Submitted by Peter Blucher.
Alex Sexton has come a long way from his early childhood at Reservoir in suburban Melbourne, stopping at places like via the Springwood Pumas, Europe, Gallipoli, Arizona, the MCG, Logan, Redland, Metricon Stadium and even China. And on Saturday afternoon at the Gabba he’ll make another big ‘stop’ for a very special reason.
Sexton will play his 150th game for the Gold Coast Suns against the Brisbane Lions in Q-Clash #21, qualifying for Suns life membership as he becomes the 27th Queenslander to this mark.
It’s a fitting scene for one of the great success stories of Queensland football, who has written his own version of the old naval catch cry ‘join the navy and see the world’.
Sexton, born in Melbourne but a Queensland from age 14, has done something similar by jumping on the Australian football ‘bus’ and become a pioneer for AFL expansion in Queensland.
He missed the start of the Gold Coast Suns by 12 months but since then has been a cornerstone of the expansion club, now ranking third in games for the club and second in goals. And at 27 he’s got a lot of football still in front of him.
How does an aspiring footballer from outer Brisbane get to travel all over the world? He establishes himself as one of the best young prospects in the country, as Sexton did through his teenage years, and then enjoy the ride.
He had a solid football grounding, having played his early football at the Keon Park Stars in Reservoir, who also produced the famous Collingwood Shaw brothers, Ray, Tony and Neville, Collingwood and Sydney star Paul Licuria (now Football Director at Collingwood), Essendon premiership player Gary Moorcroft and Melbourne utility Paul Wheatley.
Just as the Shaw brothers blazed the trail at Keon Park, Sexton did likewise at the Springwood Pumas after moving north and now stands alone as the club’s No.1 AFL product.
He was a Queensland U16 and U18 representative, winning the Alan McLean Medal for the best division two player and the Queensland MVP award at the U16 championships before taking a non-stop express route to the AFL.
With fellow Queenslanders Sam Michael and Brian Coleman-Broome, he was member of the 2010-11 AIS/AFL Academy squad which included future AFL stars Joe Daniher, Will Hoskin-Elliot, Nick Vlastuin, Adam Tomlinson and Rory Atkins (Vic Metro), Lachie Whitfield, Jake Stringer, Devon Smith and Jeremy Cameron (Vic Country), Jack Viney, Sam Mayes and Brodie Grundy (SA), Stephen Coniglio, Jaeger O’Meara (WA), Jacob Townsend (NSW), Shaun Edwards (NT) and Jimmy Webster (Tas).
Coached by Jason McCartney, this group played a match at the MCG in what was an early Sexton highlight before an eye-opening tour of Europe which included another match in London, the Anzac Day service at Gallipoli, time in Italy with triple world cycling champion Michael Rogers, and a visit to the headquarters of world soccer superpower A.C.Milan.
Along the way, too, he played a NEAFL game with the Brisbane Lions Reserves in 2010, trained with Suns over the 2010-11 off-season, and was a supplementary list player with Redland in 2011.
In his first NEAFL game with the Suns Reserves in 2011 he joined a side that comprised 20 AFL-listed players plus him and Queensland U18 teammate Adam Oxley (later to play at Collingwood). So impressive was he that he was named fourth-best for the Suns and won a nomination for the NEAFL Rising Star Award.
It was all go, but truth be known his AFL future was locked away a long time before the 2011 AFL National Draft, when he would join the Suns as a zone selection.
Officially, he is listed as selection #88. But that is a paperwork technicality linked to the club’s recruiting concessions. In an open draft, or even with the current bidding system in place, Sexton would have gone much higher.
Through his final year at Chisholm Catholic College in Logan he did his best to mix schoolwork with football, but there was no ‘schoolies’ celebration, or any such thing.
Even before his 18th birthday on 3 December 2011 he jetted off to Arizona on an exhausting pre-season camp with the Suns, where he impressed the coaching stuff with his want and willingness to listen, learn and work hard.
In Round 8 2012 he made his AFL debut 168 days beyond his 18th birthday wearing jumper #37. At the time he was the Suns’ second-youngest debutant, 54 days older than current co-captain David Swallow. And since there he has been only player younger – Queenslander Jacob Heron. By two days.
Sexton was the fifth of now seven players to make his AFL debut in Darwin across 22 games played there since 2004, and he’s been far and away the most successful. The other six, including injured Essendon four-gamer Irving Mosquito, have played a total 106 games.
After the Suns used 46 different players in their debut season in 2011 Sexton was #51 on the all-time list. Only 13 ahead of him on the list are still playing, and only seven have played more games despite starting ahead of him.
