By JESS WEBSTER
Photo: Highflyer Images.
Being cut from the Brisbane Lions Academy may prove to be the turning point in NEAFL Rising Star nominee Oskar Baker’s career.
The Wilston Grange junior was 17 when his five-year involvement with the Lions Academy came to an end.
Baker had never represented Queensland at under-age National Championships level and was yet to make his senior debut with Wilston Grange, who he first joined in the under-8s.
But Baker wouldn’t be deterred by the setback, instead setting his sights on reaching the NEAFL.
He first called Aspley football manager, Mark Perkins, when he was cut from the Lions Academy at the end of the 2015 season to see if he could simply come along to pre-season training.
Baker re-joined Wilston Grange at the start of 2016 and not only made his senior debut that year, but played 16 games and earned a QAFL Rising Star nomination in a superb debut season.
It was then the tables turned – and this time Perkins reached out to Baker.
“When I got cut from the Lions Academy I rang Perko to ask if I could do a pre-season with them to get fitter,” Baker recalled.
“Then Perko rang me at the end of last QAFL season and basically invited me down to training, and said I’d had a good season with Grange and they would put me on their list if I performed.
“I trained with them all pre-season and then they offered me a spot. I was pretty stoked to get on Aspley’s list, because I just want to play at the highest level I can.”
Baker began this season with Wilston Grange in the QAFL, but was soon called up for his NEAFL debut after kicking four goals against Sandgate.
He played his first match for the Hornets as their 23rd player, which was an eye-opening experience for the fleet-footed midfielder.
“I was really excited for my first game. But I didn’t quite realise the step up was as big as it was from the QAFL,” he said.
“Even from the (NEAFL) practice games earlier in the year, it was just a big step from match intensity and physicality. I don’t think I quite realised that at the time.
“But I feel more comfortable now. I think I’m going to build in confidence as each week goes on.”
Baker did enough in his first outing to earn a second game against Redland last week, where he collected 25 disposals, four inside 50s and a goal, plus an MVP vote, as the Hornets won a thriller by 12 points.
Now the 18-year-old has a taste of second-tier football, he won’t be giving it up anytime soon.
Baker says he is proud of how far he has come in the last two years, and wants to keep growing into a regular senior player at Aspley.
“I think being cut by the Lions Academy, I had a bit of fire in my belly to go out there and prove people wrong by playing good footy,” he said.
“I think I’ve done that the last couple of years, and my goal is to keep doing that.
“When I get picked in a team, my goal is to stay in that team and cement my spot by playing good footy. That’s my goal with Aspley.”
Should Baker retain his place in the side this week, it will be his first match traveling interstate and the first against an AFL club when the Hornets play defending premier the GIANTS at Blacktown on Saturday.
While Wilston Grange will always be his home club, Baker said he feels more a part of Aspley each week, and hopes they can make it three consecutive wins against the GIANTS.
“Grange has been a big part of my life, but Aspley have been really welcoming. Is definitely becoming a home for me, and I feel more a part of it each week I’m there,” he said.
“I love the boys there and all the coaches have been really supportive of me and taught me a lot since I’ve been there, and I love it.
“I think every week will get tougher for us, especially this week playing against AFL players. But I’m looking forward to it.
“We’ve got to keep winning games and cement in our spot in the top six, and moving forward for the rest of the season hopefully we can string a few more wins together.”
The Rising Star is awarded to the most promising young talent in the NEAFL competition.
Nominees must be under the age of 21 and played less than 20 senior games (excluding games as AFL academy players) at the start of the 2017 season.
Keep track of all of our 2017 Rising Star nominees here.
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