It's been a long journey for 22-year-old Emmanuel Irra — from war-torn Uganda to the rookie list of the Port Adelaide Football Club.Last month Irra became the first Ugandan to reach an AFL list.
When he arrived in Australia with his family at the age of 11, he had never heard of Aussie rules football.
"Never, because where I come from, Uganda, it's traditionally soccer, so football was very new to me, and it was a very weird sport," Irra said.
But he took to the new code with ease, and excelled during his time at his Adelaide school, Sacred Heart College.
"That's how I got involved, through there, through mates," he said.
"I jumped on board with them and started training and staying at their houses to help me out with transport and things like that."
The powerful midfielder went on to play 38 games for SANFL side South Adelaide, before being picked up as a rookie by Port Adelaide last month through the Next Generation Academy.
"It's something that I've been working really hard towards over the last few years, so I'm just really over the moon and looking forward to the opportunity ahead," Irra said.The academy is a new initiative by the AFL, aimed at identifying talent and improving pathways, particularly among multicultural and Indigenous communities.
Academy gives young players incredible opportunities: IrraDirector of Academies and three-time AFL premiership player Shaun Hart said the Next Generation Academy takes players aged 11 to 18.
"So there's a much more concentrated focus on creating better pathways for players to come through into the elite level," Hart said.
"Will everyone get there? Probably not, but the reality is the more people we can help on a pathway at an earlier stage, the more likely we see more people continuing to reach the highest levels of AFL football."
Irra said the new academies will provide young players with an incredible opportunity to be part of an elite program.
But he said they will still have to work extremely hard.
"It'll really fast-track them," he said.
"They're going to teach them about training habits, nutrition, how to be an ultimate professional and that's going to be amazing for them, getting it at such an early age.
"[But] there's no free handouts, they have to really make sure that they come here, and want to be a part of the program and dedicate themselves, not here only but away from the club."
Irra 'committed to being the best player'Hart said he was confident Irra will do all he can to break into the senior side.
"Whether it be in the midfield or down back, I think he'll put some real heat on some players and he'll be desperate to take someone's spot," he said.
"I think it's just his commitment to being the best player and person within the community that he can be will see him become a significant person at Port Adelaide Football Club and in the wider AFL community."
Irra said he was taking it a day at a time.
"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can, and I'm going to to be taking it day by day, speaking to the coaches ... about about what I need to do, where I can improve, and just each day try to get better.