Suns games record-holder Jarrod Harbrow (191) and Swallow (170) are the only two ahead of Sexton on the club games list, and of the others only Sam Day (143) and Rory Thompson (103) are still at the club. Zac Smith (120) is back after a stint at Geelong.
The other ‘survivors’ from players 1-50 on the Suns’ all-time list are playing at other clubs – Tom Lynch (188), Josh Caddy (172), Charlie Dixon (170), Dion Prestia (170), Steven May (164), Aaron Hall (139), Trent McKenzie (133) and Tom Hickey (117).
But as quickly as Sexton’s AFL career started it slowed. He played 10 games in two years and 37 in four years. But in 2016, in the second season under coach Rodney Eade, things clicked. He has been pretty much a regular since then.
Highlights? Two wins in 2017 were standouts – a club record 86-point thumping at Metricon in Round 3, when he had 25 possessions, and his first win at the MCG in Round 17.
There was a 64-point Q-Clash win in 2015, 23 possessions in a 61-point win over Essendon in 2016, and a team-high four goals and a Brownlow vote in a 64-point win over North in 2020. All at Metricon.
From a personal perspective, he’ll have especially fond memories of a five-point win over the Bulldogs at Metricon in 2015. It was his 100th game and topped off a week in which he signed a four-year contract extension that still has 2022 to run.
It was something of a treat because of 15 Suns 100-gamers only Sexton, Gary Ablett, Brandon Matera, Steven May, Sam Day and Michael Rischitelli celebrated their ‘ton’ with a win. And Rischitelli’s was a mixed occasion after he lasted barely five minutes before a knee injury.
Twice when Sexton played mainly as a midfielder in his early years he had 26 possessions – in a 24-point Metricon win over Fremantle in 2016 and a 13-point Docklands win over North in 2017. A personal best.
His best in front of the big sticks was in 2018 against Melbourne at the MCG, when he kicked five of the Suns’ seven goals in a big loss. Similarly mixed in satisfaction was his other Brownlow vote in a four-point Q-Clash loss at Metricon in 2018.
Blessed with tremendous goal sense and an ability to often make something out of nothing, he has adapted well since being deployed as a roaming forward in recent years. So well that he topped the Suns goal-kicking with 28 in 2018, and again with 39 in 2019, when he was 12th in the League after leading the Coleman Medal count for a period. He was 8th in the Suns B&F in 2016 and 5th in 2018.
Sexton, married last November to long-time partner Beck, is also just one win away from becoming the fourth Suns player to complete a “Suns-sweep” – a win against each team in the competition. It is a feat achieved only by Gary Ablett, Harbrow and Swallow but it will have to wait until next year after the recent loss to Port Adelaide in Round 14.
His time with the Suns has also seen him add further to the extensive travel schedule of his football apprenticeship. He shares with Harbrow and Swallow the club record of having played at 19 different AFL venues in every Australian state and territory – plus Shanghai Stadium in China.
In addition to Metricon and the Gabba he’s played in Cairns and Townsville in Queensland, while in Victoria it’s been the MCG and Marvel in Melbourne plus Geelong and Ballarat. He’s added the SCG and Stadium Australia in Sydney, Launceston and Hobart in Tasmania, Darwin and Alice Springs in the NT, Canberra in the ACT, Subiaco and the new Optus Stadium in Perth, and Adelaide Oval.
Amazingly, Sexton, Swallow and Harbrow share second spot on the AFL’s all-time list of grounds played at with ex-St.Kilda champion Robert Harvey, now caretaker coach at Collingwood, and ex-Hawthorn/Essendon ruckman Paul Salmon.
The identity of the only player ahead of this group is a special trivia question that stumps most.
It is the Suns’ soon-to-retire defender Jack Hombsch, who through 10 years, three clubs and 116 AFL games has played at 21 different grounds.
A member of the very first GWS side in 2012 and a reliable player at Port Adelaide from 2013-18, Hombsch has held top spot on this curious list despite playing only 18 games with Gold Coast in three years and none since Round 19 2019.
Although Sexton is one up on Hombsch with Cairns on his list, Hombsch has three played at three other grounds that Sexton is yet to visit – Football Park in Adelaide plus Blacktown Stadium and ANZ Stadium (formerly the Olympic Stadium) in Sydney.
With all three venues now out of commission there are no grounds on the current AFL venues list that Sexton has not played at, which makes the prospect of finding two more to reach the Hombsch mark difficult.
But in the ever-curious times of a world-wide Covid pandemic, border closures right across Australia and a floating AFL fixture that can change by the hour who knows what might happen?
Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport.