By JUSTIN LILLECRAPP
Our unique football league spans over two states and two territories, with players coming from far and wide before they set foot on the NEAFL stage.
Humble Beginnings is a six-part series featuring players from each non-AFL club, uncovering their journey from junior football to NEAFL.
Australian football runs in the blood of Canberra Demons midfielder, Lucas Meline.
With a football in his hands since he could walk, Meline followed in the footsteps of his father, David, and his two older brothers, Matt and Tom, all whom played for the Leeton-Whitton Crows.
Meline spent his childhood in the country town of Leeton in New South Wales. Leeton, like any Australian town, has a strong sporting flavour with rugby league, soccer and Australian football the most prominent.
Meline followed a typical football pathway through juniors and was lucky enough to win a premiership in Under-15s in 2012. His father coached the team, strengthening the bond between father and son.
David played over 200 senior games for Leeton-Whitton and had a major influence on his son’s football.
“Dad, in terms of coaching me all through juniors, and looking up to him and just knowing the influence he had on the home club back home was special,” Meline recalled.
“He is probably the biggest influence from that perspective.”
Meline made his first-grade debut for Leeton-Whitton in 2014, once again playing under his father whom had taken the reins of the senior team.
Unfortunately, injury struck early in the season. A meniscus tear in his knee meant surgery was required. As a result, Meline missed the trials for the GWS GIANTS academy in 2015.
However, a full season at Leeton-Whitton upon his recovery ensured Meline continued to gain attention from the GIANTS Academy recruiters.
In 2016, Meline was accepted into the University of Canberra to study a Bachelor of Physiotherapy degree.
The big country town feel which Canberra has appealed to Lucas and was part of the reason he chose to pursue his studies in the nation’s capital rather than the big cities of Sydney or Melbourne.
Meline was lucky enough to be asked to trial for the GIANTS Academy as an 18-year-old in the over-age squad.
He took the opportunity with both hands, and was selected to play in the NSW/ACT Rams team in the Under-18 championships, which won the Division 2 title.
Along with playing seven games for Canberra Demons in the NEAFL in 2016, Meline played 10 games for the GIANTS, including being part of the NEAFL premiership-winning team against Sydney.
It was a longer road to semi-professional level, but Meline has now well and truly established himself at NEAFL level.
Meline has enjoyed challenging himself in all aspects of life, from his junior days of football to looking up to the senior players at Leeton-Whitton, and now plying his footballing trade in the NEAFL.
“I have always wanted to try and put myself outside my comfort zone and be the best I can be,” he said.
“I think playing at highest level I can (does that), NEAFL is obviously a great competition and it is growing every year.
“It is a really good competition that tests everyone in it and I think it is just good footy in the NEAFL.”
Meline’s club, Canberra Demons, are having their best season in the club’s short history after recently winning three games in a row for the first time, and sitting fifth on the ladder.
Meline, too, is having his best season to date in the NEAFL, playing the role of a tall, mobile wingman with clean skills whilst also adding the ability to play an inside midfield-type role when required.
He is confident the club is in a strong position to push for their first finals campaign.
“We have got a really good culture around the club; our coaches have spoken about laying the foundation to build a good team culture,” he said.
“I think we have really achieved that. I think it shows – we are playing a good brand of footy when we string it together.
“I think that (making finals) is definitely a goal we have had from the start of the season, but we are really focused on the short term, week by week, just play our best footy week in week out.”
The passion Meline has for his home town of Leeton and the football community there is palpable, as he recounts his father’s decades of service to the Leeton-Whitton Crows, and the 2017 Grand Final which ended a 39-year premiership drought for the proud club.
“My best footballing memory was probably last year, it wasn’t actually me playing, but my home side Leeton actually won the Grand Final last year,” he said.
“I went home and watched the Grand Final and one of my brothers, Tom, was playing in it, so it was a really big moment for the whole town and the family.
“I think that was a really big moment to go home and see the emotions of the team and everyone around the club when we won.
“That is probably one of the biggest memories from my local club growing up. I have a lot of pride, and a lot of time for Leeton. It has really shaped me into the person I am, and the person I am growing in to.
“I love to go back there whenever I get the chance.”