By Brett Kennedy
Mount Gambier AFL export Brad Close is a three-time premier as a Tiger but he hopes the iconic “yellow and black” catchcry doesn’t echo across the Gabba tomorrow night.
The Geelong forward – who earlier this season joined the league’s illustrious ‘first kick, first goal’ club – is confident the Cats’ best footy beats anyone.
Tomorrow’s historic AFL night grand final duel against Richmond will be bittersweet for the 22 year old who played eight games in the 2020 season, which was heavily altered due to COVID-19.
Named a club emergency throughout the finals series, it is likely Close will again don the join the pre-game activities and physically and mentally prepare to take the field in Brisbane on the off chance someone from the 22-man squad withdraws.
While Close would relish the opportunity to take to the nation’s biggest footballing stage – a feat beyond his wildest dreams – there is not a teammate he would like to see robbed of that opportunity.
A deep bond has been formed among the playing group during ‘hub life’ with the team recently surpassing its 100-day mark interstate, having lived predominantly in Queensland during that time while also playing in Perth and Adelaide.
“It (living in a hub) has been a really good experience,” Close said.
“It has been fun hanging around everyone and getting to know the players and staff,” he said.
“You might not get to do that as much if we were in Geelong and everyone was going to their own homes after trainings and games.”
Those tight-knit bonds were apparent following the Cats’ preliminary final triumph over Brisbane on Saturday, with emotions spilling over into the stands as players embraced their teammates watching on from the sidelines.
“The boys on the sidelines are just as pumped for everyone playing – we are one big united group,” Close said.
A two-time premier with North Gambier and part of Glenelg’s drought-breaking premiership team last year, Close has experienced big-game pressure at varying levels.
While he hoped to soak up all that AFL grand final week had to offer, he believed the club’s Brisbane base would give players more time to focus on their preparation.
“There would probably be more going on in Melbourne at this time so it’s probably easier than usual on the players,” Close said.
“There is still a little more happening around the place, the media attention has gone to another level.”
Close will join today’s final light training session, the Cats’ last before it runs out onto the Gabba tomorrow night.
“I’m obviously itching, wanting to be out there – everyone wants to be playing on the big day,” Close said.
“It’s good to know I’ve contributed along the way.
“This year was always going to take a lot of blokes on the list and the team with good depth.
“Come to this time of the year, there are lots of guys who are unlucky not to play and are capable of doing the job.”
Perspective is powerful and Close – who was taken at pick 14 in last year’s rookie draft – remains grateful to be on an AFL list.
“It has been a dream of mine to play a (AFL) game, if you had of said I would do that at the start of the year I would have been wrapped,” Close said.
“To play eight in my first season, I’m obviously proud of that and looking to build on that.”
Close has been fortunate to soak up the tips and traits of some of the modern era’s best players, including captain Joel Selwood, Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett Jnr, who will hope for a fairytale finish to his career tomorrow night.
“There is always little things that they pass on, even at training and just watching in games,” Close said.
“Knowing he (Gary) is going to be probably the greatest of all time, anything we can pick up is valuable.
“I 100pc still pinch myself to be in this position, day in day out.”
Close’s father Andrew, a champion of the Western Border Football League in his own right, will travel to Queensland to be with his son on the big day.
Mum Andrea and sisters Alycia and Emily will be cheering on the Cats from afar.
Once the dust settles on season 2020, Close will enter contract negotiations and is hopeful of continuing his AFL career next season.
He won’t be the region’s only former resident vying for a spot at the Cattery with ex-Dartmoor footballer Jeremy Cameron hoping to make the move from Greater Western Sydney into the blue and white hoops.
The AFL grand final kicks off tomorrow at 7pm (SA time).