Queenslanders in the AFL – Round 13

By Peter Blucher.

Lachie Keeffe has completed the most remarkable 100-game journey in Queensland AFL history … a journey that was more than 15 years in the making and began as a reason to dodge some schoolwork.

Son of a Gympie newsagent and a soccer player from the age of six, Keeffe was a boarder at Marist College Ashgrove in 2007 when he was invited to have a run in the school football team.

It meant a break from organised study time so the then 17-year-old thought “why not?”. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

He was the target of an audacious move by Collingwood Recruiting Manager Derek Hine and his Brisbane-based scouting crew who used what at the time was a little-known rule to sign the 204cm ruck/key defender and occasional key forward as an unregistered player shortly before Christmas 2007.

Loyal to those who had first shown interest in him, Keeffe, a three-year boarder at Marist College, rejected a subsequent approach from the Brisbane Lions and moved to Melbourne to begin his AFL journey with a Collingwood development squad.

He spent his first 12 months living with a host family and playing with Old Trinity in the Victorian amateur competition, enjoying a crash course in a sport that had been totally foreign to him, and was officially listed by Collingwood with pick #69 in the rookie draft on 16 December 2008.

It was the draft in which Jack Watts went to Melbourne at #1, Nic Naitanui joined West Coast at #2 and Stephen Hill was snared by Fremantle at #3.

Among 132 first-time draftees that year, only 13 are still in the AFL – Naitanui (213 games), Brisbane #7 Daniel Rich (275), North Melbourne #9 Jack Ziebell (271), Adelaide/GWS #10 Phil Davis (192), Collingwood #11 Steele Sidebottom (300), West Coast #16 Luke Shuey (243), Western Bulldogs pick #32 Liam Jones (174), Adelaide #44 Rory Sloane (246), StKilda/Geelong #47 Rhys Stanley (187), Fremantle #53 Michael Walters (212) and Hawthorn rookie #47 Luke Breust (272).

And Naitanui and Davis have not played this year due to injury.

That Sidebottom has played 300 games in the same time that Keeffe has played 100 games is testament to the extraordinary persistence of the Collingwood turned GWS Giants utility.

No less than 1074 AFL players have debuted since Keeffe’s first game for Collingwood in Round 16 2011 (in Sidebottom’s 50th game) and he’s out-lasted 449 of them who are no longer in the AFL. He missed 172 games he could have played between his first game and his 100th game.

Keeffe is the 2415th player among 13,069 AFL players all-time to play 100 games, and the 54th Queenslander. And at 33 years 58 days he is the oldest Queenslander, having surpassed ex-Morningside ruckman Warren Jones, who was 32 years 210 days in his 100th game, Sunshine Coaster Sam Reid (31 years 218 days) and Gold Coast journeyman Ben Hudson (30 years 193 days).

Queensland’s youngest 100-gamers have been Michael Voss (28 years 286 days), Marcus Ashcroft (22 years 308 days), Scott McIvor (23 years 234 days) and Gavin Crosisca 23 years 267 days).

Ironically, Keeffe debuted on the same weekend as foundation Gold Coast Suns’ fullback Rory Thompson, who retired at the end of last year after 106 games in an injury-riddled 12 years in the AFL. He still needs six games to catch him.

Keeffe celebrated his 100th game for GWS last Sunday against North Melbourne at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval, which meant a long trip for his family but suited his wife Emma, who is originally from Devonport in Tasmania.

“It was great to have the whole family there,” said a rightfully proud Keeffe. “They’ve shared the whole journey with me, all the ups and downs, so it was good to share a pretty proud moment with them.”

What is he most proud of? “Playing one game was great, especially where I came from and what I didn’t know about AFL, but to play 100 is pretty special,” he said.

And what a journey it has been. A member of Collingwood’s 2011 NAB Cup pre-season premiership side even before he’d played a senior AFL game, he’s had two knee reconstructions in 2012 at Collingwood and 2021 at GWS and missed two years through suspension after having inadvertently taken a banned substance.

That he has reached 100 games after knee reconstructions at 14 games and 79 games is further proof of his resilience.

Year by year he played 5-9-8-18 games at Collingwood in 2011-12-13-14, having blown out his knee for the first time in May 2012. He missed 2015-16 through suspension and was delisted by Collingwood in 2017 after spending the year in the Reserves.

Described last week by GWS football boss Jason McCartney as “just a great football person”, Keeffe was signed by the Giants as a delisted free agent and has played 8-10-13-8-18-3 games from 2018-23 after a second knee reconstruction in May 2021.

With a 50-50 win/loss record, Keeffe has played three finals – a 2013 elimination final with Collingwood, a 2018 semi-final with GWS, and a 2019 preliminary final, when he helped get the Giants into their first grand final.

In other news from Round 13:-

Ben Keays enjoyed the first 100-point win of his career when the Adelaide Crows belted West Coast by 122 points at Adelaide Oval. He had 29 possessions and 10 score involvements and received two votes in the Coaches Association Player of the Year Award.

Charlie Dixon returned from an injury lay-off to kick four goals and play a key role in Port Adelaide’s 22-point win over the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium – a club record 10th consecutive win. Dixon and Aliir Aliir, equally influential at the opposite end of the ground, each played 100% game time for the Power.

Eric Hipwood kicked a season-high four goals in Brisbane’s 25-point loss to Hawthorn at the MCG, while Will Ashcroft, playing his first AFL game at the venue where his father Marcus played his 318th and last game in 2003, had 20 touches and was among his side’s better players.

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