Tom Cutler of the Lions gets a handball away.
Tom Cutler of the Lions gets a handball away. Morne de Klerk

Starstruck kid now playing on same hallowed turf as heroes

TOM Cutler won't forget the first time he was at an AFL match involving Brisbane and Geelong at the Gabba.

You could say it was love at first sight.

"I was at an impressionable age ... about five," he told News Regional.

"My family took a holiday to Brisbane and we went to the game.

"Obviously Brisbane was a very good team then and I started going for them.

"I used to wear No.12 because Jason Akermanis wore No.12. I thought he was a star."

"Aka" was best afield with 27 touches, two goals and three Brownlow votes that night in May 2001 as the Lions thumped the Cats by 55 points.

They would, of course, go on and claim the flag that year, and the next two.

Fast forward 16 years and Cutler will be back at the Gabba tonight, this time taking centre stage himself in the Lions' No.26 jumper taking on the Cats.

His love of the Lions - and in turn "Aka" - tapered throughout his teenage years as the Victorian's focus turned to simply making the AFL himself and playing for "anyone".

With incredible athleticism, the 190cm Cutler was destined to thrive in the sporting arena.

He spent a year playing basketball but was drawn back to footy at the age of 16, taking up an invite to join Oakleigh in the elite TAC Cup under-18 competition.

"I probably didn't realise I was good enough to play," he said. "A lot of people told me they thought I was, but I never really fully considered it."

AFL recruiters certainly thought he was, despite him being dogged by a serious ankle injury in his last year of under-age footy that kept him to a handful of games.

"I was lucky I performed really well in my bottom-age year (in 2012)," he said.

"When draft night rolled around I just wanted to be drafted by anyone really. I wasn't concerned where it was and what team. I just wanted to be a part of it.


Tom Cutler of the Lions marks the ball against James Kelly of the Bombers.
Tom Cutler of the Lions marks the ball against James Kelly of the Bombers. Michael Dodge

"I really prepared myself to go anywhere. The teams that showed the most interest in me were interstate teams."

The Lions pounced at pick 33 in the national draft.

Cutler turned out to be part of the intake - also including James Aish, Darcy Gardiner, Lewis Taylor, Daniel McStay and Nick Robertson - stemming from the mass exodus of 2013, in which Sam Docherty, Elliot Yeo and Jared Polec headed back to their home states.

While Aish defected to Collingwood, there is no such desire to leave for the other five, with four of them, including Cutler, having re-signed, with Robertson to go.

"It's been pleasing that we've been able to stick together as a little unit, all getting to play in the senior team at the moment," he said.

After a niggling groin injury and then knee surgery curtailed his debut season (seven games), Cutler showed his promise in 2015 (11 games) and 2016 (15 games) with some eye-catching displays off half-back.

He is now a lock each week, providing run on a wing under coach Chris Fagan.

He grabbed 28 disposals, nine marks and kicked a goal in the epic win over Essendon last week.

"I'm really enjoying that role," he said. "It maximises what I can do on the field."

The Lions will take great confidence into tonight's clash against the third-placed Cats after the win in Melbourne.

"It's important we bring our best game, and continue to build on the momentum we gained from that Essendon game.

"We don't want to rest on our laurels. Fages was really clear on that post-game.

"We have a young group that's putting in a lot of work into their game. That's all you can ask for."

Who knows, there may be a young fella holidaying from Victoria at the ground tonight who takes a liking to the Lions and the guy in the No.26.

News Corp Australia

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