Submitted by Peter Blucher.
It’s no secret that Harris Andrews is not just an outstanding young footballer but an outstanding young man. It’s part of why he is the Brisbane Lions captain in-waiting.
But if you’ve been late to the party on the Lions fullback or were in any doubt Lions coach Chris Fagan reinforced as much on Saturday night.
Speaking after the Lions’ outstanding Gabba win over Port Adelaide, Fagan made no effort to hide his admiration for his vice-captain when he described him as “one of the finest characters I’ve ever met in football”
It’s a massive commendation from a man admired throughout football after 40 years in the game at senior level, including a golden era of four premierships at Hawthorn.
Fagan did not hesitate when asked about what was arguably the best performance of Andrews’ 120-game career after he had his colors lowered against Carlton in Round 6 and for perhaps the first time in his career been subjected to strong media criticism.
“He (Andrews) is one of the finest characters I’ve met in football and he responded exactly as I knew he would,” Fagan said, admitting Andrews was “totally disappointed” after Carlton’s Harry McKay had kicked six goals on him seven days earlier.
“He responded as champion players do. He put his head down and got the job done.”
It was a comment that went largely unacknowledged by the media but history is likely to tell us that under the circumstances it shapes as a key moment in the career of the 202cm dual All-Australian.
It was such a big game for the Lions, who had been less than totally convincing in the early weeks of the season and found themselves without Brownlow Medallist Lachie Neale for the first time against one of the flag favorites.
Andrews, too, faced 2020 All-Australian Charlie Dixon, one of the most imposing key forwards in the competition.
If ever there was a time for him to stand up it was Saturday night. And stand tall he did.
Having started brilliantly, he held the dangerous Dixon goalless as the Lions defence collectively held a Port side that had averaged 96 points per game through the first six rounds to a paltry 44 points.
The stats sheet showed he had 15 possessions and 10 marks, but that was only part of the story. He also had 12 one-percenters, including nine spoils, 11 intercepts, seven intercept marks – all a game high.
So dominant was Andrews that his 12 one-percenters was twice that of the next best, shared between Lions teammate Marcus Adams, Port defenders Tom Jonas and Tom Clurey and Dixon. His seven intercept marks were almost twice that of next best – Aliir of Port (4).
And he enjoyed a rare disposal efficiency of 100 percent.
It was a little surprising, then, that he received only nine of the maximum 10 votes in the annual coaches player of the year award, splitting the votes with teammate Hugh McCluggage. Fagan or his Port counterpart rated McCluggage’s team-high 30 possessions slightly higher.
Still, it was Andrews’ night. Another night in a career that is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The quietly-spoken 24-year-old, whose humility is matched only by his professionalism and determination, was destined to be a Lions player after being born in suburban Fitzroy in Melbourne, former home of the club’s merger partner.
Having moved to Queensland with his family aged five, he joined local junior club Aspley before doing his schooling at Padua College, which also counts among its alumni ex-Lions player Jacob Allison and current AFL players Will Martyn (Richmond) and Oskar Baker (Melbourne).
Arguably the AFL’s No.1 defender, he sits comfortably alongside a long list of successful Padua graduates, including ex-rugby league star turned television identity Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin, former Queensland State of Origin rugby league players Dane Carlaw, Paul McCabe and David Shillington, one-time Brisbane Bullets owner Eddie Groves, Australian actor Damien Garvey, dual Olympic swimmer Peter Dale and Olympic distance runner Peter Nowill.
A product of the Lions academy, he kicked 80 goals in 17 games for Aspley in 2013 to head the NEAFL Under 18 goal-kicking, but after he starred in defence for the Queensland Under 18 side in 2014 his future was always going to be in the back half.
Similarly, he was always going to be drafted by the Lions, and it will forever be a mystery how he slipped through to No.61 in the 2014 National Draft.
Andrews ranks fifth in games among 2014 draftees, behind only Gold Coast’s Touk Miller (124),Collingwood’s Brayden Maynard (123) and Richmond’s Kane Lambert (121).
