Brisbane Lions Player of the week: BEAU McDONALD
Rnd 5, 8 April 2000, Lions v Adelaide
Over the past two years Beau McDonald and Matthew Clarke have spent countless hours working together in ruck training. Clarke, the 130-game veteran, club champion and State representative, was the tutor, happily passing on his many years of experience to the young beanstalk, who spent last Christmas with just six AFL games under his belt.
Not on Saturday night. They were still on opposite sides of the centre circle, but this time it was for real. No words of advice or encouragement. This was war. Or something even more important. Four premiership points. Clarke v McDonald. The Crows v the Lions.
And, given off-season events, it was a battle not just over four premiership points, but for a question of principle.
So, not because he was undoubtedly the Lions' best player in the five-goal win over the Adelaide Crows at the Gabba on Saturday night, but because it's been such a hot talking point, McDonald is the Lions website 'player of the week'. And, because he's been a fine player through the first five weeks of the season, and was a valuable contributor to the Lions' five-goal win in their first home outing of the year.
McDonald, who turned 20 last November, was perhaps the only person in the Lions camp who was pleased when, on the day of the 1999 club champion dinner, it was announced that Clarke had been traded to the Adelaide Crows. After all, there's not been a better clubman through the rooms at the Gabba than Clarke.
Not that big Beau had anything against the man they call 'Doc'. Quite the contrary. They were good mates. As ruckmen tend to do, they bonded very strongly. It was a special club within the club, if you like.
But, from a purely selfish point of view, Clarke's exit for salary cap reasons pushed McDonald up the pecking order. He became the No.2 ruckman behind Clark Keating, who during the '99 season had assumed the No.1 mantle from Clarke, the 1997 club champion.
And, as Keating has continued to struggle with a knee problem through the early part of the 2000 campaign, McDonald has become the No.1 ruckman in the club. Or, more accurately of late, the only specialist ruckman in the club.
Keating is out with a knee problem. Stefan Carey, who played the first three games as a make-shift follower, is out with hamstring problems. And Trent Knobel, the next up-and-comer who was promoted from the Rookie List to the Senior List this year, is sidelined by a chipped bone in his elbow.
So depleted are the Lions big man ranks at present that Tim Notting did much of the centre bounce work in the Reserves on Saturday.
So, whichever way you looked at it, the contest between McDonald and Clarke at the Gabba last Saturday night was going to be an interesting one. Important because it was pivotal to the overall outcome of a match between two sides desperate for a win. And spiced with a little personal side issue as countless people have debated the relative merits of the off-season decision which put Clarke in a No.4 Adelaide jumper.
Leigh Matthews has explained time and again why Clarke was traded to the Crows. He did so one more time at his Monday media conference. "Matty Clarke was let go for financial reasons. We had to let go someone who was getting the sort of money that Matty Clarke was getting paid. The decision to let Matty go was based partly on the fact that we had young Beau coming through, and that Clark Keating had become the No.1 ruckman."
If it wasn't Clarke, it was three other players. That's the cut-throat nature of League football these days, and the very essence of salary cap football.
Matthews continued: "As everyone knows, Clark Keating is not playing at present. So, Beau is basically our No.1 ruckman. And he's doing a good job. I think he's doing a really good job."
Matthews assessment of Saturday night? "In the first five minutes I thought Matty dominated. He probably got the first six hit-outs clearly. But Beau re-grouped and became a very effective player," said the coach.
His overall development? "For a player who has only played 10 or 12 games, he has been very good. Based on what he's doing now, you'd have high hopes for what he could do when he develops into a mature ruckman," said Matthews.
"We'd be a much better team if Clark Keating was playing. He's a proven impact player. Maybe the rucks against Port Adelaide weren't quite so good but generally I'd say Beau is doing as well as ruckmen do.
"You never count on ruckmen to kick goals and he kicked a couple of goals on Saturday night so that was a bonus. He's probably done better than we were hoping he'd do. He's been stuck in the hot seat and he's done even better than we'd thought. I'd say he's been a real positive for us over the first five weeks of the season."
Indeed he has. And against some of the premier ruckmen in the League.
Through the first five weeks McDonald has confronted Carlton's 1999 All-Australian Matthew Allan, Western Bulldogs skipper and Brownlow Medallist Scott Wynd, Hawthorn veteran Paul Salmon, Port Adelaide giant Matthew Primus and last week the Adelaide trio of Clarke, Shaun Rehn and Matthew Robran. And he's more than held his own. Not a bad effort for a bloke who now boasts just 11 games.
McDonald, living in Brisbane with his father John, the Lions boot-studder, and Ben Black, younger brother of Simon Black, is very much the quiet, unassuming type. No different from the fresh-faced kid who arrived in Brisbane in November 1997 as a late pick-up in the '97 Draft. Always works very hard. Always listens. Is what the coaching staff call 'coachable'. A terrific young bloke who deserves every success that comes his way.
The only noticeable change in the McDonald of 2000 compared to the McDonald of '97 is his size. He's a couple of centimetres taller, up to 203cm. And he's about 17kg heavier. With still maybe another 10kg to reach his optimum playing weight.
Happily, the young boy from Swan Districts, nephew of Allan and Gary Sidebottom, has retained his natural athleticism while piling on the bulk. His second goal on Saturday night, when he gathered his own crumbs and snapped over his shoulder, was a superb effort for a big man.
His marking, too, has been a feature. Perhaps not in great numbers, but the quality of some pack marks has been tremendous. A very positive sign for the future.
Indeed, how good will the ruck division be when Keating returns. Then coach Matthews will have the option of using either in he ruck and throwing either one forward, knowing that they will pose an extra-tall threat to the opposition. It will be a dangerous combination. And until then, McDonald will fill both roles.