Sport

Love of the Lions runs in rising star's blood

Ben Keays of the Brisbane Lions gets a handball away against the Port Adelaide Power.
Ben Keays of the Brisbane Lions gets a handball away against the Port Adelaide Power. Bradley Kanaris

AS A lifelong fan and now player, Ben Keays is desperate to see Lions home games back as the showpiece event in Brisbane.

"I know what's it like up here when the Lions are playing well," the Queenslander told News Regional Media ahead of today's home clash with ladder-leader Adelaide.

"I still remember going to the Gabba in 2009 when we were in finals - it was just amazing.

"I would love for us to get back to that so everyone else can experience it."

In front of 32,000 fans, the Lions won that elimination final against Carlton, with Daniel Bradshaw kicking five goals and Jonathan Brown four.

They haven't contested a finals series since, with average attendances at the Gabba dropping to 17,000 last year after hitting 29,000 circa 2009-10 and peaking at 33,500 in 2004.

The 20-year-old midfielder is more "emotionally invested" in his club than most second-year players.

It's in his blood.

His great-grandfather, Fred Keays, played with the Lions, of the Fitzroy variety, in the 1920s, with support of the club passed down from generation to generation.

Ironically, the Keays family moved from Melbourne to Brisbane at the height of the Lions domination of the AFL in 2002.

Eventually coming through its academy, he was snapped up by the club in the 2015 draft, before playing 16 games in his debut season - but enjoying only two wins.

"There is no denying that was pretty hard at times," Keays said.

Pressure built on coach Justin Leppitsch - one of the players he had once idolised - until he was ultimately axed.

"I got along with him fine ... but there was a bit of an elephant in the room I guess," Keays said.

"We just weren't playing well, getting smashed too much. It was a shame.

"I felt really sorry for him at times."

Keays, however, says "everyone is refreshed" under new coach Chris Fagan.

And he is certainly hoping the success Fagan enjoyed as an assistant coach and football boss at Hawthorn - four premierships - will rub off on the Lions.

"I didn't really know much about him at all, but then you heard the credentials ... the period he was at Hawthorn," Keays said.

Keays admits he was "nervous" during his first meeting with the new coach last November.

 

Ben Keays of the Lions is congratulated by Dayne Zorko after kicking a goal.
Ben Keays of the Lions is congratulated by Dayne Zorko after kicking a goal. Quinn Rooney

"It was pretty intimidating," he said.

"But I was just honest with him. He was honest with me. Straight away I just knew he was going to be perfect for the footy club."

After getting over those initial nerves, the former Queensland under-18s captain showed why he is already considered a leader among the younger Lions.

"We're a young group," he would tell the coach. "We just want a system we can play to consistently, we don't want to have to chop and change all the time."

Keays was dropped after the first round, but forced his way back into the senior line-up for round five and has been making the most of his opportunity.

He kicked two goals against the Bulldogs, and collected a career-high 24 touches against Port Adelaide.

"I think work-rate is one of my strengths, contest to contest," he said.

"Once I get the skills down pat I'm sure I'll be able to have a pretty big impact."

Who knows, one day he might just be leading the Lions in a home final.

News Corp Australia

Topics:  ben keays brisbane lions

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