Lachie Neale and Lincoln McCarthy have gone from the state’s south east to Glenelg and now Brisbane together. Picture: Peter Wallis.
Lachie Neale and Lincoln McCarthy have gone from the state’s south east to Glenelg and now Brisbane together. Picture: Peter Wallis.

Laidback Lions’ journey from farm to finals jungle

Every Wednesday is golf day for Lachie Neale and Lincoln McCarthy in their new home in Brisbane.

"And sometimes Friday as well," McCarthy says.

"Being new to a city you don't have many friends outside of footy yet so we lean on each other a bit and just hang out, that's what mates do I guess, so the odd weekly or fortnightly dinner and the main one is golf.

"The boys love their golf up here mainly due to the weather being so nice, you don't have to plan for the weather, you just play."

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The two laidback Lions, who grew up half-an-hour apart in two tiny farming towns in South Australia, play for more than just bragging rights when they tee it up on the first at Brisbane Golf Club.

"Everyone always gets it mixed up where Linc and I are from - Naracoorte or Bordertown - so we've decided that whoever has the lowest handicap the other just says we're from their home town," Neale said.

"Right now Linc has got me by 0.2 (he's off 11.9) so we're both Bordertown boys … for now. I had him three weeks ago but he's pipped me at the moment."

For the record, McCarthy played for Bordertown while Neale, who is five months older, went to school in Naracoorte but played footy for Kybybolite.

The first time they crossed paths was as 10-year-olds on the basketball court for their respective local clubs and then when they made a representative team for the Limestone Coast. Yep, that's right, two blokes who now stand 176cm and 177cm were representative basketballers once upon a time.

"They needed someone to play that small position in point guard," Neale says with a laugh.

"I loved playing basketball but always loved footy more, that was always the dream."

Both boys shared the same dream and their journeys followed a remarkably similar path in their teenage years.

Neale, who grew up on a farm that included chickpeas, lentils, sheep and cattle, moved to Adelaide in Year 10 to board at St Peter's College.

 

Lachie Neale in his 2011 draft year for Glenelg.
Lachie Neale in his 2011 draft year for Glenelg.

"I was pretty excited about moving to Adelaide and getting to the big smoke. I love going back to the farm and what not but I couldn't see myself living there full time," he said.

McCarthy moved from his home in Bordertown to Henley High School in Adelaide's western suburbs at almost the same age, and they became teammates at Glenelg.

"We had a pretty good friendship, I think once you make rep teams our parents tended to car pool and you get to know the whole family pretty well," Neale said.

"Even when I was 13 or 14 I spent a fair bit of time with Linc's family and he would have done the same with mine, and we got on really well so since then we were mates."

McCarthy said what you see in Neale now - a hard-running, prolific ball-winning midfielder - is what Neale was as a teenager.

"He was a good runner so he got himself to a lot of contests and he could use the ball well," McCarthy said.

"We hung out a fair bit while we were in Adelaide together, particularly in that last year before we got drafted. We were excited for each other and stayed in touch ever since and have formed a good friendship."

 

Neale and McCarthy are five months in age and one centimetre in height apart. Picture: Peter Wallis.
Neale and McCarthy are five months in age and one centimetre in height apart. Picture: Peter Wallis.

 

The boys were together on draft night in 2011 when Neale had his name called by Fremantle with Pick No. 58 and McCarthy by Geelong at Pick No. 66.

Despite heading in opposite directions across the country, the pair stayed in touch with text messages, would travel together in the off-season and run together when they were home for Christmas.

Over 135 games at the Dockers, Neale became one of the most damaging clearance players in the competition and won the Glendinning Medal three times as best-on-ground in the Derby against West Coast.

McCarthy's time at Geelong was very different, constantly battling injuries he managed just 29 games over the same period and was staring at his own football mortality.

They never dreamt, let alone spoke about, the prospect of one day playing together but as the planets began to align late last year they both found themselves heading north to join a vastly improving Brisbane Lions team.

 

Lincoln McCarthy tackles Port's Aseri Raikiwasa while playing for Glenelg in the Macca’s Cup Final in 2011.
Lincoln McCarthy tackles Port's Aseri Raikiwasa while playing for Glenelg in the Macca’s Cup Final in 2011.

 

Glenelg's Lachie Neale won best on ground honours in the 2011 Macca’s Cup Final against Port.
Glenelg's Lachie Neale won best on ground honours in the 2011 Macca’s Cup Final against Port.

 

"We never spoke about it until last off-season," Neale said.

"They were two separate deals and our manager is a close family friend of both of ours so he was adamant he wanted to keep it separate as well which was the right thing to do."

But they were high-fiving when both deals went through.

"It was pretty exciting, we were keeping in contact and Linc got done real early which was good and I had to wait a bit but we were both pretty pleased," Neale said.

