Inspirational Brisbane midfielder Ben Keays capped off his season with dominant performance earning the young gun the Andrew Ireland Medal for best-on-ground in the NEAFL Grand Final on Saturday night at the SCG.
After being selected with pick 24 in the 2015 National Draft, Keays had to prove his worth among the talented pool of midfielders before making his debut, coincidentally against the Sydney Swans in Round 6 of 2016.
Last night he faced them on a different stage, under the lights of the SCG where his side not only stole the win by three points, but was awarded with a personal accolade commending his outstanding performance with a game-high 30 disposals and two goals.
The 20-year old from Morningside and Brisbane was humbled by the honour, but credited his teammates effort rather than soaking up any individual glory.
“It’s a good little achievement. I’m proud of it, but more proud of the group,” he said.
While Keays has floated between the AFL and NEAFL this season, Keays knew how important it would be to play a prolific role in the midfield in the NEAFL this season, especially after the wooden spoon season the senior side has had.
“It’s tough going up and down, and obviously you want to be playing AFL every week, and sometimes you just can’t do that,” he said.
“To come back and be in this group and the environment that the coaches and staff create makes it a lot easier – it meant as much to me as playing in the AFL.
“I knew I had a role and I knew I needed to work hard in the midfield but it just kind of came naturally.”
“It’s not something you set yourself up to do (winning the medal), but I know I’m one of the key midfielders in the NEAFL team, so it was just about working as hard as I could and outworking my opponent and I did that.”
The smile couldn’t be wiped off the face of the Lions Academy graduate, and he not only commended the exceptional efforts of his team but also the contribution of the current academy players.
“They were outstanding and we thanked them during the week on their contribution. Connor Ballenden was fantastic as a big tall forward… Jack Payne down back was fantastic, Campbell Walker was fantastic. Well done to them,” Keays said.
Having achieved so much during his second year Keays is looking forward to some time off but is excited for what 2018 will bring, hoping that the NEAFL side will be have another strong season with many of his teammates sticking around.
By KATE SOLOMONSON and MYLES STEDMAN
Phot: TJ Yels