By ZAC MILBANK
As Brisbane ball magnet Lachie Neale streaked toward victory in the 2020 Brownlow Medal count, he joined an illustrious group of SANFL stars to win the AFL’s coveted individual trophy.
Polling a massive 31 votes to finish well clear of second-placed Port veteran Travis Boak on 21, the boy from Kybybolite now sits comfortably alongside the likes of fellow Croweaters Malcolm Blight (1978), John Platten (1987) and Mark Ricciuto (2003).
The first South Australian to win the Brownlow Medal since Adam Cooney in 2008, the Glenelg draftee was most excited to emulate the feat of another Croweater in 1993 – Essendon’s Gavin Wanganeen.
“I dreamt about being Gavin, but his skills are much silkier than mine,’’ Neale said.
Starting his football journey in the tiny south-east town of Kybybolite, Neale became used to playing for the Tigers locally and upon joining Glenelg’s Under 16s in 2009.
”I think it was just my love of the game – I just loved it so much,” Neale said when asked what sparked his hunger to eventually become one of the AFL’s finest midfielders.
”Every second of every day I wanted to be kicking a footy or chasing a footy around even on the farm.
”I was always pestering my dad or my step dad to kick the footy with me. It was something I wanted so badly, I almost willed it to happen in a way. All I wanted to do was play AFL footy, that was my dream.”
Neale played alongside former Melbourne captain Jack Trengove and current Glenelg premiership defender Andrew Bradley at Kybybolite before venturing up to Brighton Road.
”My earliest memory was when I was about 11 or 12 years old and he would have been a couple of years younger but we were both playing in the Under-14s,” Bradley said.
”Lachie was a natural ball-winner and smaller than most blokes out on the field but managed to find the footy super easy and didn’t look out of place.
”I saw a picture of him just yesterday, someone sent one through of me and him in a Kyby guernsey. He was probably 10 but he looked like he was about six!”
Bradley said Neale was always ”super determined” whenever he crossed the white line, a trait which continues to serve him well after playing 177 AFL games for the Dockers and Lions.
”I remember playing school footy against him when I was at Westminster and he was at St Peter’s. I was in Year 12 and he would have been Year 10 and I lined up next to him thinking I’ve got this bloke covered because he’s a bit smaller.
”But the ball would bounce and he would just be so determined to get it. I just remember being really annoyed as I felt like I should have been on top of him but he was super determined to get the footy and refused to be beaten.
”I guess that’s helped him go all the way through to where he is now.”
It was clear Neale was destined for success when he didn’t look out of place featuring in the Bays 2010 Under-18 premiership win against the Bloods after playing just three games that season as an ”under-ager.”
His final season at Glenelg in 2011 where he made significant inroads toward achieving his dream of being called at pick No.58 by Fremantle in that year’s AFL Draft.
Kicking two goals in his SANFL League debut for the Tigers in Round 17 against Port Adelaide, Neale played the next six games in succession with the Bays’ senior team including the Elimination Final against South Adelaide.
”He was playing some awesome footy in the Under-18s and then he came into senior footy and I knew he would go well,” said Bradley, who was injured for the cut-throat decider against the Panthers.
”I think he ended up having 20-25 touches that game and was probably in our best four or five as a 17-year-old which was a fair effort.”
With the Tigers’ seniors out of finals action, Neale went back to the Under-18s where he racked up 40 disposals en route to winning the Alan Stewart Medal as best afield in the losing Grand Final.
”I still watch Glenelg and track how they are going,” Neale told Glenelg fans via a Facebook video message earlier this year.
”It was awesome to see them win the premiership last year (2019).”
If Bradley has his way, Neale finishing his glittering career with the Bays would be his dream come true.
”He’s very supportive and is always willing to help out the club with anything you ask of him,” Bradley said.
”Everyone knows he’s a quality person who would do anything for the club. It would be great to welcome him back one day, I am sure we would find a spot for him somewhere.
”But he’s got plenty of good years of AFL footy ahead of him – hopefully it would be nice to see him return in the black and gold one day.”