The similarities between Hugh McCluggage and Jarod Berry’s paths to the AFL are uncanny.
The Brisbane teammates first met as 16-year-old’s in the North Ballarat Rebels TAC Cup program before boarding together at Ballarat Clarendon College, where their friendship blossomed.
But it was slow-going for Berry and McCluggage in the early days, with Berry admitting the Lions’ Round 14 Rising Star nominee took a while to warm to him.
“He didn’t say a word to me until we started boarding together,” Berry told Aflplayers.com.au.
“It took two terms to get something out of him because he’s such a shy kid and he kept to himself.
“But once you get to know him, he doesn’t shut up and now he’s flat out all the time.”
Berry and McCluggage’s route to the AFL began in the TAC Cup and extended to high school, before they found themselves at the same club on draft night.
McCluggage, who was taken by Brisbane with the third pick last November, was in high demand that night when he realised his best mate was joining him up north, which was a special moment for the teenagers.
“Hugh was out the back with the media at the time, but when he walked out where the draft was taking place I still remember him giving me the double fist pump when he saw me.
“He came over and gave me a big hug. We couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces, it was an awesome moment.
“The whole situation of having Hugh with me has made the process of moving to Brisbane easier. It’s comforting because that interstate trip is a pretty big thing for a lot of kids so to have a best mate alongside you experiencing the same things is the best support network.”
As far as his football was concerned, Berry always knew McCluggage was a serious talent.
A particular game against Bendigo in Round 5 stands out, where McCluggage kicked five goals and had a heap of the footy.
While the buzz around his draft prospects were building and he was in contention to be taken with the first selection in the 2016 draft, it only seemed to enhance his performances at junior level.
“I think he quietly thrived on all the hype,” Berry added.
“He went about his business and was as focused as they come and he let his game do most of the talking. Week-in, week-out he’d be performing and getting best on grounds at each level and showing why he’d be right up there in the draft.
“While he’s a quiet kid off the field, he was a dominant force on it.”
Fast-forward to last pre-season and the pair both managed to sustain injuries before the start of the season, with Berry having knee surgery and McCluggage nursing an ankle issue.
A simultaneous AFL debut seemed unlikely, but as has been the situation throughout their careers so far, the duo wore Brisbane colours for the first time alongside one another in Round 3.
The trend of sharing key footy milestones continued as they sung the Lions theme song together for the first time against Fremantle a few weeks ago.
Unsurprisingly, Berry and McCluggage also live together and share a with Harris Andrews, who the pair have termed ‘dad’ because he’s the mature one of the household despite being only a year older than themselves.
Berry and McCluggage are enjoying their time together despite McCluggage knowing how to push Berry’s buttons.
And while Berry concedes the two do argue every now and again — like most mates do — the significance of their journeys isn’t lost on the 19-year-old.
“It’s funny how everything has panned out. What we’ve been through together is a good story and we’ve capped it off this year by playing our first games together, too,” Berry said.
“You don’t really expect all this to happen the way it has. It’s been unbelievable and it couldn’t have been more fun.”
RISING STAR NOMINEES IN 2017:
Round 1 — Sam Powell-Pepper (Port Adelaide)
Round 2 — Ryan Burton (Hawthorn)
Round 3 — Brandan Parfitt (Geelong)
Round 4 — Andrew McGrath (Essendon)
Round 5 — Eric Hipwood (Brisbane)
Round 6 — Caleb Marchbank (Carlton)
Round 7 — Sam Petrevski-Seton (Carlton)
Round 8 — Tim Taranto (GWS)
Round 9 — Tom Phillips (Collingwood)
Round 10 — Wayne Milera (Adelaide)
Round 11 — Dan Butler (Richmond)
Round 12 — David Cuningham (Carlton)
Round 13 – Jack Silvagni (Carlton)
Round 14 – Hugh McCluggage (Brisbane)