By Myles Stedman (NEAFL Media)
It might have taken eight long years, but Sydney University’s Austin Lucy will finally bring up 100 games this weekend against the Redland Bombers.
Few players in NEAFL history are entitled to enjoy that milestone more than Lucy, who has battled injury, form, and life in general to reach three digits.
He may not posses the personal accolades and statistical marks other players of his vintage do, but make no mistake – the 31-year-old midfielder is a winner, a player as important as they come in NEAFL history.
Not unlike story of the AFL’s Shaun Burgoyne, you cannot tell the NEAFL narrative without Lucy. He has been playing in the competition since day zero – literally – play game one in Round 1, 2011, for the Morningside Panthers.
Since then, Lucy has proved to be one of the most influential midfielders in the game, winning a premiership with the Aspley Hornets in 2014.
He has come agonisingly close to adding to that every season since – again, literally – having been to at least the preliminary final every season he’s played, with teams all the way up the east coast vying for his services.
However, at the heart of the matter, Lucy is driven by nothing overly dissimilar from his peers.
“I really enjoy the game, and really enjoy the company of friends playing football,” he told neafl.com.au.
“I’ll miss the competition when I hang up the boots, that’s what really drives me.”
The qualities Lucy brings to a club has come almost as much from his teams’ failures as much as their successes.
“The seasons that get away always hurt, we’ve lost in a preliminary final three years in a row now,” Lucy said, referring to the Students coming short in that game each year since 2016.
“When you think you’re having a good year and you slip up, those are the years that hurt.”
Having played in the league since its inception, he boasts a playing resume with teams on it that are no longer in the competition, giving him a unique perspective on how the NEAFL has moved and shaped over its short history.
“It (the NEAFL) is starting to replicate what the AFL is doing,” Lucy said.
“Pretty quickly (after the league began), the local talent started to pick up, and that’s a credit to the pathways the juniors clubs have got going and the work the AFL clubs are doing to bring the juniors through.
“The amount of training has changed so much over my journey. It seems to be harder in every team every year to get a game.
“You used to be able to get away with training once a week, going out for a few beers out on the town every weekend, but as it’s changed, you’ve got to be so stringent now with how you look after yourself, particularly as you get older, with your recovery.
“Sometimes it can be less than desirable, but winning on the weekend always makes up for it.”
As we know, winning is all Lucy is about. After falling in the Northern Conference Grand Final in 2011 with Morningside, he took a year off from the NEAFL, heading north to Mackay for work before returning with the Aspley Hornets the year after.
At Graham Road came a premiership and a preliminary final, teaching Lucy everything he needed to know about what’s required to be successful in the competition.
“It’s an experience thing with how to go about your seasons,” he said.
“You’ve got to be able to perform at the right time of the year, and you’ve got to be able to lead in to the end of the year in good nick.
“You don’t have to win 20 in a row to be in there in the finals. Once you get some synergy and confidence together with the group, you only need to get a few on the bounce at the back of the year to take it out.
“It’s too mentally and physically hard to be at that level nine months a year. The key thing is knowing what to be concerned about, and knowing what to improve on as the season goes on.”
It’s this experience that Lucy is attempting to pass on at campus at Sydney University – only they haven’t quite gotten it yet.
“At (the club), one of the differences we face is that we haven’t got a home ground, so it’s hard to get the team togetherness you get at other clubs,” Lucy said of the differences between his current club and those before it.
“That galvanizes our playing group, because we have to put in the effort and organise our own social outings.
“They do put so much extra time and effort into the players at Sydney University, with the facilities, the extra benefits with the elite athlete program.
“I’m studying an MBA, and other players don’t have that opportunity to be provided with scholarships and tutors, etc.”
But what of on the field for the Students in 2018 and beyond? Lucy knows what needs to happen; it’s making it happen which is important.
“I think it comes down to doing what we do well and playing our brand of football, it’s about building our game off hard work and being the fittest teams in the competition, which is something we pride ourselves on.
“I think something that’s held us back the past few years, is when things don’t go our way, we need to show more fight in those situations.”
When it comes to life off the field, Lucy is happy in Sydney, despite there being plenty going on with the potential to derail another successful season; he’s not about to let that happen.
“Definitely Sydney,” the veteran laughed, when I prompted him of his choice between the three towns he’s played in with the best nightlife, “but I’m getting a bit older now anyway, so I’m usually exhausted by lockout hour.
Content to just hang around campus, at Manning Bar perhaps?