McCarthy said they originally discovered both were on Brisbane's radar through the media.

"We spoke about it pretty late in the piece thinking 'that would be pretty cool'," McCarthy said.

"There's another lad who grew up in the same town as me, albeit a few years younger, Mitch Hinge, and he was really good mates with my little brother so that's another dimension to it as well.

"But we're both from a little country town, played in the same league, got to know each other from 10 onwards, have formed a really good friendship and that's only got tighter since we got up here so it's awesome."

 

 

 

 

If they thought just playing together would be fun, the pair had no idea that was only half the story this season.

Both played all 22 games. Neale starred in the midfield and was named All-Australian while McCarthy kicked a career-high 20 goals including the game-winner after taking a spectacular mark against Geelong in Round 22.

 

 

"I had a feeling the club was heading in the right path but you don't expect to be sitting level top in the first year," McCarthy said.

"I thought maybe second or third year we would start to push the good teams, and personally I didn't have too many expectations on myself. I was just really keen to get my body right and play as many games as I could and I haven't missed a game yet.

"Form, like most players, is up and down but I'm just trying to have more better games than shit ones."

 

Lincoln McCarthy takes a huge grab against his former club Geelong. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/AFL Photos via Getty Images
Lincoln McCarthy takes a huge grab against his former club Geelong. Picture: Bradley Kanaris/AFL Photos via Getty Images

Neale came to Brisbane with a superstar reputation but McCarthy still had plenty to prove.

"I'm excited for him, he's had to do it pretty tough with injuries in the first few years," Neale said of his mate.

"It's a credit to how hard he works and he's looked after his body and he's done everything right."

As the Lions emerged as a genuine contender mid-year, it was Dermott Brereton on Fox Footy who suggested Brisbane had deliberately targeted country boys in their recruiting in the hope they would build a home away from home together and feel connected.

"I think they've recruited pretty smart, they've got Hughy (McCluggage) and Jarrod Berry who are pretty close mates and Bez's brother as well, and a lot of guys have been in boarding houses and I reckon Brissy has a bit of a country feel to it," Neale said.

"It's not so pressured and guys can relax so it's a good fit for Linc and I.

"Our partners are pretty close as well so we see each other a fair bit outside the footy club.

"But that's testament to the whole club, guys do things together a fair bit, it's a pretty social bunch and most guys are from interstate so we catch up a fair bit."

The other secret ingredient has been coach Chris Fagan whose close relationship with his players is plain to see from the outside looking in.

"He's such a people person," McCarthy said.

"I've got good relationships with all staff and players and he's a real motivator. As well as having relationships and method, he does all three really well and gets the boys performing well but also enjoying coming to work every day."

 

 

 

As the Lions embark on their AFL finals campaign, both Neale and McCarthy are keeping a close eye on their old SANFL side Glenelg which finished minor premier and opens its finals campaign on the same day as Brisbane's second qualifying final with Richmond.

"My old midfield coach at Freo Mark Stone is the coach there so I've spoken with Stoney quite a bit this year," Neale said.

"He's got the boys on a bit of a roll at the moment so hopefully they can keep it up."

 

 

 

Lachie Neale is among the favourite for the Brownlow Medal this year. Picture: Michael Dodge (AAP).
Lachie Neale is among the favourite for the Brownlow Medal this year. Picture: Michael Dodge (AAP).

 

 

 

McCarthy also keeps tabs on his old Geelong teammate Cory Gregson who is at the Bays, and admits it crossed his mind last year that he could have been there as well in 2019.

"I keep up to date with how they're going, it's good to see they're winning and Grego is on the park, it's awesome to see," he said.

"I'm pretty sure I thought about it (returning to Glenelg), obviously not to any strong extent, but there are so many different possibilities that go through your mind and that would have been one of them.

"I thought maybe last year could have been my last year of (AFL) footy so you don't really know where you're going to end up."

McCarthy is right, who knows where this journey will end but standing on the MCG in September together has gone from the most of unlikely of dreams to within reach sooner than they ever thought was possible.

reece.homfray@news.com.au

 

Lachie Neale dons his Glenelg guernsey at a Brisbane Lions training session. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Lachie Neale dons his Glenelg guernsey at a Brisbane Lions training session. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

 

 

Lincoln McCarthy as a junior at Bordertown. Picture: Supplied.
Lincoln McCarthy as a junior at Bordertown. Picture: Supplied.
McCarthy was taking hangers even as a junior at Bordertown.
McCarthy was taking hangers even as a junior at Bordertown.
Lincoln McCarthy of the Lions celebrates a goal during the Round 15 match against Melbourne. Picture: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt
Lincoln McCarthy of the Lions celebrates a goal during the Round 15 match against Melbourne. Picture: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt
News Corp Australia


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