Keays committed to restoring Brisbane Lions’ pride
BEN Keays' earliest footballing memory was cheering on at the MCG as his beloved Brisbane Lions claimed their first ever AFL Grand Final victory in 2001.
His most vivid from his childhood, however, was probably the moment the Lions' reign as king of the AFL jungle officially ended. The Lions had won three straight flags, before Port Power shocked them in the 2004 decider.
Keays was there as a seven-year-old in the crowd, draped in Lions' gear.
His great-grandfather, Fred Keays, had played for Fitzroy in the 1920s and in turn Keays' dad had barracked for the club and then ultimately Brisbane when the two merged in 1997.
"We sat at the very top of the MCG, the very last row of seats," he recalled to APN. "I remember (Port defender) Chad Cornes standing on the fence after the siren went. I could not get the Port Adelaide song out of my head.
"I just bawled my eyes out, couldn't believe it. At that age I didn't really know any better, so when they lost I was like 'what's going on?'
"I had just been used to them winning all the time.
"I was that upset, that distraught.
"I got used to them missing out on the finals after that unfortunately, but I've still stuck with the club."
And the 18-year-old, who moved with his family from Melbourne to Brisbane in 2002, is determined to help lead the club back up the ladder after falling on hard times since its premiership days.
Keays was selected by the Lions at pick No.24 in last month's national draft after graduating from their academy and is relishing moments like sharing a barbecue lunch with legendary coach Leigh Matthews and taking advice from his hero, former club champion and now assistant coach Simon Black.
"They (the club) have had a few cracks at it. Boys have packed up and left and they've kind of had to start again," Keays said. "But, there's so many local boys running around now, there's a good vibe.
"I think the interstate boys have to understand that once the club starts winning again everyone hops backs on - there's so much more media attention, bigger crowds, 30k at the Gabba.
"Some of the interstate boys haven't experience that yet so they're not sure.
"Hopefully the boys that left will see what they're missing out on."
A hard-running midfielder who started his career at Morningside before crossing to Redland in the NEAFL, Keays captained Queensland at this year's national under-18 titles, winning the Hunter Harrison Medal as the best player of division two, and made the All-Australian team for a second straight year.
He hasn't bled for his club yet, but having started pre-season training, there has now been plenty of sweat to add to the tears of yesteryear.
"First-years have been kind of held back a bit with the running," he said, referring to the young recruits such as himself.
"But I did three of the drills (during his first training session with the senior group) and I felt like I was going to collapse I was that tired.
"I couldn't breathe ... just because of nerves I guess. I was working that hard trying to keep up the intensity that I kind of blew myself up.
"You don't want to stuff it up in front of all the senior boys.
"I'm kind of used to it now."