At 200 centimetres tall with a platinum blonde streak in his hair: Mabior Chol stands out in a crowd.
- Gold Coast Suns key forward Mabior Chol has had a breakout season in the AFL
- The South-Sudanese refugee is among the leading goal-scorers in the AFL this season
- Chol’s good form comes as he returns home to south-east Queensland where he grew up
Chol’s also standing out as a key forward for the Gold Coast Suns.
Looking out at Darwin’s Marrara Oval — where he’s due to play North Melbourne this weekend — the South Sudanese refugee reflects on the secret behind his breakout season.
“Coming up to the Gold Coast and just having mum and dad and my whole family close by I think had a massive impact on my footy,” Chol said.
The ties to his family have always been strong.
Chol was born in South Sudan, and was two when he fled to Egypt by boat with his mum, dad and siblings.
Chol is acutely aware of his roots and how they defined him.
“It was a challenging time for my family, especially my mum and dad who had to leave uncles and aunties behind,” he said.
“Growing up, honestly, my family and I didn’t really have a lot.
Chol, 19, plays first AFL game for Richmond
Arriving in Australia at the age of eight, Chol took a shine to footy while growing up in Brisbane.
He entered the AFL through the 2016 draft, selected by powerhouse club Richmond, and played his first game aged 19.
Chol had all the makings of a star: he was fast, had a huge vertical jump and a could drop remarkably low to the ground for such a tall player.
Yet in the first six years of his career, he struggled to find a consistent place at the Tigers, who were stacked with talent.
At 24 — young by most standards — Chol was entering the mid-point of his career and approaching a crossroads.
He decided to return to Queensland, where he first picked up a Sherrin.
Closer to his family and at a club where he’d get more opportunities, the now 25-year-old seized his chance.
In a career best year, he’s scored 23 goals in just 11 games – he scored 24 in the previous six seasons combined.
He’s the leading goal scorer for the Suns and among the best in the league.
A presence off the field with a burgeoning cult status
Gold Coast Suns head coach Stuart Dew said Chol’s return to Queensland was about a lot more than his on-field form.
“Off the field he’s been fantastic for our group,” Dew said.
“He’s a really good mentor for some of our younger players.
Foundation club member Jason Churchill has been a long-suffering and loyal fan of the Suns.
Mr Churchill said Chol was an excitement machine for those watching.
“The crowd is up and about ‘ooh Marbs Marbs’,” Mr Churchill said.
“You can hear they are just lifting every time he goes near the footy.”
The Suns enthusiast was happy to label Chol as the best pick-up of the season.
“The cult status naturally comes from the fact that he has that X-Factor, he’s got that laid-back attitude,” Mr Churchill said.
Chol admits he did have some doubts during his leaner years with Richmond, but as he enjoys his best season, he reminds himself of the bigger picture.
“I just really want to enjoy my footy and to pay my family back,” he said.
“Just making them proud by the way I play my football.”
If there was ever a time for the Chol family to be proud, it’d be now.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC