Fifteen minutes before Geelong’s AFL game against the GWS Giants in Sydney on Saturday Wylie Buzza was having a chat and a kick with fellow emergency Timm House after the Cats had finished their warm-up.
It was the third week in a row he’d been a senior emergency and had been on standby throughout the day as Daniel Menzel battled a knee problem.
When the final teams were lodged with the AFL an hour before the game the paperwork said ‘no late changes’, and Buzza was resigned to having to wait again for his opportunity.
But suddenly, as the players made their final preparations before heading out onto the ground, Menzel came over to Buzza and said ‘congratulations mate – you’re in”.
Menzel had not got through the final warm-up and, as had been Plan B throughout the day, the 21-year-old key forward/ruckman from Gatton was set to play.
Two and a half hours later Buzza walked off Spotless Stadium a proud and happy young man.
It wasn’t quite the perfect day as the Cats drew with the Giants after Tom Hawkins missed a shot after the final siren that could have given them a win, but it was something very special as the rugby league convert wrote his name into the football record books.
Buzza, wearing jumper #12, became the 170th Queenslander to play AFL football and the first Queenslander to begin his AFL career with a draw.
Also, he became the first player with the surname ‘Buzza’ to play in 120 years of VFL/AFL football.
He was an important contributor, too, despite having only six disposals.
He was the Geelong’s only multiple goal-kicker with two, and led his team in tackles with seven. Only GWS’ Lachie Whitfield (8) had more. And he also had three marks and two one-percenters.
If only Hawkins had converted his after-the-siren shot it would have been perfect. Almost.
The only sad point was that because Buzza’s inclusion was such a last-minute thing his parents Gordon and Kerry missed the customary debut treatment of being flown to the game by the club.
But at least, as Buzza said, his father, who works in the mines, was not working on Saturday and the family could watch the game live on TV.
And if he can retain his place in the side his parents will only have a short drive to watch Buzza play his second game at the Gabba against the Lions on Saturday night.
His favorite moment? Buzza singled out the fact that Geelong veteran Andrew Mackie kicked the ball to him on the lead for what became his first goal from outside the 50m arc. And was the first player to jump all over him after he converted so confidently.
“I’ve got a man crush on him (Mackie) so that was pretty special,” the mop-haired Buzza joked.
Buzza debuted for Geelong with 19-year-old Sam Simpson, son of ex-Cat Sean Simpson, and 19-year-old Zac Guthrie, brother of emerging star and 119-gamer Cameron Guthrie.
It was the first time the club had played three debutants since 2002, when a 17-year-old Gary Ablett Jnr, 18-year-old Jimmy Bartel and 20-year-old David Johnson began their careers together against Essendon at the MCG.
That day the Cats lost by 10 goals. Ablett, who played his 300th game on Saturday for the Gold Coats, had eight disposals on debut. The recently-retired Bartel had 13 disposals and Johnson, now working at the club in player development, had six.
Certainly Buzza will remember his debut more fondly than Giants debutant Jeremy Finlayson, who injured his knee and was out of the game before halftime.
Geelong coach Chris Scott was glowing in his praise of the debutant trio, suggesting they had certainly not been overawed by the moment, and had executed that they had trained.
“It’s a credit to them because I don’t think even two days ago those guys would have even considered that they’d be making their debut.”
On Buzza, Scott said: “He’s a very good shot for goal, so that gave us confidence. Even watching him in the warm-up he was knocking them over as well. While he’s going to get some attention because of his hair and his name, I hope that he gets some attention for his straight goalkicking as well. He deserves to be proud of his performance in his debut tonight.”
The other individual feel-good story of Round 15 of the Toyota AFL premiership was Josh Thomas’ first game for Collingwood since August 2014. And he didn’t disappoint either.
Thomas had 21 possessions (nine contested), four marks, two tackles and a goal, and ranked among the Pies’ better players in their loss to Hawthorn at the MCG on Sunday.
