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Hall of Fame: Nigel Lappin

Quiet but fiercely competitive Lion loved playing the game

June 14, 2016  10:11 PM

NIGEL Lappin thinks good fortune enabled him to be the footballer he became. His genes meant football was in his blood.

His mum's dad, Gerry O'Neill, played 18 games for Footscray in 1943-44. His dad's dad, Jacob, was a country woodcutter who played full-back.

In the north-eastern Victorian town of Chiltern, it was his dad, 'Jock' (real name Ron), a local butcher, who passed a perfectionist streak on to his son. His mum, Pauline, is quiet and determined with an inner drive that defined Nigel's playing career. There is Uncle Rowdy too, who gave him time, his brother Nathan, who gave him the occasional bruise and a lifelong friendship, and his sister Emma, a talented sportsperson, too.  

"They just loved their footy and talked about it non-stop," Lappin said.

Nigel Lappin's hard work was rewarded with three flags in his 279 games. Picture: AFL Media

Then there were cousins, Matthew and Jason, eventually League footballers themselves, who, once the grass had grown long enough, used to play scratch matches with Nigel on a vacant block two doors up from the Chiltern courthouse.

"You would be trying to run through the grass, falling down and bashing the crap out of each other…we'd all be bleeding by the end of the day," Lappin said.

It comes as no surprise to learn there are seven Lappins in Chiltern’s team of the century.

There was also his best mate, Mark Smyth, who died as a young adult with a brain tumour, but framed Nigel's ability with games on 'Smyth's Hill', where they alternated quarters kicking up the hill and then kicking down it.

Lappin learned plenty during those days, including qualities that became important after Brisbane drafted him as a 17-year-old. 

Lappin is one of seven players bearing his family name in Chiltern's team of the century. Picture: AFL Media

"The values I was brought up with included not to walk away when things get hard," Lappin said.

It created a character that could absorb the hard lessons from his first coach Robert Walls, whom he loved, and build a rapport with his life-long manager Ron Joseph, a relationship still strong today.

That character made him loyal to and respectful of his teammates, who began to build a bond under John Northey and then perform under Leigh Matthews.

Those teammates would laugh with Lappin when he worked behind the social club bar in his footy boots one night. They would call him 'Bushy' after Walls gave him that label because of his scruffy attire on a footy field.

Lappin (bottom centre) celebrates the 2002 Grand Final win over Collingwood with Lions teammates Simon Black (second from left) and Michael Voss (r). Picture: AFL Media

"Although I was quiet, I was fiercely competitive," Lappin said. Geelong players and coaching staff would appreciate that self-description knowing him in his current role as development coach with the Cats.

He was dependable too, with Claire, his wife, and four daughters, Milla, Chloe, Meg and Ally, important to making him settled up north.

Although Claire had to put up with his grumpiness on game-day as he worked himself into the right mood to play, she became part of a friendship group that was strong and long-lasting.

"The greatest thing I got from Brisbane is that," Lappin said. "I look back at the friendships and bonds formed."

The dream team (l-r): Justin Leppitsch, Lappin, Michael Voss, Chris Scott and Jason Akermanis cool off during the 2000 season. Picture: AFL Media
 

What Brisbane got in return was a champion. What football got for good measure got was a piece of folklore, with Lappin famous for playing in the 2003 Grand Final with a punctured lung.

"I'm a bit embarrassed about it to be honest," Lappin said.

The country upbringing taught him he would cope with the pain – although he didn't know he had a punctured lung – but could he handle making the wrong decision, particularly with his best mate Chris Scott waiting to play?

"Am I being selfish? That was the thing I was wrestling with for a lot of that Grand Final," Lappin said.

Three premierships, four All-Australian selections and a best and fairest, yet he still pays credit to others. Anyone who knows Lappin knows that's his way.

He's a footballer's football who made the most of his good fortune and is an ideal addition to the Australian Football Hall of Fame. 

FACTFILE: NIGEL LAPPIN
Clubs Brisbane Lions
Born June 21, 1976
Recruited from Chiltern (Vic)
Playing career 1994-2008
Games 279
Goals 174
Player honours

Best & fairest 2004; All-Australian 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004; premierships 2001, 2002, 2003; co-captain 2007-08; Victorian representative (3 games); International Rules representative (2 games)

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- Peter Ryan