Big numbers stacking up for a little Docker
THE Paul Kelly verse "from little things, big things grow" could not be more apt as a description of Lachie Neale's rise in the game as a Fremantle Docker.
Though he spent a year on the Gold Coast as a toddler, Neale was raised in the tiny South Australian town of Kybybolite, near the Victorian border, population about 100.
It was there in "Kyby" where the seeds of a career in the AFL first sprang to life as he kicked a footy around the wide open spaces of the farming community.
"I always had a ball in my hand," he recalled to APN.
"On the farm there's a lot of obstacles to aim at and muck around with. It was a big part of my life growing up."
Neale progressed to the town's under-14 team at the age of 10 alongside two future AFL players, one-time Melbourne skipper Jack Trengove and Alex Forster - the latter going on to spend a couple of seasons with him at Fremantle.
"I was a little fella running around then in the forward pocket for a couple of years," Neale recalled.
After being a part of four junior premiership teams, he attended boarding school at St Peter's College in Adelaide where he learnt to stand on his own two feet.
"I was a bit of a mumma's boy so it was a bit of a shock at first, but the school was great and you got looked after well," he said.
After starring for Glenelg in the SANFL, and then South Australia in the national under-18 championships as an onballer, he was drafted by the Dockers in 2011.
Although he may have reached a height of only 176cm, the 22-year-old comfortably stands among the current midfield goliaths of the competition.
Just one Docker is placed among the league's top-10 leading possession-winners in 2015 and it is "little" Neale - not Nat Fyfe (190cm), not David Mundy (192cm) and not Michael Barlow (189cm).
"The people I've got around me and even running out and playing against - some of the premier midfielders in the competition - I still have to pinch myself a bit," Neale said.
"It's almost embarrassing that I'm getting brought up in the same discussion as these players, because it was only four, five years ago that I was looking up to them, just dreaming of playing alongside them and against them."
If the Dockers are to beat Hawthorn in tonight's preliminary final at Subiaco and progress to next week's grand final, their onballers such as Neale must get on top.
"We've got great faith in one another as a midfield group that we're going to deliver each and every week," he said.
"If someone's not pulling their weight, we pull them up pretty quickly and try and get them into gear."
Level-headed and down to earth, Neale always looks forward to heading back to "Kyby".
"It's a sanctuary back there," he said.
"I get to put my feet up. It's good to have that time away ... quality time with your family."
And he's hoping this year he will be able to take a premiership medallion back with him.
TOP POSSESSION-WINNERS 2015
1. Josh Kennedy (Syd)
2. Dan Hannebery (Syd)
3. Andrew Gaff (WC)
4. Sam Mitchell Haw)
5. Matt Priddis (WC)
6. Lachie Neale (Fre)
7. Scott Pendlebury (Coll)
8. Jordan Lewis (Haw)
9. Patrick Dangerfield (Ade)
10. Dane Swan (Coll)