Saturday, May 26, 2007

From Sierra Leone to AFL

YOU might just be looking at the most inspiring sports story of the year. That's 11-year-old Andrew Jalloh, born and raised in Sierra Leone and having just recovered from stomach cancer, carrying the Paul Kelly Cup - the symbol of Sydney schools AFL supremacy.

Andrew and his twin brother Alex, the boy throwing the ball in the air in the playground of Belmore North Public School, left the African nation four years ago to live with their uncle - their father having been killed at war before they were born.

They arrived as refugees in Australia and settled in Belmore, and as boys do they made friends and played. Soon their athletic skills became obvious to everyone - these boys can run like the wind. Put a footy in their hands and it's "catch me if you can''.

And so Andrew and Alex became two of the most important members of Belmore North's Aussie rules team. A team that now just happens to be the best school AFL team in Sydney.

"They are incredible athletes,'' says coach David Unicomb. "They are very dominant within the team, and the other kids look up to them that way. You never have to ask them to get involved, they'll be into it and running around without being told to.''

Andrew is now in recovery from the cancer, but is still monitored closely. His frame is slight compared to that of his twin as a result of his treatment, but he is still tipped to be selected by one of Sydney's top sports high schools when he starts Year Seven next year.

So taken are the twins with the sport, they have started playing with Western Suburbs in the Sydney league, the club having covered their registration costs so they could play.

But AFL will have to fight hard to keep these freakish young sportsmen. Alex has also been chosen at state level in primary school teams in rugby league, rugby union and soccer.

For good measure, he also set two sprint records at last year's Australian Primary Schools Athletics Championships.

Not that he's about to boast about it.

"I play all sports _ soccer, rugby league, union, athletics too,'' said Alex. "You broke some records on the track Alex, didn't you?'' asked coach David Unicomb. "Yeah a couple.''

Belmore North has only played in the Paul Kelly Cup twice, and their record in the competition is flawless - two from two.

The school's team has a range of cultures and backgrounds scattered through its players, with students of African, Arabic and Samoan backgrounds.

Belmore North is now eyeing the state final of the Paul Kelly Cup, and Alex and Andrew will lead the team onto the SCG on June 18for the finale.

As they kicked a ball around at Belmore this week under blue skies, you couldn't help but wonder at the opportunity the boys now have.

Sierre Leone, where the life expectancy of the average male is 38, will forever be part of their lives - and now so will Sydney and a football.

Link to From Sierra Leone to AFL | The Daily Telegraph