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Long journey for Jurrah

Melbourne president Jim Stynes knows a thing or two about travelling a long way to make your mark in Australia’s indigenous football code.

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In Stynes’ case, the trek was halfway around the world, all the way from from Dublin to Melbourne.

Yet he’s the first to admit that, in many ways, Liam Jurrah’s journey was further and tougher than his own.

When Jurrah made his debut for the Demons two years ago, he became the first man from a remote central Australian desert community to play in the AFL.

A fully-initiated Warlpiri man, Jurrah hails from Yuendumu, 300km north-west of Alice Springs.

He grew up speaking several different indigenous dialects as well as English and remains a deeply shy public speaker.

That much was obvious at the launch of The Liam Jurrah Story on Wednesday, when five people took their turn at the lectern including AFL boss Andrew Demetriou, author Bruce Hearn Mackinnon and Jurrah’s grandmother Cecily Granites – but not the man himself.

It might seem presumptuous for a 22-year-old with just 32 AFL games under his belt to be the subject of a biography.

But Jurrah is no ordinary footballer in a story filled with interesting characters.

There’s Hearn Mackinnon, a longstanding member of the maverick coterie group the Collingwood Industrial Magpies and a well-known ska singer and trumpeter, at whose home Jurrah has lived for much of his time in Melbourne.

And Rupert Betheras, the former Collingwood player and painter who did much to convince the AFL to bend the rules and allow Jurrah to lodge a late application to enter the 2008 pre-season draft, where he was snapped up by the Demons.

Not to mention the likes of Granites and Stynes.

And most of all Jurrah, who teammates insist is now an inveterate prankster around the club.

Public speaking might not be his go – although he did finally relent and do a short media doorstop on Wednesday – but he has no trouble expressing himself on the football field.

Jurrah won mark of the year for his screamer against Port Adelaide in 2010, which came as no surprise to the likes of Betheras and teammate Aaron Davey, who had seen him turn on the magic for the Yuendumu Magpies.

Davey, the senior figure among the indigenous players at Melbourne, recalled watching Jurrah for the first time as a teenager when he was in Darwin to attend a funeral.

“I was just amazed with the talent he had, the pace, being able to jump and his goal sense was amazing,” said Davey, himself no slouch at the more spectacular aspects of the sport.

“When you see those unique things you come back and speak to guys back at the club, saying `this guy has got everything you need to be an AFL footballer’.

“It was up to him to decide and he decided he wanted to be a professional AFL footballer.”

Stynes recalled the impression it made on him and everyone else at the club when they visited Yuendumu two years ago to learn more about Jurrah’s roots.

“It has been a phenomenal journey and one that I’m very proud of and you should be very proud of,” Stynes said of what Jurrah had already achieved in the early stages of what shapes as a long AFL career.

“I know your community is (proud) and the whole football club is.

“I don’t think it can get any tougher or more challenging from where this young man has come from.”

The Liam Jurrah Story: from Yuendumu to the MCG. By Bruce Hearn Mackinnon. Published by Victory Books.

 

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