He has two-fifths of his draft year’s All-Australian blazers, with StKilda captain Jack Steele, Melbourne midfielder Christian Petracca and Collingwood defender Darcy Moore the only other 2014 draftees to win All-Australian selection.
Amazingly, 28 of the 60 players drafted ahead of Andrews and 50 of the other 100 first-time draftees from 2014 are out of the AFL system. And he’s not half way into what shapes as a stellar career.
Andrews shared Queensland top billing in Round 7 of the Toyota AFL season with Sydney ruckman Tom ‘Lazarus’ Hickey.
Having been ruled out for “six-eight weeks” after he suffered a PCL injury in Round 5, he made a miraculous recovery to be best afield in the Swans’ last-gasp two-point win over Geelong at the SCG on Saturday night.
Such a key force through the early part of the season, Hickey picked up immediately where he left off despite carrying an injury that most would think would keep him out of the game.
Judged best afield by Swans coach John Longmire and his Geelong counterpart Chris Scott, left-footer Hickey obliterated Cats ruckman Rhys Stanley to finish with 20 possessions (including a game-high 16 contested possessions), 23 hit-outs, a game-high 10 clearances and a marvellous right-foot goal when he took possession from a boundary throw-in and kicked truly from 35m.
And at the MCG on Saturday afternoon Queenlanders Jack Bowes and Caleb Graham savoured their first win at football headquarters when the Gold Coast Suns beat Collingwood by 24 points to complete a stellar weekend for Queensland football.
Bowes, who had suffered losses by 69 points and 96 points in his two previous visits to headquarters, had a day he will remember forever as he picked up 30 possessions in a win which has restored faith in the Suns camp as much as it turned up the blowtorch on Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley.
It was the third game in a row that the in-form Bowes has topped 30 possessions.
Graham, playing just his 14th game, did what few Suns have done before him – enjoyed a win in his first game at the MCG.
The 195cm 20-year-old from Cairns via Palm Beach was part of a makeshift Gold Coast ruck division which competed manfully all day against Collingwood ace Brodie Grundy, allowing the Suns to win enough clearance ball to set up one of the club’s best wins.
Graham finished with 10 possessions, six hit-outs and six one-percenters.
Lachie Weller, too, enjoyed his first win at the MCG in Suns colors, while Alex Sexton was credited with his second MCG win from eight visits despite not being used as the medical substitute.
Further south in Hobart, Oskar Baker enjoyed his first AFL action of the year as Melbourne shook off a determined North Melbourne.
Having been the unused Melbourne substitute in Round 2, Baker was called into the AFL side after a string of good form in the VFL and looked right at home with 15 possessions.
It was the 14th game of an AFL career now in its fourth year after Baker, originally shunned by the Lions Academy, was drafted with selection #47 in the 2017 National Draft following a stellar 2017 season with Aspley.
Also at the Gabba on Saturday night, Charlie Cameron continued his return to form with four goals for the Lions to pick up five coaches votes – his first votes of the season.
And in important news from the Lions Reserves side, Connor McFadyen made an encouraging comeback from his second knee reconstruction in the VFL clash with Coburg at South Pine Sports Complex.
Having undergone three surgeries in a 10-month rehabilitation, the highly-rated utility player had 16 possessions, kicked an equal team-high two goals in the Lions’ three-goal loss, and pulled up sore but fine.
Just as importantly, fellow Queenslander Noah Cumberland got through his second VFL match with Richmond after missing the entire 2020 season with a knee reconstruction.
Having been nursed through his Round 2 comeback, Cumberland, drafted by Richmond from the Sunshine Coast with selection #43 in the 2019 AFL Draft, played with few constraints and led his team’s goal-kicking with two in a big loss to Werribee.
Suns ruckman Zac Smith, also returning from knee problems, got through his second VFL game without incident, dominating the ruck with 31 hit-outs in his side’s three-point loss to Collingwood at Olympic Park in Melbourne.
Peter Blucher is a Consultant at Vivid Sport.