By Peter Blucher.
Lee Spurr is the Queensland AFL star than many people don’t recognise is a Queenslander.
Even the great Dennis Cometti, renowned for his expert commentary on Channel 7, once referred to the ever-reliable Fremantle Dockers defender as a South Australian.
And that’s totally understandable given that when he was first listed in the AFL Guide in 2012 it said he was recruited from Central Districts in the SANFL.
But he’s a born and bred Queenslander who started his football as a six-year-old at Logan and later played at Mt.Gravatt, Redland and Morningside while living in suburban Ransome and attending Bethania Lutheran College Primary School and Redeemer Lutheran College at Rochedale.
This weekend he’ll become the 42nd Queenslander to play 100 AFL games, joining a list that includes Jason Akermanis (325), Marcus Ashcroft (318), Nick Riewoldt (314), Michael Voss (289), Jason Dunstall (269), Gavin Crosisca (246), Mal Michael (238), David Hale (237), Max Hudghton (234), Scott McIvor (200), Daniel Merrett (195), Matthew Kennedy (188), Mitch Hahn (181), Jarrod Harbrow (180), Sam Gilbert (174), Brett Voss (170), Ben Hudson (168), Michael Osborne (168), Kurt Tippett (164), Clint Bizzell (163), Che Cockatoo-Collins (160), Brad Miller (157), Stephen Lawrence (146), David Armitage (145), Robert Copeland (143), Dean McRae (141), Clark Keating (139), Courtenay Dempsey (130), Jamie Charman (129), Andrew Raines (129), Dayne Beams (128), Joel Macdonald (124), Warren Jones (123), Steven Lawrence (120), Jesse White (118), Frank Dunell (115), Daniel Pratt (115), Luke McGuane (112), Richard Murrie (111), Ray Smith (104) and Cheynee Stiller (100).
Also closing on 100 games are Dayne Zorko (96), Shaun Hampson (93) and Brendan Whitecross (90).
Spurr, who will celebrate his 29th birthday Wednesday, will post his century against the Sydney Swans at Domain Stadium in Perth on Sunday.
It is not going to be massive news in an AFL world that is a milestone extravaganza this week, with North Melbourne’s Brent Harvey playing his 427th game to break the all-time League record on Saturday night, and Geelong’s Corey Enright playing his 326th game to break Ian Nankervis’ club record on Friday night.
The Spurr ton won’t even get top billing with the Dockers, where club legend Matthew Pavlich will play his 350th game to continue a big milestone blitz which also sees Geelong’s Jimmy Bartel play his 300th this week after Hawthorn’s Sam Mitchell did likewise last week.
But it is an achievement of which Spurr should be enormously proud.
It is a journey built on hard work and persistence after he was overlooked in the AFL National Draft in his top-age U18 year in 2005 when he was playing senior football at Redland, and again in 2006, when he moved to Morningside. And again for the next five years.
He’d played two years with the Queensland U18 Scorpions under Mark Browning and Craig McRae, and had seen a stack of similarly hopeful youngsters get the AFL call-up that he so passionately dream of.
Members of his first State U18 side in 2004 who went on to play AFL football were captain Will Hamill, vice-captain Marcus Allan, Cheynee Stiller, Wayde, Mills, Tom Williams, Scott Harding, Brad Moran and Luke McGuane.
The 2005 U18 side, of which Spurr was vice-captain to Mills, included Rhan Hooper, Courtenay Dempsey, Brad Howard and bottom-agers David Armitage, Ricky Petterd, Gavin Urquhart, Brent Renouf, Jesse White, Rhan Hooper, Albert Proud and Daniel Dzufer.
It was a time when Queensland had become something of a gold mine for AFL talent, but Spurr, on the radar of a number of AFL recruiting scouts, fell just short of the mark in 2005 and 2006.
But he was an enormously driven 19-year-old, and rather than wonder in years to come about whether he’d done everything possible he bit the bullet and moved to Adelaide.
He had family connections in the City of Churches, where his father was a State representative swimmer, and joined Centrals, who had been premiers in 2000-01-03-04-05 and would be premiers again in 2007-08-09-10.
It was the launching pad for the coaching career of Hawthorn master mentor Alastair Clarkson, who coached Centrals in 2001-02, and Spurr was hoping it could prove similarly beneficial for him.
Initially he struggled to make his mark with the power club of SA but ultimately he played 62 senior games, including the 2009-10 premierships and the losing grand final of 2011.
So he wasn’t quite the triple SANFL premiership player that he’s always been identified as in the AFL Guide, but he was a very good player nevertheless.
And finally, after being overlooked in the national draft seven years in a row, he got his chance at the elite level aged 24 in the 2012 Rookie Draft.
He was taken at selection #8 in a second-chance draft which proved a springboard for a raft of future and still current AFL stars, including Sam Frost (#1), Justin Clarke (#4), Rory Laird (#5), Lin Jong (#9), Shane Biggs (#13), Tom Bell (#14), Tom Campbell (#27), Marley Williams (#35), Jack Crisp (#40), Mark Baguley (#47), Harry Cunningham (#49), Mark Blicavs (#54), Jack Redpath (#62), Sam Gibson (#63) and Darren Minchington (#64).
Fittingly, he debuted not too far from home in Round 6 2012 against Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium, when the Dockers won by seven points after trailing early. The Suns’ Harley Bennell earned three Brownlow Medal votes for 37 possessions and three goals.
Spurr had six possessions after starting as the substitute and being activated in the third quarter. Coach Ross Lyon, in his first year at Fremantle, liked what he saw. He picked the ever-diligent rookie for 13 senior games, including two finals, in his first season, and rewarded him with the ‘’best first-year player’ trophy.
He has rarely been out of the top side. Since Round 16 2012 he’s missed just four senior games – two through injury and one when he was among a large group of senior regulars rested in Round 23 2015.
He played 23 of a possible 25 games in 2013, including three finals and a grand final loss to Hawthorn, 24 of a possible 24 including two finals in 2014, and 22 of a possible 24 including two finals in 2015. And he hasn’t missed a game this year.
Promoted to the senior list in 2013, he has been a member of the Dockers leadership group since 2014 and has finished top 10 in the B&F in each of the last three years – 5th in 2013, 8th in 2014 and 7th in 2015.
The 182cm defender plays predominantly on opposition small forwards but is capable of manning taller and stronger opponents when required.
An excellent kick on both feet, he has become a more attacking backman in recent seasons, ranking top two for rebound 50s at Fremantle in each of the last three years, including first this year.
He’s no slouch off the field either. Having begun a commerce/law degree full-time while playing in the SANFL, he has continued his studies part-time in Perth.
At a club which boasts a proud and rich history since joining the AFL in 1995 he was player number 165 on an all-time list that now numbers 189, and will be just the 37th to play 100 games.
He was the sixth player after Jeff White, Paul Maher, Paul Medhurst, Robert Warnock and Nick Lower to wear jumper #34 for Fremantle, and will be the first centurion in a number which he’s made his own.
That in itself says a lot about Spurr because he’s a lot like jumper #34 … not a flashy or sexy single digit number but very consistent and dependable.
That he’d played 82 AFL games prior to this season without receiving even one Brownlow Medal vote is further confirmation of the qualities that have made him a favorite with coach Lyon. And why he’s often referred to as “a no frills type of player”. He just gets it done.
Yet he boasts a career win percentage of 59.6%. Of Queenslanders who have played 50 or more games only Jason Dunstall (65.8%), Brendan Whitecross (65.6%), Clark Keating (63.3%), Che Cockatoo-Collins (63.1%), Steven Handley (61.6%), Dayne Beams (60.9%) and Jason Akermanis (60.6%) have won more consistently.
And that’s after the Dockers lost the first 10 games this season. Prior to that he had a strike-rate of 75.6%.
Not bad for a player who had to fight and scratch just to get an opportunity.