Jimmy Tunstill will live every young footballer’s dream tonight as he tries to do what no Brisbane player has done in 35 years – win on debut at the MCG.
Set to get his first taste of the AFL in the Lions’ top-of-the-table blockbuster against defending premiers Melbourne at the MCG, the 19-year-old midfielder will find himself up against a hoodoo that is as old as the club itself.
Among 207 players to wear Brisbane colors in their first AFL game only 23 have enjoyed the extra special treat of doing so at the MCG. And only three have enjoyed a first-up win – all in the Brisbane Bears’ very first game.
It was Round 1 1987, when inaugural captain Mark Mickan and fellow South Australians Matthew Campbell and Neil Hein were members of the side that beat North Melbourne on a Friday night at the MCG to open the season.
Since then 20 Brisbane players have debuted at the MCG, including the current trio of Zac Bailey, Rhys Mathieson and Deven Robertson, and all have finished on the wrong side of the result.
The Brisbane debutants’ MCG hoodoo began with Tony Lynn in 1988 and Marcus Ashcroft and Chris O’Sullivan in the same game in 1989 before the quartet of Justin Leppitsch, Nathan Chapman, Matthew Clarke and Nathan Buckley suffered the same fate in 1993.
Then followed Beau McDonald, Tim Notting and Derek Wirth in separate games in 1998, and Shannon Rusca, now a popular front man for ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremonies across the football landscape, in 2000.
Rounding out the group are Richard Hadley (2001), Justin Sherman and Jayden Attard together in 2005, Tom Rockliff (2009), Jared Polec (2011), Mathison and Matthew Hammelmann separately in 2016, Bailey (2018) and Robertson (2020).
Tunstill, the Lions’ second debutant of 2022 after Kai Lohmann in Round 5, will be one of no less than 13 Brisbane players chasing their first MCG win tonight, A further seven are after their first MCG win with the Lions.
This group is in the same position as coach Chris Fagan, who will be out to tick off one of the club’s last surviving hoodoos in his 125th game at the helm.
All this leaves only two members of the side named to tackle Melbourne who have played in a Brisbane MCG win – Daniel Rich has a 2-1-16 record overall there, and Dan McStay is 1-9.
It is all part of an overall Brisbane hoodoo which has seen the club lose nine games on the trot at the MCG since Round 21 2014 and claim two wins and a draw in 21 visits since Round 7 2009.
In the last MCG win in 2014 the Lions beat Collingwood by 67 points as Dayne Zorko had 36 possessions and kicked two goals for three Brownlow votes in his 58th game, Tom Rockliff had 43 possessions for two votes in his 100th game, and Pearce Hanley 34 possessions and one goal for one vote. Jono Freeman kicked four goals in his second game, while current pair McStay and Darcy Gardiner played their seventh and 15th game respectively.
But tonight’s clash with the Demons will be just another step in the Fagan era in which his playing group has taken on and beaten a host of poor records at interstate venues that were in place when he took over in 2017.
The Lions of 2022 can draw enormous inspiration from the premiership sides of 2001-02-03, who had to conquer an even more imposing MCG hoodoo before establishing themselves as one of the very best sides in AFL history.
The team led by Michael Voss inherited a 1-23 win/loss record at the MCG from 1988-97 after the Bears had gone 2-1 in 1987. Even after a win in Round 12 1997 the club lost the next seven. And then, after another win in Round 21 1999 they lost four in a row, including Round 3 of their first premiership year in 2001, before the golden run started in Round 15.
Like Tunstill, Jack Payne and Tom Berry will play their first game at the MCG tonight as they join the West Australian debutant in replacing injured skipper Zorko, the unavailable Zac Bailey (health and safety protocols) and Gardiner (injured).
Ironically, Zorko, with a 1-11 record at the MCG, and Gardiner, a slightly better 1-8, are two of the other three current Brisbane players besides Rich and McStay who have won at the MCG in Brisbane colors. The third is Round 15 emergency Ryan Lester (1-8).
Harris Andrews, who in Zorko’s absence will skipper the side tonight in his 150th game, has had the longest wait for a breakthrough win, having gone 0-8.
Mitch Robinson and Eric Hipwood are 0-7, Hugh McCluggage is 0-6, Jarrod Berry 0-5, Cam Rayner 0-4, Oscar McInerney 0-3, Noah Answerth (0-2), Robertson and Brandon Starcevich (0-1).
Robinson, with a 22-1-24 career record at the MCG, has had most MCG wins overall among the Brisbane players from Joe Daniher (16-1-19), Lachie Neale (7-10), Charlie Cameron (5-1-8), Jarryd Lyons (3-7), Lincoln McCarthy (3-6) and Marcus Adams (1-3). But together this group has a combined 0-14 MCG record with Brisbane.
Among the other emergencies, Callum AhChee is 0-2 at the MCG with Gold Coast, Darcy Fort is 1-0 with Geelong and James Madden has never played there.
Tunstill, drafted by the Lions with pick #41 in the 2021 AFL National Draft, will be the 13th player to wear the #29 jumper for Brisbane, but only the 9th to do so at the MCG. And, not surprisingly given the club’s overall position there, jumper #29 has a combined 1-26 record at the ground.
The only Brisbane player to wear #29 in an MCG win was 50-gamer Jason Roe in Round 17 2007, when the club posted their biggest win against Collingwood by 93 points after Jared Brennan (7 goals), Jed Adcock (27 possessions, four goals) and Jonathan Brown (22 possessions, 12 marks, three goals) had starred.
Others to wear #29 for the club have been Andrew Raines (67 games), Alex Witherden (59), Andrew Taylor (31), Fabian Francis (22), Justin Sherman (19), Gary Shaw (6), Jaden McGrath (3), David Wearne (2), Troy Johnson (2), Shannon Rusca (2) and Darryl White (1).
White wore #29 in the last game of his first season in 1992, when his customary #33 jumper was not available. Sherman only wore #29 in his first season in 2005 and Wearne switched to #29 in 1992 after playing in #46 in 1990-91.
While #29 has had limited exposure with Brisbane it is a famous number at Fitzroy, where Lions Hall of Fame Legend Garry Wilson wore it throughout his magnificent 268-game career.
A product of Bunbury Grammar, the East Perth Colts and the WA Under 19 side, Tunstill is originally from Busselton, a coastal city of 41,000 about 225km south-west of Perth. He will be Busselton’s first AFL player.
Established in 1832, Busselton is a popular holiday destination known for its seasonal humpback whale population and the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere, which stretches 1841m into the sea.
It is also home to former world surfing star Taj Burrow, Olympic women’s hockey gold medallist Sharon Buchanan (nee Patmore) and actor Sean Keenan, known best for his role in the 2014 television series Puberty Blues.
Tunstill will be the eighth Brisbane player from East Perth after 1990 club champion David Bain, Craig Starcevich, Paul Peos, Jack Redden, Alex Ishchenko, Matthew Leuenberger and Llane Spaanderman.
It was also the club where the great Kevin Murray spent 1965-66 as captain-coach in his only break from Fitzroy and was the original club of ex-Essendon and West Coast player Michael Prior, father of current Lions player Jaxon Prior.
Tonight will be the ninth time Brisbane played in a 1 v 2 top-of-the-table clash and their second under coach Fagan. The previous one was Round 22 2019 when second-placed Brisbane beat ladder leaders Geelong by a point at the Gabba.