On the cusp of three-quarter time at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night, Tom McDonald noticed a situation in the Demons backline.
After keeping Port Adelaide to only two goals in the first half, Melbourne conceded four majors in the third term to have their lead cut to 22 points at the final break.
With the Power swinging the momentum their way, McDonald saw a passage of play involving brother Oscar. When the ball eventual cleared, he decided to speak up.
“We actually had a big argument on the weekend at three-quarter time where the coaches had to ask us to calm down which was the first time we had done that during a game together,” McDonald says to Aflplayers.com.au.
“I told him he was chasing kicks up field while I was playing two-on-one back in defence by myself. He said he was involved in the play and I said ‘I don’t care if you’re involved in the play, come back and help me because you’re the full-back’.
“There was a bit of shouting while working out who was wrong and who was right. Because he’s my brother and is so comfortable with me, he’s happy to yell back whereas he probably wouldn’t do it to another player on the field.
“It was a relatively minor issue but it just escalated because it was between me and him. But we sorted it out, moved on and ended up finishing the game off well.”
It reminded the elder McDonald of when the two brothers were younger and playing table tennis at the family farm in Edenhope, 30km from the South Australian border, where the game would often end “with a bat being thrown and a wrestle”.
The duo were often disagreeing as kids, mostly because they had to compete for everything – first served at the dinner table, first to the PlayStation and first to the car for the front seat.
It’s that rivalry that laid foundation for their athletic pursuits but football wasn’t always the sport of choice for Melbourne’s latest Rising Star nominee.
“Oscar was always playing tennis – he was state level tennis player when he was younger. He also got into golf when he was around 14 and got his handicap down to about two or three pretty quickly.
“He’s pretty smart too. When he was in Year 12 at boarding school in Ballarat, he told the TAC Cup coach that he couldn’t come to training because he had an exam the next day that required all his attention. He’s pretty keen on his study and ended up getting an ATAR score of 99.4 or something like that.
“So he put footy on the back-burner when school was important. He even got dropped from his local Under-17s for a final because he wasn’t going to training and they didn’t think he was good enough to play without training.”
— Melbourne FC (@melbournefc) August 15, 2016
After finishing school, Oscar spent the year tutoring mathematics while continuing with North Ballarat in the TAC Cup. Following a strong second-half of the season, he won the TAC Cup coaches award and was named at centre half-back in the team of the year.
So when draft day came around, Oscar was a good chance of being selected – with Melbourne’s recruiters informing McDonald that his younger brother will probably be picked up before the Demons’ later selections.
And given the draft was at the beginning of Melbourne’s pre-season campaign, McDonald had to turn to technology to witness his brother’s fate.
“I was actually at basketball game in Melbourne watching United play but I had the draft on my phone also. I had training the next morning while Oscar, mum and dad were all back at the farm watching it.
“We were expecting him to go a little bit earlier but a few other key defenders around the mark went a little bit later which pushed back Oscar. I remember Col Garland kept texting me saying ‘we’re going to get Oscar, we’re going to get Oscar’ and that was around pick 35 so there was still a while to go but he somehow fell to 53.
“The basketball game was near the end and I rang him straight away but I remember thinking how it was almost a joke that this was actually happening. I was just hoping he would go to a Melbourne-based club and I’d be able to see him a bit but it doesn’t get much better than that to be honest.”
Oscar toiled away until the following August to make his AFL debut alongside his older brother which was a special moment for the close pair, but McDonald says the Round 20 win against Hawthorn was the highlight of their careers.
A week and 90 minutes of football later and the ecstasy turned to frustration, but the McDonald brothers are comfortable treating the defensive 50 like the farm for the betterment of the team.