You could easily be forgiven for believing St Kilda’s Jack Billings and North Melbourne’s Luke McDonald were brothers because they’ve been almost inseparable since meeting in Auskick.
Their journeys filled with multiple junior premierships, multiple representative team commitments and multiple best and fairest awards.
So it was only fitting that McDonald was in attendance to see Billings produce the game of his career against Carlton on Saturday afternoon, with the young Saint collecting 30 disposals and five goals.
“I was actually there because it was his 50th game. I went to his first game, but hadn’t been to another one except when we played them of course, and I was playing on the Sunday so I went along and sat with his family,” the Kangaroo told Aflplayers.com.au.
“He’s had a few chances this year and he’s been missing a few goals, but it all finally came together.
“To be honest, when I was sitting with his family we were all just laughing and thinking, ‘how good is this!’ He was playing so well and we were super excited for him.”
It was a performance in the making from the 21-year-old who has battled numerous injuries since being drafted in 2013, with a shin injury forcing him to miss the entire second half of his second year in the big time.
And McDonald believes his performance was a reward for how he has conducted himself in those times.
“He’s always been the ultimate professional. He never drank or anything before he was 18. Footy was always absolutely everything, whether he had the knee injuries, prior to being drafted, he was always going to make the most of everything,” he explained.
“I know he had a massive pre-season, he worked his butt off from the moment he got back from his holiday and he got in a full pre-season which is so important now.
“He’s so talented and it’s good to see him get that fitness base up and now he can do it over a full game.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge Billings has faced is the constant criticism, having been selected one pick ahead of Marcus Bontempelli, with many media pundits questioning his potential.
All of that aside, McDonald believes his handling of the matter has been exemplary.
“The way he has handled all the articles being written about him and the pressure placed on him has been great, I couldn’t imagine going through all that.
“No one would have guessed ‘The Bont’ would have been as good as a player as he has become. In saying that, it’s only the fourth year of their career so it would be good to compare him in ten year’s time. There’s no point in comparing them now.
“There’s always going to be that comparison because they’re just one number apart but I know in Jack’s head that doesn’t matter at all. He just wants to play good footy and at the end of the day the draft pick is just a number.”
Despite having gone their separate ways at the 2013 National Draft, Billings and McDonald remain as close as ever away from the bright lights of the AFL.
“He’s pretty much my little brother. We grew up two streets away from each other. I only just moved out of home this year, so the first three years we were around the corner from each other and we could easily swing around and get a feed or have a spa.
“Since I’ve moved out we usually catch up on most days off and I speak to him multiple times a week, but whenever we do catch up there isn’t much footy spoken.”
With Billings announcing his arrival on the big stage on Saturday, McDonald believes there is more to come from his former Oakleigh Chargers teammate.
“I know that he is going to get the most out of himself. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him but if he continues to go the way he is then he is going to forge a pretty nice career.”