By Beth Newman
It’s the night before their final TAC Cup match, and the Queensland U18s are asked what legacy they want to leave in 2014.
There’s been an emphasis on team unity and a strong cohesion, on and off the field, and it took them two kicks from a National Championship.
Brisbane has been experience almost summer-like conditions, but the boys are preparing to dip into Melbourne’s bitter winter.
Waiting in the Brisbane Airport, some are catching up on Game of Thrones, some are discussing the merits of Sonny Bill Williams’ boxing career, the majority are searching for food.
It’s a generally relaxed feel, but there is an underlying sense of anticipation.
Aspley’s Liam Dawson is ready for his first game since June and his eagerness to be a part of this team for one last time is clear.
He recalls the week in Melbourne for nationals, where he could indulge in the breakfast buffet every morning, a silver lining of injury.
“That was pretty good, but I would much rather have played.”
“ I just want to play again.”
It’s not the whole team – seven have made the trip early for AFL club interviews, a subtle reminder of what is at stake for these boys.
It’s easy to forget their youth, but the notion of lights out on the weekend’s itinerary is a first reminder.
Landing in Melbourne is as cold as expected and the wind hits immediately.
It’s straight to the hotel and into lunch, because teenage boys seem to have never-ending stomachs.
As the group trudges to Harry Trott Oval, five minutes away from the Albert Park lodgings, the hail hits. Welcome to Victoria.
Fletcher takes charge at training and all the staff
“My hands are cold too, but do you think I’m going to tell them that?”
In the rain and the wind, any complaints die down and the focus is on making the most of the opportunity to prepare for their curtain call.
Straight to recovery – a pleasant sanctuary from that nasty cold, in a heated pool.
From there, it’s showers and into the team meeting.
It’s here where Fletcher lays out his plans for the game tomorrow.
He asks questions of the group and the dynamics of the team emerge as the discussion goes on.
Queensland’s captain, Darcy Cameron-Reeves is the most vocal and the group seems to pay attention when he speaks.
The team’s logistics man, Jim Urquhart, who is a sort of surrogate dad to all on the tour, players and staff alike, delivers a rousing poem charting the team’s journey through the year.
After the meeting, it’s a typically carb loaded game’s eve dinner and then free time, watching footy and to bed.
Players are reminded to stay hydrated, drink lots of water and keep their room heaters to a certain level .
It’s not kick off until 1pm, but players are assembled at eight for their team walk, rugged up for the fresh Victorian morning.
The bus to the match is strangely quiet, with 24 young men seemingly close to silent.
I’m not sure if it’s simple acoustics or something more.
Arriving at the ground two and a half hours early gives the Queenslanders a chance to get their bearings.
Hip hop, reggae and gospel music rings through various pairs of headphones, as players have a kick to kick and then practise their goal of the year credentials.
On his first trip away, the Western Magpies’ Aaron-Yusia Maricic says he’s trying to teach fellow bottom-ager, Corey Wagner the real meaning of reggae.
Into the rooms, most peruse a copy of the TAC Cup record, wolfing down bananas, gel protein concoctions and sandwiches.
The buzz is building.
There’s plenty of banter around the physio’s table and a serious discussion on the merits of quinoa, as coaches get around to individuals and groups.
Another group meeting, discussing game plans, their opposition’s strengths and their own.
Who will take the kick ins? What is your role?
After their pre-game warm up, Fletcher brings them all together and asks for a professional outfit.
Queensland’s first half is okay, enough to keep them in touch, but there needs to be a lift.
“They’re still breaking tackles,” Fletcher implores at the major break.
‘I want, in that first tackle, for that bloke to be on his arse.”
Midfielder, Lachie Weller, is under a pretty heavy tag, but their team mentality is showing as the game goes on.
Aspley’s Harris Andrews, a player who last year wasn’t even in the Lions Academy, takes three contested marks in the final term that could be match winners.
Surfers Paradise’s Cassidy Haberfield, whose year has been frustrating, in and out of the side, takes everyone on and kicks two absolutely vital goals, and Queensland’s confidence kicks in.
All of a sudden, they’re eight points up , it feels like the quarter has dragged on for an age and the Queensland bench is praying for the siren to go.
Geelong goals and the pleading becomes louder.
There can’t be much time left and the teams are waiting to restart at the centre tap, when a whistle blows.
Water runner, Wiley Buzza, has been caught in the centre, one too many for Queensland and it’s a Geelong free kick.
Their ruckman boots it and among a pack of players, the smallest on the ground takes it on the chest.
The full-time Siren blows.
Everyone seems to take a breath as Billy Beardsell takes his kick.
Morningside’s Ben Keays tries an unorthodox way of putting him off, hands on the ground, kicking his legs into the air.
Whatever they’ve tried, it’s worked. He misses.
Queensland wins by a point.
The boys flood back into the room and sing a song of which three months ago they didn’t know the words.
Keays pulls out his iPad to watch the AFL as ice bags are passed around on the bus.
It’s time to go home, but the Queenslanders have truly left their mark.