The Buzza/Thomas stories were part of a massive weekend for Queensland football as the Lions and the Suns won together for the second time in four weeks.
Eric Hipwood underlined his enormous potential with a brilliant display as the Lions came from 27 points down in the final quarter to pull off a stunning win over Essendon at Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
The exciting Sunshine Coaster had 12 possessions (nine contested) and kicked an equal career-best four goals to leap-frog Dayne Zorko as the club’s leading goal-kicker this season with 22.
Zorko, too, was outstanding as he bounced back from a dirty day a week earlier.
Coming off five possessions against GWS, Zorko had 30 disposals (14 contested), seven clearances and eight tackles. And, in an important defensive contribution, he held Bombers’ ball magnet Zach Merrett to 19 disposals.
Zorko’s big day out earned him 119 Champion Data ranking points. It was his 11th ‘ton’ and the eighth time this season the Lions deputy vice-captain has led the Queenslanders in ranking points.
In the same game, Archie Smith had 10 disposals (all contested), 12 hit-outs and a critical centre bounce clearance in the final quarter in which he got the ball directly to Hipwood for the big left-footer to kick the go-ahead goal.
Harris Andrews, too, was a key figure in his 50th game. He had 20 disposals, second-highest in his career, and nine marks. And despite Joe Daniher kicking three goals Andrews got the better of the Essendon spearhead in one-on-one battles.
At Metricon Stadium, Jarrod Harbrow had 22 disposals, seven marks and two clearances to be an important contributor to the Suns’ big win over North Melbourne.
Harbrow earned 102 Champion Data ranking points – his seventh ‘ton’ of the season.
Alex Sexton had 20 disposals, three clearances, three tackles, four one-percenters and two goals in another key contribution, while Rory Thompson had five disposals and seven one-percenters.
Corey Wagner was lively for North with 10 possessions.
Lee Spurr also posted a Champion Data century when he had 23 possessions and six tackles in Fremantle’s loss to St.Kilda in Perth on Sunday. His 104 CD points was his second ‘ton’ of the year and his first since Round 1.
Lachie Weller had 16 disposals and two goal assists for the Dockers, while Nick Riewoldt had 16 disposals for the Saints and Sam Gilbert 15 disposals before he was ko’d. Carried off on a stretcher, there were initial concerns about his neck but he was walking around without any discomfort after the game.
Geelong ruckman Zac Smith had 13 disposals, four clearances and 35 hit-outs as he out-pointed Shane Mumford in the Cats-Giants draw, while Sam Reid had 11 disposals for the Giants.
Charlie Dixon had 12 disposals, an equal game-high nine marks, a goal and a goal assist in Port Adelaide’s loss to Richmond in Adelaide on Saturday night, and Josh Wagner had 20 disposals in Melbourne’s loss to the Sydney Swans at the MCG Friday night.
In the NEAFL, Ben Keays kept his name front of mind with Lions senior coach Chris Fagan with 34 disposals and four goals in their 65-point win over Sydney University.
Jacob Allison was another standout with 30 disposals and one goal, while Matthew Hammelmann and Liam Dawson kicked three goals each. Blake Grewar had 19 possessions, Claye Beams and Reuben William had 15 disposals, Jono Freeman and Matt Eagles 11.
Jack Bowes had 28 possessions in Gold Coast’s 127-point win over Aspley, while Brad Scheer had 21 disposals and kicked two goals, Jesse Joyce had 17 disposals and Max Spencer 15.
Aliir Aliir, too, pushed for a return to the Sydney Swans side with 21 disposals, two goals and 10 marks playing at centre half forward against Canberra.
In the VFL, Tom Hickey returned to his best form with 21 disposals, one goal, seven marks, six tackles and 52 hit-outs for Sandringham, while Brendan Whitecross had 25 disposals and a goal for Box Hill. Lachie Keeffe had 10 disposals and two goals and Jesse White 12 disposals and one goal for Collingwood.
By peter Blucher