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Aliir eyes momentum

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 26: Aliir Aliir looks on during a Sydney Swans AFL training session at Bat & Ball Oval on November 26, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images/AFL Media)
Aliir Aliir in training during December in Sydney ahead of the 2019 season.

Star Sydney Swans defender Aliir Aliir hopes to use the meteoric back half of his 2018 campaign as a springboard for 2019. 

The 24-year-old returned from an extended stint in the NEAFL for Sydney’s clash with the West Coast Eagles in Round 13, and he finished the season with another 12 AFL matches beside his name.

The 2013 draftee wound back the clock to his breakthrough 2016 season, averaging 8.17 intercept marks per game to run eighth in the AFL and top the Swans.

Aliir also penned a three-year contract extension in July to tie himself with the Swans until at least the end of 2021.

“I really want to carry my good 2018 form into 2019,” Aliir told Swans Media.

“I was working really hard with Rhyce Shaw in 2018 and am now looking to continue the good work with (new defence coach) Tadhg (Kennelly) and just build from that.

“I was very happy with how I ended the 2018 season and am now looking to have another good year. Returning to the senior side and cementing my spot over the back half of 2018 has given me a lot of confidence in my own game.”

Aliir became the first man of Sudanese heritage to be selected at a National Draft when the Swans secured his signature via pick 44 in November 2013.

Sydney lured him from WAFL club East Fremantle after he had caught the attention of Swans recruitment manager Kinnear Beatson.

The 28-game Swan is now toiling through his sixth pre-season as an AFL footballer, and he says he’s set his sights on continuing to snap up intercept marks.

“Reading the play and taking intercept marks are big strengths of mine, and having the trust of the backline and the team in 2018 that I can be in the right positions to play like that has given me a lot of confidence,” Aliir said.

“It’s always a big focus of mine to cut off the opposition’s attack and I’ll be looking to build from that in 2019.” 

Aliir – as are young backmen Zak Jones, Callum Mills, Colin O’Riordan and Ryley Stoddart – is surrounded by an enormous amount of experience in Sydney’s defence as the 2019 season draws near. 

Jarrad McVeigh (319 games), Heath Grundy (255), Nick Smith (211), newly appointed co-captain Dane Rampe (138) and 2018 Club Champion Jake Lloyd (115) have accumulated 1235 matches between them.

McVeigh, Smith and Rampe have also collected three All Australian blazers between them, while McVeigh, Smith and Grundy played in Sydney’s 2012 premiership win over Hawthorn.

Kennelly stacked up 197 games for the Swans between 2001 and 2011 and was a 2005 premiership backman, and Aliir said his new defence coach and seasoned teammates had played a central role in his rise.

“It’s very helpful to be playing in a backline with so much experience and working under a coach like Tadhg, who did so much in his playing days,” Aliir said.

“McVeigh, Grundy and Smith have all played over 200 games and just having them down back really settles me and points me in the right direction.

“Having Tadhg now come in has been really helpful in pre-season training.”