Remember that kid growing up who seemed to be good at any sport they had a go at? Whether they had played it before or not, it was just natural, and they picked it up with ease?
That’s Eric Hipwood.
There is a reason Hipwood is classed as one of the premium talls in this year’s draft. He can play both ends, is superb overhead, is more agile than his 200cm frame should allow him to be, and has fantastic skills.
While he looks destined for a long and prosperous career at the elite level right now, there were times when Hipwood’s story differed from most draft hopefuls this year.
He could have taken his sporting talents anywhere, but one phone call changed his priorities.
His footy journey started at Chancellor Park, now known as Kawana Park, where he played until he was 12 years old.
That’s when Hipwood came to the sporting crossroad, stepping away from Kawana Park.
“When I was about 12 I knew that I had a lot of school footy ahead of me, and I wanted to play rugby, but Mum and Dad wouldn’t let me do that because they didn’t want me playing three sports in one weekend, so they made me choose,” he said.
“I knew I had a lot of school footy with the Sunshine Coast and Jonathon Brown Cup if I was to get picked in those teams. I ended up making the Queensland Schoolboys team as well which was lucky.
“I just loved every sport, I think even at that stage I was playing netball, I just wanted to get out there and play whatever was possible.”
It wasn’t long until Hipwood’s talents were noticed by the Lions Academy, meaning a return to club footy was in order.
“At 13 I made the Lions Academy, so I looked at going back to Kawana, but they didn’t have a senior team, and I had family friends at Caloundra, so I went there,” he said.
Two years later he was out on the field with the Caloundra senior team, not as a runner, not as a water boy, but as a player at a place very special to him.
“The game was at Aspley, which was where my Dad played his first senior game as well. It was something special,” he said.
“I will never forget the day; I kicked three goals. The senior players were unreal, helping me out, and helping me get a kick. Caloundra Footy Club has been fantastic for me, always helping me out, and I can’t speak highly enough of them.”
Hipwood entered the Queensland Academy system when selected for the Under 16 National Championships, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“I went away to the national carnival. I played the first game against NSW and had a shocker. JR (John Rankin) decided to sit me out against the next game against Tasmania, and I thought that was a fantastic learning curve for me,” he said.
“It gave me something to strive for. The end of the year came, and I didn’t get picked in the Brisbane Lions Academy program, being a bottom ager, so I went back home and did a lot of work with Caloundra. A lot of the senior players helped me out with running programs, weights programs and stuff like that.
“Not getting picked in that Tasmania game and the academy gave me that motivation to do the grunt work to become better and have a bigger year.”
2014 is when Hipwood’s game really started to find its feet.
He spent another year playing for Queensland as an overage Under 16, starring in the carnival, which boosted his confidence heading into this year.
That’s when the phone call came. That’s when his priorities were locked down. Hipwood had been selected as part of the AFL AIS Academy for 2015.
“That was unreal. When I got the phone call from Michael Ablett I didn’t believe him, I thought it was one of my mates prank calling me,” he said.
“I wasn’t until I made that National Academy that footy really took over. That gave me a bit of belief that I could be in the national draft, and that I could match it with the best.”
Little did he know, selection in the AIS Academy would just be the beginning in 2015 for Hipwood.
He became a key pillar in the Queensland Under 18 team, gaining All-Australian selection at the National Championships, while pushing his way back into the Lions Academy, the two areas Hipwood credits most with his development.
“The Lions Academy have been unreal, I can’t speak highly enough of what they have done for me. They have just really helped my development, whether it be a gym session or sitting down on a Tuesday night doing a game review,” he said.
“And Fletchy (Adrian Fletcher) and the Queensland Academy have also been unreal, I can’t thank them enough.”
If you were looking for a highlights package to sum up Hipwood’s ability, look no further than the second quarter in Queensland’s game against Tasmania this year.
Hipwood was swung from the backline to the forward line at the first break, and within minutes, he had turned the game on its head.
He finished with four goals for the quarter, sending recruiters chins wagging
“Going into the first quarter we were down a bit, somebody had to do something and I guess it was my turn to do it. I got lucky enough to kick a few goals, some of them were a bit flukish, the ones you practice before training, but I guess I got lucky and kicked them at the right time,” he said.
Hipwood has also proved his worth at NEAFL level this year, playing a major role in the home and away season for Brisbane Lions reserves.
But it was in the finals series where he was able to pull a jumper on that held great significance to him.
Once Brisbane’s season finished up, Hipwood was given the chance to play for the Aspley Hornets in a prelim, and grand final.
Hipwood is a famous name around Aspley. Eric’s father played his junior footy there, His Nan, Flora, is a life member, and his Granddad, Kenneth, was one of the people who helped start the club.
“Getting picked in the Aspley game in the finals, that was fantastic. It was a thrill, I was happy we got up, and was good to have a bit of family history for the club. We didn’t get the result in the grand final, but the Aspley boys were awesome through that period,” he said.
In just eight days time, Hipwood is hoping that his name will be one and of an expected 60 called to play out their AFL dream.
“It would be every kids dream. You grow up idolising superstars like Jonathon Brown, and to be in the same industry as he was, or as Nick Riewvoldt is, would be incredible,” he said.
Even though Hipwood was born in Melbourne, into a family with a big St Kilda connection, as his parents were married in the stands of the heartland at Moorabbin, Hipwood calls Brisbane home, and if possible, would like it to remain that way.
“I would like to stay at home in Brisbane, but the academy have given me the tools to be able to live away from home. I’d happily move away if that was the case, but the preference would be to stay at home in Brisbane,” he said.
Despite the hype surrounding him, he isn’t looking much further than the next couple of months.
“Not yet, I would just love to get stuck into a pre-season. You do think about yourself getting out there and thinking what you can do, but it doesn’t matter right now, I would just love to get picked and get into training,” he said.
As for the million-dollar question, is he a forward or a back, Hipwood played it with a straight bat.
“I don’t mind, either or, wherever I fit in the team.”
By Andrew Wiles