When the Aspley Hornets approached the 2015 finals series, they knew they had to play out of their skin to make it all the way to the big dance.
The NEAFL’s top side, the GWS Giants reserves, had lost only two games for the season and had trounced the fourth-placed Hornets by nearly 100 points earlier in the year.
Surely enough, the two would face in the Preliminary Final but Aspley had a hidden talent up their sleeve.
As the club had done a year earlier with the likes of eventual draftees Liam Dawson and Harris Andrews, another tall youngster would make his debut for the club at an opportune time.
Eric Hipwood stepped out onto the turf on Saturday, September 12 and made his presence known, kicking three majors in an 89-point thrashing. He wasn’t named in the best players and wasn’t the leading goal-kicker for the day, but the tall and lanky forward’s inclusion was enough to suggest he had a bright future in the league above.
“I wouldn’t say he came out and dominated our competition but not many kids that age do,” Aspley Football Operations Manager, Mark Perkins told Aflplayers.com.au.
“Any 18-year-old is usually trying to find their feet, so playing senior NEAFL is a great effort. I haven’t come across one to grab the competition by the scruff of the neck and tear it up thus far.”
Aspley would go on to play in the Grand Final against the NT Thunder in Darwin. Hipwood made the trip over and had made another impact on the contest, kicking two majors as the Hornets fell agonisingly short of consecutive flags — losing by one point.
Former Brisbane Lion and now Aspley skipper Cheynee Stiller remembers a lightly framed youngster launching at the footy like a veteran forward.
“He was a string bean 18 months ago but the way he attacked the ball in the air was super and we got full view of that when he played with us,” Stiller told Aflplayers.com.au.
“He’s pretty athletic, so he’d come out of the square and attack the ball at pace and that’s what stood out the most.
“His talent was obvious from the moment he walked out onto the field for us and that’s clearly why the coaches played him, given we had a reasonable side and were about to appear in our second consecutive Grand Final.”
Hipwood’s talents were already on the radar around the competition but was all but tied to the Lions given he was one of their academy products. With his kicking and marking available for all to see, he received All-Australian honours as a defender during his draft year.
Shortly after he was drafted by the Lions with pick 14 he has steadily grown into his role as a Brisbane key forward.
And even his Perkins was surprised the 19-year-old has had this much of an impact 15 games into his AFL career.
“I didn’t expect him to have the impact he’s had at the top level and I thought he’d take a bit longer to find his feet because of his slender frame,” Perkins added.
“He didn’t have the biggest body going around, so you don’t have to be too smart to figure out that he was going to take a little while to develop physically and that’s still the case to a certain degree.”
Described as a lovely kid, Hipwood received the Round 5 Rising Star nomination for his efforts in the Lions loss to the Dogs.
Having booted nine goals from his five matches in 2017, the 202cm forward also has the potential to play further afield in a similar role to a superstar Saint in the future.
“We didn’t even realise how mobile he was. We played him a bit deeper and didn’t see it as much because we needed someone to fill that role. He plays as a key forward but probably runs more like a wingman.
“He’ll be tough to match up on once he fills out. Opposition will struggle to find a suitable player to compete with his height and also at ground level.
“Down the track he could play a similar role to Nick Riewoldt — he can go up the ground and play on the wing. It might not be the ideal scenario for him and the Lions but it’s a potential due to his mobility.”
Showing undoubted talent in NEAFL two years ago and now putting together on the big stage, Hipwood’s best is still well ahead of him.