Zac Smith allowed himself a moment of reflection as he prepares for a 100th game milestone that is one of the great stories of Queensland football.
The Geelong ruckman, who will post his AFL century against Hawthorn at the MCG on Saturday, was asked what he was most proud of in a career that has grown from the most unlikely of beginnings.
In answering, the former Gold Coast Suns player went all the way back to the beginning to a significant moment in Queensland football history.
It was Saturday 2 April 2011 when the Suns played their first game against Carlton at the Gabba.
That they were beaten 7-10 (52) to 26-15 (171) didn’t matter. And the fact that he was one of the Suns’ better players wasn’t the reason. Not at all.
Nor that he kicked the Suns very first score in AFL football in a game in which he had 16 disposals (eight contested), 14 hit-outs, two tackles, two clearances, two contested marks, six one-percenters and three behinds.
The ever-thoughtful giant was most satisfied just because he had played one AFL game. That he had made it to the highest level given where he had come from and how far behind he was at the outset.
And rightfully so.
Born in Bileola, he moved with his family to Rockhampton as a 10-year-old and was a soccer player as a junior. And a good soccer player, representing Queensland.
Not until October 2016 when he was 10 did he even contemplate AFL. And only then at the suggestion of some friends at North Rockhampton High School.
In 2007 he joined the Glenmore Bulls U17s and in his first season was runner-up in the team B&F and found his way into the AFLQ Rookie Search Program.
In 2008 he moved to Brisbane to play with the Zillmere Eagles in the QAFL, and midway through his first season in the city he was invited to join the Suns, the AFL’s 17th franchise.
He had a choice to commit to the Suns’ journey, which would include the TAC Cup U18 competition in 2009 and the VFL in 2010 before the club’s entry to the AFL. Or to put himself into the 2008 AFL draft.
Despite playing less than 20 games of football at any level, he also received a stack of letters from AFL football clubs expressing their interest in him.
He had a big decision to make, but given his total lack of experience and fundamental knowledge of the game he chose the conservative route. The Suns.
In August 2008 he was the fourth player to sign with the Suns, and began an apprenticeship which saw him named as first ruck in the TAC Cup Team of the Year in 2009 before he played against men for the first time in the VFL in 2010.
After playing every game except one, he was the only non-AFL player chosen in the 2009 Queensland Team of the Year.
He was an automatic pick for the Suns’ first AFL game, and went on to play 65 games for the club from 2011-15.
He was sixth in the 2011 Suns B&F, polling 93 votes to finish behind Gary Ablett (196), Nathan Bock (138), Michael Rischitelli (100), David Swallow (98) and Danny Stanley (95), and ahead of Jared Brennan (83), Jarrod Harbrow (72), Sam Iles (49), Harley Bennell and Trent McKenzie (45).
Over five years at Metricon Stadium he played 20-16-8-10-11 games, surviving a knee reconstruction and an ankle reconstruction, but at the end of 2015, having spent half of the season in the NEAFL, he decided he needed a fresh start.
After being approached by several clubs he quickly opted for Geelong, and hasn’t looked back.
Enormously respected at the Cattery for the way he goes about his football, he was 10th in the B&F at the star-studded Cats in 2016, playing his first two finals.
After a 13-52 win/loss record at the Suns (20.0%) he’s gone 24-1-9 (62.8%) at the Cats, and with Chris Scott’s side third on the AFL ladder at Round 16 he is looking forward to another finals campaign.
Among 170 Queenslanders to have played AFL football Smith will be the 44th to play 100 AFL games, beating good friend and former Suns teammate Charlie Dixon by a week. Dixon will play his 99th game for Port Adelaide this weekend.
In other Queensland news to emerge from selection for Round 17 of the Toyota AFL premiership:-
Tom Hickey will play his fifth game of the season for St.Kilda and his first since Round 4 against Essendon at Etihad Stadium tonight.
Ben Keays will return to the Brisbane Lions side against Richmond at the MCG on Sunday after Archie Smith and Matthew Hammelmann were omitted.
Jacob Allison was named on an extended Lions interchange bench after some good recent form but coach Chris Fagan admitted Allison was “probably more unlikely to play”.
“He’s been knocking on the door for a few weeks and if it’s not this week it’ll be some time soon. He’s a terrific talent with a lot of leg speed,” Fagan said of Allison.
Lee Spurr will return from a one-week injury lay-off to play for Fremantle against West Coast in the WA derby in Perth on Sunday, but Sam Reid will miss the GWS’ home town clash against the Sydney Swans with an ankle problem.
Josh Smith was left out of the Collingwood side for their match against the Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium on Saturday evening, and after two impressive games for Geelong Wylie Buzza will make way for the return of Daniel Menzel to the Cats’ side.
Josh Smith, Buzza and Hawthorn’s Brendan Whitecross have been named as emergencies.