Country hockey’s best make names in state’s capital
“Those guys were there to play hockey and if you got whacked it wasn’t intentional whereas back home you might have got flogged just for the sake of getting flogged,” former Ipswich and Queensland hockey representative Jacob Burns said describing the main difference between playing in the country and the big smoke.
“It definitely was a step up.”
Transitioning from regional centres to test one’s self in the state’s premier competition is a well-worn path tread by many a promising player.
Country hockey hardens you up but the game is slicker in the city. The skill level is superior, the players fitter, faster and stronger, and the flow vastly improved.
For Hancocks junior Burns, who appeared for Ipswich and Queensland under 13s and 15s before dual registering at Redcliffe at 15, there really was no other way forward as he tracked towards a Queensland Blades jersey and professional career in Belgium.
“I don’t really think I had a choice,” he said.
“That’s the only way to do it. You’re not going to get anywhere by staying local. You really are just going to hold yourself back.”
Ipswich Easts junior Todd Watson also dual registered in the Brisbane Hockey League at 17 in search of a challenge.
Not quite reaching the same heights as Burns as a junior, the ever-reliable player, who lined up for Ipswich every year as a boy, had to wait until under-21s to earn his first Queensland cap before going onto win a National Hockey League medal with the Blades.
His story serves as a lesson in persistence.
“You might not be the one that someone else likes but eventually if you keep working at something, you’ll probably get there,” Watson said.
While they had different journeys, their motive was the same.
“I’m a highly driven person, so I wanted to see what I could do and match it with the best” Watson said.
“And you become a better player playing around the better players.”
Over the decades there has been countless others like them but only a few have left such an indelible mark on the BHL. This year, the BHL marks the 40th anniversary of the introduction of its Best and Fairest Medal.
In that time eight men to have played in Ipswich at some stage throughout their careers or attended school here have risen to claim the honour.
Watson (2003 Easts) and Burns (2013 Commercial) head that list. Dangerous long-term Norths Devils inside forward Tobias Figura (2014 Valley) is another to receive recognition.
Hancocks product Jason Greene (1999 Commercial) is also among them. As is inspirational defender Bruce Roberston (1989 and 1993 Commercial) who captained and coached Hancocks later in his playing days.
Frighteningly skilful striker Jacob Webber (2012 Easts) owes his link to Ipswich to his attendance at St Edmund’s College throughout high school. The other two had only fleeting entrances into the Ipswich competition.
Originally hailing from Bundaberg, Cale Cramer (2016 Bulimba) had a stint at Easts as an 18-year-old and George Clutton (2004 and 2005) spent 2013 at Wests in Ipswich as he wound down his career.
For those uninitiated to the sport, it is important to understand the gravity of the achievement of these men.
With Australia among the world’s best and Queensland one of its powerhouse states, the BHL is stacked with the country’s leading players.
Receiving this award places them among illustrious company. It also etches their names into hockey history.
Although Watson and Burns humbly played down the feat, with both saying personal accolades were not the reason they played the game.
“A lot of them (other winners) have done a lot of good things, so it’s pretty good to be thought of with them, to tell you the truth,” Watson said.
Preferring to focus on team goals, Burns lamented the fact Commercials did not take the trophy in 2013.
“I would have easily given it back to win the final,” Burns said still smarting.
“It’s nice but for me it wasn’t a big deal.
“I enjoyed hanging out with the boys to be honest. That’s probably the reason I played for so long.”
Brisbane Hockey is featuring posts about the history of the Best and Fairest Award and its winners on the association’s Facebook page.