Hipwood to debut for Lions

Another Sunshine Coaster joins AFL ranks. By Peter Blucher.

The Sunshine Coast AFL family will welcome a ninth member on Saturday when Caloundra teenager Eric Hipwood makes his debut for the Brisbane Lions.

The 203cm 18-year-old will follow in the footsteps of Jason Millar (1991), Nathan Clarke (2000), Josh Drummond (2005), Daniel Dzufer (2007), Rhys Magin (2008), Sam Reid (2008), Alik Magin (2011) and Jono Freeman (2014).

He was told of his selection for the Round 13 clash with West Coast at the Gabba by coach Justin Leppitsch at training on Tuesday afternoon to cap what has been a momentous period.

A member of the 2015 AFL Academy, he was a key figure in the Queensland side that won the division two U18 title last year and was rewarded for an outstanding carnival with selection in the All-Australian side.

He was claimed by the Lions with selection #14 in the National Draft in November after rival clubs had targeted the Brisbane Lions Academy product, and last month, in a huge mutual show of faith even before he had played a senior game, he signed a contract extension that ties him to the club until the end of the 2019 AFL season.

Clearly, the key position defender/forward cum occasional ruckman is regarded by the Lions hierarchy as a cornerstone of the club’s future.

But it wasn’t always the case. In 2014 he missed selection for the Lions’ U18 Academy.

His reaction then to what would have been a massive disappointment was a strong pointer to why is now rated so highly by the club.

In an interview with Fox Sports prior to the draft, he explained how at the time he was thrilled for the likes of teammates Ben Keays and Corey Wagner, who already have made their mark on the AFL this year.

But instead of becoming bitter Hipwood committed to becoming better, loading praise and thanks on his junior club for its guidance and assistance at the time.

He said: “It gave me a realisation on life and footy from a different perspective. Not making the over-age academy edged me on to do better and Caloundra footy club were pretty big in helping me through. The senior players were massive, giving me gym programs and running programs to do.”

The rest, as they say, is history in what, ultimately, has been a triumph for AFL over rival codes.

Born in Melbourne, Hipwood started his Sunshine Coast AFL journey at Chancellor Park, now known as Kawana Park. But he was a talented and multi-faceted junior sportsman. He was also a striker in soccer and a winger in rugby union, and later a fast bowler in cricket.

His focus was more seasonal than anything, and as an 11-year-old, when his parents wouldn’t let him play three different sports on the weekend, he even quit club football to fit everything in.

“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,” he said.

But two years later, still playing school football, he was tempted by an invitation to join the Lions Academy in what ultimately set him down a path that will lead to the Gabba on Saturday.

He said on reflection: ““I didn’t know too much about the academy, but Mum and Dad spoke to me about it and said how big it was and how big an achievement making an academy was.

“I thought ‘I’m going to give this and try and see how it goes’ and I’ve just progressed from there.”

“It’s been fabulous in helping my development as a footy player and I can’t thank them enough. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for them.”

At 13, looking to return to club football, Hipwood was faced with a dilemma. Kawana didn’t have a senior team so there was no real pathway. Instead he followed family friends to Caloundra.

Two years later at 15 he made his senior debut. And a very special debut it was.

“The game was at Aspley, which was where my Dad (Brad) 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.”

The name Hipwood is famous name at Aspley. Not only did Brad play there but Eric’s nan Flora is a life member and his grandfather Ken was one of the people who helped start the club.

Ironically, too, Hipwood played for Aspley in their 2015 NEAFL finals. He kicked three goals in the preliminary final against the Giants and two goals in a one-point grand final loss to the NT Thunder.


While Hipwood’s sporting focus may have wavered slightly at times there was never any question of his parents’ football fanaticism.

Brad and Leanne Hipwood were massive St.Kilda fans and were married in the stands of the old club at Moorabbin.

They’ve been his biggest fans through a journey which took on a degree of inevitability and eventually certainty through his U18 campaign.

It wasn’t a question of if he would play AFL football but when.

He was an athletic standout, running a blistering 2.97 seconds in the 20-metre sprint at the Draft Combine and finishing top-10 for the standing and running vertical jump tests.

On draft night Richmond bid for Hipwood but Brisbane were never going to let him go. And under the complicated process that is the AFL bidding and points system, they used picks 36 and 37 to counter it, claiming him with what become selection 14.

Hipwood has been a consistent contributor in the NEAFL waiting his opportunity at AFL level as the Lions brainstrust wrestled with the question of when to expose the lightly-framed teenager to the physical rigors of AFL football.

As it’s turned out, there will be no soft passage against the 2015 grand finalists on Saturday. He’ll be thrust into a furnace just about as hot as it gets, joining a Lions side that has lost eight games in a row by an average of 55 points.

In 30 years of Brisbane Bears/Lions history only 2015 debutant Billy Evans has been confronted with a longer single season losing sequence ahead of his first game.  The Lions had lost 10 straight by an average of 40 points prior to Evans’ debut in Round 15 last year.

Hipwood is the fifth Queenslander named for his AFL debut this year behind Melbourne’s Josh Wagner, Collingwood’s Josh Smith, Sydney’s Aliir Aliir and Brisbane’s Ben Keays.

And with North Melbourne coach Brad Scott having already indicated that Corey Wagner in line for his first outing, too, it could be a very big weekend for Queensland football.

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