender, he was seen as a replacement for ageing stars Ted Richards and Heath Grundy. He will debut in place of Richards, who is suffering from a fractured eye socket.
"Ever since I started playing down back, I've loved it," he said.
"If that's where they want me to play, that's where I'll play."
Perkins has taken a keen interest in his development at the Swans, who have persevered with him.
"They understand it was going to take a little bit longer with him than it has with guys who have been brought up with a footy in their hand," he said.
"It's great that the sport of AFL embraces it (diverse cultural backgrounds) ... you know you had an American (Mason Cox) playing on the weekend."