It wasn’t the easiest start to Brandon Starcevich’s career.
After arriving at the Lions with their third selection and 18th overall in the 2017 National Draft, Starcevich faced two injury-plagued seasons before becoming a mainstay in Brisbane’s defence this year.
Despite the challenges the west Australian faced, Brisbane Head of Development Scott Borlace said Starcevich was cut from the right cloth to succeed at the elite level.
“The thing about him that stood out initially was that he was a good character and already had the traits required in terms of his preparation and professionalism to be successful,” Borlace told aflplayers.com.au following Starcevich’s Round 13 Rising Star nomination.
“From a footy perspective he was strong, tough, had speed and good athleticism but more importantly he had the character traits to play AFL.”
Growing up, Starcevich played for Mt Lawley-Inglewood Junior Football Club before joining the East Perth Colts program where he made a name for himself as an inside midfielder.
It wasn’t until joining the Lions that Starcevich, often referred to as a ‘contested bull’, would shift to an important role across a consistently improving defensive unit.
Borlace said his resilience to overcome a string of injuries, including two months on the sidelines in 2019 following hamstring surgery, and his ability to work hard learning a new position was reflective of Starcevich’s desire to improve.
“He’s had to fight his way into this side and our backline, but he’s played every game this year and that’s a credit to him… not only has it been beneficial to him (as a player) but to our team,” he said.
Starcevich has worked closely with Brisbane Lions defensive coach Murray Davis and four-time premiership player Luke Hodge during his two-year stint with the Lions.
Borlace believes Davis’ ability to nurture relationships and form a tight-knit defensive group has been the key to the club and Starcevich’s rise.
“Our defenders all play an important role (in our game plan) and they’ve worked really closely to help each other with their game and development,” he said.
Having someone like Hodge, who played a role as an on-field mentor to the young Lions group, was critical in reinforcing to the Lions that they were on the right track before their rapid rise up the ladder in 2018.
“(Hodge) really helped Brandon and the group with their confidence to know that they were setting up in the right places and doing the right things,” Borlace said.
Playing as a tall and small defender this season, Starcevich has played on a number of crafty forwards but two of his most influential performances came against Fremantle’s Michael Walters and West Coast’s Liam Ryan in Rounds two and three, respectively.
While Walters and Ryan still impacted the scoreboard, they proved important and steep learning curves for Starcevich educating the young defender, who at the time had only played six AFL games, on the differing strategies on the game’s best forwards.
“They’re stars of the game and our club is relying on a 21-year-old player to get the job done for the team… that’s been the most impressive thing,” Borlace said.
Starcevich’s fiery and competitive on-field nature is a stark contrast to the quiet and reserved young man off the field.
Despite his unassuming personality, Borlace describes him as an “absolute competitor”.
“When he crosses the white line he plays differently compared to his mannerisms off the field,” he said.
“Everything we want from a young player because we know it translates to on-field success the more and better they do it, Brandon is doing.”
With 18 games under his belt, 13 of which have come from this year’s breakout season, Borlace is optimistic about the future of Starcevich and the young Lions group.
“We’ve got a growth mindset and each year and game we want to improve and get better,” he said.
“If we’re focused on that then the results will take care of themselves.”
AFL RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2020
Round 1 — Sam Sturt (Fremantle)
Round 10 – Luke Jackson (Melbourne)
Round 11 – Kysaiah Pickett (Melbourne)
Round 13 – Brandon Starcevich (Brisbane)