By: JESS WEBSTER
Proud ACT local Jordan Harper celebrates 100 games
There is probably no one more fitting to become the ACT’s first 100-game NEAFL player than Canberra’s born and bred midfielder Jordan Harper.
The 22-year-old will reach a century of games against Brisbane at Manuka Oval on Saturday after making his debut as a 17-year-old in the competition’s inaugural season in 2011.
It’s certainly been a long and bumpy journey for Harper, who has experienced the highs of playing in a home Grand Final for Belconnen, together with the lows of an ever-changing football landscape in the ACT.
He has twice been left without a home when first his junior club Belconnen dropped out of the NEAFL in 2014, leaving Harper the tough decision to move on from the club he first joined in the under-14s.
Harper attracted the interest of SANFL clubs, but decided to stay in Canberra to continue his tertiary education and further his football career, with the success of mature-age draftee Aaron vandenBerg a big inspiration for the fellow ACT local.
He made the switch to vandenBerg’s old club Ainslie last year, but again he would be faced with a series of tough decisions to make as the Tricolours became the fourth ACT club in two years to exit the NEAFL at season’s end.
But with the beginning of a new era under the Canberra Demons’ banner, it made Harper’s decision easier.
He is proud to have stuck it out for six seasons and resisted the lure of moving interstate, believing his football has benefited greatly from his time at home.
“I’ve had to move on, and with gritted teeth. Especially when you've played for three clubs in three years - that doesn’t help,” he said.
“But I just got on with the job, really, and took it in my stride, and I reckon it’s only helped my footy.
“The competition is only getting better and to stay in the region for so long is pretty awesome to think about it.
“It puts it into perspective to see where the NEAFL started to where it is now.
“It’s turning into one of the premier competitions in the country, and being part of that growth one is one the things I’ve cherished along the way in getting to 100 games.”
On the field, Harper is like a fine wine - he only gets better with age.
He made his senior debut fresh from winning Belconnen’s Under-18s best-and-fairest in 2010, and was a member of the Magpies’ losing Grand Final side in 2013 against Sydney.
By 2014, Harper was named in the NEAFL Team of the Year, also winning the NEAFL Goal of the Year from an individual play which started on the wing.
A gifted athlete who boasts elite endurance, Harper is a classic ball magnet and earned NEAFL representative honours against Tasmania last year.
Upon joining the Demons in 2016, he has transitioned from his customary wing role into an inside midfielder in the hopes of enhancing his AFL draft chances.
Harper is loving the change, and it’s paying off - he currently leads the competition in disposals and fantasy points, and is ranked third in tackles.
“I worked pretty hard in contested ball and tackling during the pre-season, because that’s where I needed to lift from last year and what I needed to do to go to a new level,” he said.
“Lear we had Josh Smith and the year before we had ‘Vanders’ – they got drafted as inside mids - and now hopefully this year I can keep improving.
“I guess that’s what I’ve done this year – it’s completely changed my game and I’m loving it.”
Although the talented youngster has always held dreams of becoming an AFL draftee, earning respect for the region’s talent pool remains one of his biggest driving factors.
“Coming from Canberra, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder where people have said, ‘you’re not good enough’,” he said.
“We’re always looked at as a little territory who’s into rugby league and other sports. I want to prove that wrong - that guys in this region can play at a high level.
“Canberra is not to be shied away from – there are guys getting drafted from here now – and in a few of years we hope the Demons will be a powerhouse of the competition.”
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