Panther doubles up on GF tons

Sitting in his office, AFL Darling Downs Development manager Jack Barry looked across at a long-haired, raw schoolboy and offered him a new opportunity.

“I’m looking at this young kid and I thought, ’Is he going to take footy seriously?’ ”Barry recalls.

“I said to him, ‘I’ll help you if you’re going to take it seriously.’”

Barry spent hours with that schoolboy at Toowoomba’s Queens Park, kicking the footy and chasing down wayward kicks, helping him hone his skills.

Just over a decade later that kid, Tyson Upton, is a Morningside co-captain and readying to play his sixth grand final in his 200th game.

Upton first took up footy through the school program, when he was playing fullback for Downlands College’s first XV rugby union team.

“He was one of the first to take the lessons seriously and you could see he was trying to apply himself,” Barry said.

“The team went pretty well and the game sold itself, so I offered him an opportunity.”

“I reckon I would have kicked it to him one out of 10 times and he would come back and we would do that for hours,” Upton recalls of those afternoons at Queens Park.

In 2005, Barry moved to Morningside as a club development manager, before his current role as AFL Queensland state coaching, volunteer and affiliates manager.

Upton came then to Jack Esplen Oval, hopeful, but not confident, of playing senior football with the Panthers.

Upton made his debut that season and played in a grand final for Morningside, the first of many.

 “When I came to the club, I didn’t even think I would get a senior game.”

Coming from a rugby union background, Upton was an unknown quantity when he first came to the Panthers, but his determination – he would drive from Toowoomba for training and games – drove him to success.

“Blairy (then Morningside coach, John Blair) was really good in giving him a game and letting him learn under (David) Lillico, (Hayden) Wilson and (Jacob) Gough,” Barry said.

“He was driving from Toowoomba…until you do that trip twice a week, you don’t realise (how long it is).

“If you don’t come down and train that extra time, it’s easy for selectors to go, ‘out of sight, out of mind’.”

At the start of his Panthers career, Barry said Uptoin had one basic thing down pat, likely a throwback to his rugby union history.

“Early on he had no trouble finding the ball,” he said.

“It was just his kicking execution, so he used to handball a lot and bring other players in,” he said.

“Now, he’s kicking crunch goals and he is really influencing games.”

There weren’t too many rotations at Jack Esplen Oval in those days and Barry said it gave Upton the chance to learn off the best players.

“He had front row seats to learn the craft of the game,” he said.

Upton now joins some of the legends of the Panthers and Queensland football in reaching his double ton, most recently current teammates Nick Tomlinson and Kent Abey, and he admits it’s a strange feeling to join that group.

“It’s tough to put into words,” he said.

“It doesn’t feel right that I’m in the same conversation with those players.

“They were all unbelievable players as how they went about it.

 “To be talked about as one of the 200 club is very surreal I suppose and it probably won’t sink in for a while I wouldn’t.”

The school teacher is reluctant to be in the spotlight and said he was happy to play second fiddle to the grand final this weekend.

“I like that it’s overshadowed and we can just get in as a team and get the job done and hopefully win a premiership,” he said.

The tough midfielder has made a habit of milestone grand finals, with his 100th game coming in the Panthers’ 2009 win over Mt Gravatt.

Upton says this season has conjured memories of that season, where the Panthers lost their opening two matches before steamrolling their way through the rest of the season, winning every game on the way to a premiership.

“It does remind me a bit of 2009, where we just got on a bit of a roll and kept winning,” he said.

“It’s hard to compare because back then it was a different team, with guys like Jacob Gough, David Lillico and Nick Clark running around.”

Upton has enjoyed one of his best individual seasons this year, finishing equal fourth in the Grogan Medal, off the back of a 2013 best and fairest win, but says his focus was on peaking when it really counted.

“I had a slow start to the season, but I just worked my way through it and hit some form halfway through the year,” he said.

“I try to play my best footy leading into finals.

“Back in the day, when we played Southport, I’d always try to get up for those kinds of games.”

Reflecting on their early meetings as Upton readies for another big game, Barry said it was incredible to see how he had developed.

“It sounds clichéd, but more than anything I’m rapt with the person he has become.”

QAFL and QWAFL Grand Final Day will jam packed full of action and there’ll be plenty of coverage of it.

The BayFM Sport Show will be broadcasting LIVE from Yeronga from 8am-12pm, featuring interviews with players and key Queensland football figures..

The QAFL Grand Final will be broadcast live on ABC 612.

For all the info about the Grand Final day, click here:

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