Geelong’s Brad Close has never been renowned as a flashy player.
Instead, the 22-year-old small forward’s game is built on doing the fundamentals well – his clean hands in the contest and the pressure he applies to the opposition are standout features. Additionally, his selfless nature to bring his teammates into the game underpin exactly why he’s quickly earned a high amount of respect at the Cattery.
“He just does the same things now at AFL level as what he did for us as back home as a 15-year-old in our senior team,” Justin McConnell, Close’s coach at North Gambier Football Club, told aflplayers.com.au.
“He doesn’t fumble, he’s extremely unselfish and he makes good decisions with the ball.”
They are ingrained traits that allow Close to concentrate on what he does well and gives him the opportunity to blend into the background like a chameleon in Geelong’s high-powered forward line.
Close, who has become renowned for donning the long sleeves every time he steps out on the field, likes it that way. However, when he rolls up his sleeves, in a figurative sense, is when he comes into his own as a player.
“I always look to be respected by my teammates and I base my game off the things that I can control, like energy and pressure and things like that,” Close said.
“I love kicking a goal if I can, but if it means my teammate kicks an easier goal… as a forward group we’re all working towards one thing and that’s winning the premiership, so it doesn’t bother me who kicks the goals at the end of the day.”
It took a while for Geelong’s recruiters to come across Close.
Hailing from Mount Gambier in South Australia, less than 20 kilometres from the Victorian/South Australian border, he did not follow the typical pathway that kids from the country seeking to play football at a higher level generally take.
Close had the option at age 16 to move to Adelaide to board and complete his schooling in the city, but instead decided to remain home and finish year 12 in the town he was raised in and stay closer to his family and friends.
Close continued to play senior football for North Gambier, increasing his goal tally every season as he kicked 20 goals in his first senior season, 30 goals in his second season and 40 goals in his third year playing as a small forward and on the wing in McConnell’s side.
“It just shows that if you keep working hard you can find your own pathway,” Close said.
Close charted his own path as a key cog in Glenelg’s premiership winning team in 2019, after making the move to Adelaide to try his hand at a level of footy higher than what he was playing back home.
“I love kicking a goal if I can, but if it means my teammate kicks an easier goal… as a forward group we’re all working towards one thing and that’s winning the premiership, so it doesn’t bother me who kicks the goals at the end of the day.” – Brad close
The youngster played four games in the SANFL club’s reserves side before then coach Mark Stone, now an assistant coach with the Brisbane Lions in the AFL, deemed that Close was ready for League football.
Close may have only been lightly built (he weighed around 68 kilograms at that stage), but what he lacked in weight he made up for in effort, impact and workrate, according to Stone.
“The match committee at the time, which included a couple of our senior leaders, said: ‘We can’t keep this kid out of the team any longer,’” Stone said.
When he got his opportunity in the senior team he took to it like a “duck to water” according to Stone.
The role he plays at Geelong now is not too dissimilar to the one Stone asked him to play at Glenelg and that’s why his former coach believes he’s been able to adapt his game to the next level.
“He became dependable and for me as a coach if I knew I could rely on him to go out and do his job I’d pick him every week,” he said.
The Cats spoke with Close throughout 2019 after he became entrenched in Glenelg’s side – which he admits came as somewhat of a shock.
After a consistent SANFL finals series, where Stone regarded the then teenager as one of Glenelg’s best players, the Cats selected Close with pick No.14 in the 2019 Rookie Draft.
Close made his debut against Fremantle in round eight, 2020, kicking a goal with the first kick of his career in driving rain in Perth. He played eight games in his debut year, falling out of the team late in the year as an established Cats line-up fell just short of winning the premiership.
It was a unique season for Close to experience in his first year in the AFL system following the COVID-19 season shutdown period and the three months the players spent in the Queensland hub.
“I didn’t really have anything to compare it to being my first year,” Close said. “I know a lot of boys found it strange and unusual, but being away with the boys for so long gave me a really good chance to get to know everyone really well.”
Close is regarded as a quiet personality by those who know him best, he is humble and when he does choose to speak up those around him respect his thoughts and views.
The accolade he received – he was adjudged as Geelong’s ‘best young player’ at last year’s best and fairest count – pointed to bigger things to come.
Leading into 2021, Close had a standout pre-season after working with forwards coach Corey Enright on his craft and looking at ways to stay more involved in the play. He was edging close to a round one berth, before an ill-timed foot injury delayed his preparation by eight weeks.
Close returned to the side against Melbourne in round four and hasn’t gone out of the team since, as the Cats have strung together eight wins in those 10 matches with Jeremy Cameron, Tom Hawkins and Gary Rohan all hitting their straps in a forward line that is functioning superbly.
As a key contributor to Geelong’s forwards group, Close is averaging 14 disposals, three tackles and almost one goal per game. He also has seven goal assists, ranking fifth at the Cats.
“He’s a runner, he applies great pressure, he’s selfless and he sets up scoring opportunities. If you put that in a package, that’s a pretty good small forward in the AFL,” Stone said.
Off the field, Close is studying accounting and finance online through the University of South Australia and like many Geelong footballers is a keen golfer. He and teammate Tom Atkins are members at 13th Beach Golf Course in Barwon Heads, on Victoria’s surf coast, and have a healthy rivalry as they look to lower their handicaps (Close is currently off 10.6) into single figures.
As for the origins and longevity of the long sleeve jumper?
“Being back in Mount Gambier it was pretty Antarctic and when I went to Adelaide it wasn’t much better. It’s a bit of comfort thing now and it’s going to have to be a 30-degree day to see them (sleeves) gone,” Close said.
Stone will be sitting in the opposing coaches’ box in Thursday night’s game between the two premiership contenders at the Gabba, but he could not be happier for his former charge.
“He’s a ripping young kid. I consider him a friend and I hope we’ll stay friends apart from those two hours on Thursday night,” Stone said.