TIMING is everything – just ask Noah Answerth.
After receiving the round 20 nomination for the NAB AFL Rising Star award, the first-year Brisbane defender was keen to express his gratitude for all the help and opportunities he's been afforded, and for the twists of fate that have him feeling lucky in so many ways.
One of those blessings has been the surreal experience of playing in the same backline as one of his boyhood idols, Lions veteran Luke Hodge.
Answerth takes on two Hawks in the round 11 win. Picture: AFL Photos
A former Hawthorn supporter, Answerth attended every Grand Final that Hodge and the powerhouse Hawks contested on their way to four premierships under Alastair Clarkson, and he's thankful Hodge made a comeback to lift the Lions.
"He was one of my heroes. I really liked 'Hodgey', even though Brad Sewell was my favourite player. Don't tell Hodgey that," Answerth told AFL.com.au on Monday.
"It's great playing with Hodgey. His leadership and organisation on game day and at training and around the club is great. He's a really good coach on the ground and he directs really well and I've learnt so much from him."
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The former Oakleigh Charger, who will turn 20 on Tuesday, is acutely aware he could easily have been overlooked in the AFL drafts.
In his draft year of 2017 his season ended after two games when he showed typical courage in an aerial duel and copped a fracture in his lower spine.
Answerth feels indebted to the Chargers for two main reasons – for fixing his back (which no longer gives him grief) and for allowing him to play on the next year as an over-age player (when he gained vital leadership experience by captaining the team to the Grand Final). He knows that without both of those things eventuating, he wouldn't be at an AFL club.
Answerth in action for Vic Metro at last year's under-18 championships. Picture: AFL Photos
The versatile runner's ascent to the Lions at pick 55 in last year's NAB AFL Draft was an emotional one for his family, given his father Steve played for Richmond under-19s and his older brother Kade had been a Chargers star but neither had cracked the big time.
"There were a lot of times where I doubted I'd get an opportunity at an AFL club," Answerth said.
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"I had my back issue … and my brother was a really good footballer but he didn't get drafted so I wasn't sure I would either. It really makes me want to make the most of my footy because some people don't get that opportunity.
"I spoke to Kade before and he's really proud of me. He's been a really good support for my footy."
When he first relocated to Brisbane, Answerth lived with teammate Ryan Lester, before moving in with Irish recruit James Madden. For a few months they were joined by Answerth's twin sister Stevie, who coincidentally had gained entry to an acting course at the University of Queensland before her brother was drafted.
Madden says his Victorian housemate is the most driven person he has met. Answerth said it's a quality that flows through to other areas of his life, including his plans to start a carpentry apprenticeship soon.
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"I probably got it from my brother. He's pretty driven and I was a bit lazy growing up and it took me a while to get that mindset," he explained.
Since making his AFL debut in the round six win over Gold Coast at Metricon Stadium, Answerth has played 14 consecutive games, 11 of them resulting in wins for the third-placed Lions.
He has been tasked with nullifying some high-quality opponents, including Sydney livewire Tom Papley, who proved too slippery in his second game, but he performed much better against the likes of Greater Western Sydney star Toby Greene and another Hawk idol in Luke Breust.
"Early on it was a bit of a shock to be playing on those types of players but it helps when you get a few games under your belt and when you've got teammates like Darcy Gardiner and Nick Robertson to learn how to play on those small forwards," he said.
Answerth, who recently signed a contract extension to the end of 2022, is excited by the prospect of playing in September and being part of the team that breaks Brisbane's 10-year finals drought.
"I'm just so thankful to the Lions for all the support they've given me. I pinch myself every day I go to work. It's a really good environment to be around and I've been really lucky to get the opportunity to come into the club and the team at a really good time," he said.
"Guys like 'Zorks' (captain Dayne Zorko) and 'Richy' (Daniel Rich) have been through the hard times and they're really cherishing this time, as we all are.
"We still have to take it one week at a time but it's a really good position to be in and I'm just rapt to hopefully be part of it in my first season."