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Nothing like football to break the ice

NEHA remembers her mother getting off the train to get water, then the train moving on. She was six, her brother Bipin was two and her sister Kajal was a tiny baby.

That was six years ago, somewhere in India.

The three of them are in a Geelong family now - that is, a family that barracks for Geelong.

Her father, Mark Oraniuk, trained with the Geelong under-19s. He didn't make the AFL, but he became friends with Bulldogs coach Brendan McCartney, later acting as a scout for him.

Mark is a serious footy enthusiast. He played most of his footy at centre half-back - he has that sort of direct approach to life combined with intelligent blue eyes.

''Development is what I love,'' he says.


In 2007, when he was a development coach for the Calder Cannons, he met McCartney in the middle of the MCG talking to Cameron Ling and Jimmy Bartel an hour or so before the Cats crushed Port Adelaide.

He and his wife Lynne met at Ballarat Uni in 1987 when they were both studying physical education.

She was from a footy background, too. Her mother was a North Melbourne supporter. Lynne barracked for Fitzroy but the departure of that club for Brisbane and the power of her husband's passion led her to the Cats.

They both wanted children. Their quest led them to the IVF program, but they were unsuccessful.

''That was a tough time,'' says Mark. ''It was heartbreaking seeing what Lynne had to go through.''

It was after watching the impact of the 2004 tsunami that Lynne contacted UNICEF and offered to take in children orphaned by the disaster.

It was a process that led them six years later to an orphanage in Pune, India, where they adopted not one child but three.

Lynne says: ''My life as I knew it stopped when I entered that orphanage. I hadn't realised how important being a mum is to me.''

The morning I met the family, Lynne had been in bed with her three kids, all of them singing along to ABBA's Dancing Queen.

Once she wanted to be a school principal. Now, she says, ''this is what it's about''.

Mark describes his three children as ''my biggest challenge and my biggest gift''.

Not long after they returned from India, the family attended a wedding at Fairhaven Lifesaving Club.

The children had never been to a beach before. Mark stood and watched as they ran around ''this vast expanse of sand, chasing waves and being chased by waves, doing all the things we take for granted. I thought, 'This is the beginning'.''

With a serious footy head like Mark, footy was always going to play a part in the kids' cultural education. He made the game fun and they embraced it.

The first time he took Neha and Bipin to the park for some one-on-one work, ''they were still going at it 45 minutes later''.

Neha has skills on both sides of her body while Bipin does something which distinguishes him from most young footballers his age - the ball is perfectly straight when he drops it on to his boot.

Neha, Bipin and Kajal had little or no English when they were adopted, but the trio took the first Sherrin into their English language school in the western suburbs. Mark says: ''We thought it might give them some status in the playground, and it did.''

The three kids have now played Auskick at Etihad Stadium and the MCG.

''The first time they went to the MCG and weren't playing, they were disappointed,'' says Mark. ''They thought that's what you went to the footy for - to play.''

The atmosphere in the Oraniuk home is calm and ordered.

Lynne says she and her husband don't see the children as ''broken'' and don't treat them that way.

She says it's about giving them the best life they can and knowing that one day they will want to return to India to try and track down their natural family.

But as of now, footy is part of who they are. Kajal, 6, has basically grown up in Australia and is forward and confident in her manner.

I ask her what she likes about Auskick. ''I like kicking the ball and I like seeing my friends - Charlie, Campbell and Joel.''