Why footy is rallying behind extraordinary Majak
By the end of the 2018 season, North Melbourne's Majak Daw had surpassed the expectations of almost everyone in the AFL community.
Having previously not played more than 10 AFL games in a season, the competition's first Sudanese-born footballer not only entrenched himself in the Kangaroos senior side, he played 18 games for the year - most of them with a broken bone in his foot.
Daw reinvented himself as a defender and was rated "elite" by Champion Data.
He was also part of one of the most significant moments of the year, when he went head-to-head in a match with Sydney's Aliir Aliir, who had been born in Kenya to South Sudanese parents before, like Daw, coming to Australia to start a new life.
Daw's contribution off the field has been every bit as significant, as an ambassador for the Sudanese community, and his work with The Huddle, the club's multicultural program, and the AFL Players' Association.
This was a breakout season for a player who had for so long fought to maintain his place, not only in the team, but also in the AFL system.
His extraordinary journey from refugee to AFL footballer - played out so publicly - has been followed by so many people inside and outside of the sport he plays.
That's why there was such an outpouring of emotion and shock, with the news that the 27-year-old is now in hospital with "serious injuries to his hips and pelvic regions", having fallen from the Bolte Bridge late on Monday night.
The football world rallied around him to offer their support, while North Melbourne, the football club that has always believed in him, stressed their only concern right now was Daw's mental and physical wellbeing.
He has worked for a decade to become the player he was this year.
It hasn't been an easy pathway. One of nine children, he came to Australia as a nine-year-old from war-torn Sudan and found an acceptance in, and a love of, Australian football, which led to him being rookie-listed by the Kangaroos in 2010.
When the Herald Sun interviewed him before his first preseason game in 2011, Daw said:
"For someone of my background, I'd love to think that I could one day be a role model to the Sudanese community."
He booted a goal with his first kick in AFL football in 2013, but ended the game with concussion on the bench. He spent more time in the VFL than the AFL in his early years as coach Brad Scott worked with him on the nuances of the game.
He encountered racism early in his career, had countless issues with his body which kept him out for long periods, and off the field was acquitted of serious charges three years ago.
He was even delisted by the club at the end of 2015 before being drafted back for the start of the next season.
Through it all, Daw has always dealt with those numerous challenges.
Unquestionably, this is a far more serious situation, but those who have been inspired by his story can only hope that he deals with it just as effectively.
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