By Ellie Grounds
The Sunshine State will have something to cheer about this weekend when Queenslander Jonathan Freeman makes his AFL debut for the Brisbane Lions on Sunday.
The 20-year-old will become the Lions ninth debutant of 2014, but the first from Queensland, when he takes to the Gabba against the Adelaide Crows.
Lions coach Justin Leppitsch had some encouraging words for Freeman when he made the announcement on Thursday.
“Congratulations. Just remember that all that this team and all the guys ask from you is to do your best,” he said.
“You’ve earned your spot in the team. You get to make your debut at the Gabba.”
Freeman made history when he became the first ever player recruited from the Hyundai Lions Academy to graduate onto the Club’s senior list, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for him.
At the end of 2012, Freeman’s hopes of getting drafted were fading fast.
He confessed he had a “tough season”, which (it was later discovered) was largely due to a vision problem that affected the way he was seeing the ball.
After seeing an eye specialist, his form improved tremendously in 2013.
The 198 cm forward played a big role for Queensland in the State U18 Championships, backing up three goals against VIC Metro with 17 disposals, eight marks and a goal against South Australia.
Devastatingly, the onset of inflammatory osteitis pubis forced Freeman to cut both the championships and his season short, rendering him unable to take part in the annual Draft Combine.
But the Lions had seen enough in the then-19-year-old to confidently commit to taking him in the upcoming Draft.
As a member of the Club’s Academy program, the Lions had priority access to Freeman, however rival clubs were able to bid for his services.
Ironically, it is the Club who Freeman will make his debut against on Sunday who originally tried to snare him from the LionsAdelaide bid their third round draft selection – Pick No.42 overall – for Freeman, but were promptly matched by the Lions, who ended up securing him with the fourth round selection (Pick No.59 overall).
Freeman has proved a winning pick for Brisbane. A strong leading target with clean hands overhead, the 20-year-old was among the Lions Reserves’ better players last Friday when they took on the Sydney Swans Reserves at the SCG.
Kicking three of the team’s four goals, Freeman was largely responsible for the Lions’ promising start before scoring dried up in the second half.
Freeman’s debut this weekend means that each of the Lions seven 2013 draftees will have made their debut in their first year at the Club.
Fellow first year player Nick Robertson and utility Marco Paparone have also been added to the Lions extended 25-man squad.
The Lions take on Adelaide at the Gabba, Sunday afternoon at 1.10 pm.