AustralianFootball.com Celebrating the history of the great Australian game
21 June 1976 (age 46)
Place of birth
Corowa, NSW (2646)
Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 17y 292d
Last game: 31y 296d
Height and weight
Height: 188 cm
Weight: 87 kg
State of origin
Gerry O'Neill (Grandfather)Matthew Lappin (Cousin)
|Club||League||Career span||Games||Goals||Avg||Win %||AKI||AHB||AMK||BV|
AFL: 10,485th player to appear, 144th most games played, 511th most goals kickedBrisbane: 126th player to appear, 5th most games played, 15th most goals kicked
The fourth, and certainly the most underrated member of the famous Brisbane midfield of the late 1990s and early 2000s known colloquially as the ‘fab four’ (with Michael Voss, Simon Black, and Jason Akermanis), Nigel Lappin lost very little in pure footballing terms to his more illustrious teammates. But when it came to the intangibles such as footballing nous, determination, and commitment to the team cause, he lost absolutely nothing. Lappin was a footballer's footballer, not to mention a coach’s dream. His longest served coach, Leigh Matthews, said of him:
"As great as Nigel's reputation was, he was an even better player than his reputation…he wasn't a limelight player and sometimes high profile and ability get confused…the perfect player wins his own ball, uses it well when he has got it and works very hard to get it back off the opposition. Very few players have done that as well as Nigel."
Nigel Lappin was born in Corowa in New South Wales, and raised in the nearby Victorian town of Chiltern. He came from a long line of local footballing talent, indeed, there are no less than seven Lappins in the Chiltern 'team of the century'.
This lineage, coupled with impressive performances in junior and country football, including selection in the Under-17 All-Australian team in the wake of the 1993 Teal Cup, and the Chilton best and fairest, led to him being selected by the Brisbane Bears at number two (priority selection) in the 1993 national draft.
Mentally mature for his years, he adapted quickly to AFL football, becoming a key member of the Bears line-up that stormed into the finals in 1995, and was selected for Victoria (State of Origin) the next year. Bulking up from 72kg when he arrived at the Gabba, to 87 kg at his peak, Lappin became a model of consistency, running all day through the midfield, going forward to kick goals, and dropping back in defence when required.
After building a close rapport with his first coach Robert Walls, by whom he was greatly influenced, Lappin’s game continued to develop under the tutelage of John Northey and Leigh Matthews, reaching its peak during the halcyon years of the Brisbane Lions between 2001 and 2004. Along with his midfield mates, he was regarded as one of the best footballers in the competition. As the fourth member of the fab four, he often flew under the radar, but inside the club his worth was fully appreciated. So was his toughness, as exemplified by his presence and subsequent performance in the 2003 Grand Final against Collingwood.
In what has now become a part of footy folklore, Lappin sustained what should have been a season-ending broken rib in the preliminary final against Sydney. Undeterred, Lappin declared himself fit to play in the decider against the Pies, but in order to do so, he had to pass the Leigh Matthews’ fitness test, the type of torrid affair that had scuppered Alan Richardson’s premiership dream back in 1990. As teammate Jonathan Brown describes it, the test was a ‘brutal’ ordeal.
“The fitness test is, Leigh kicks the ball to Nigel (who) runs out and has to take the mark. One of the emergencies runs in from the side and spear tackles him, not once, over and over again. Lappo is so tough, he wouldn’t give in. They did it over and over again. Lappo was in a lot of pain but he wouldn’t give in. They probably would have done it 15/20 times.” Unbeknownst at the time, the test had punctured Lappin’s lung.
“They load his ribs up and try and put as much painkiller in his ribs as possible. Forty-five minutes before the game they were still arguing over whether he was going to play.”¹
As the opening bounce drew closer, Lappin told the playing group that he was good to go. Brown said Lappin’s courage fired the whole team up.
Notwithstanding strict instructions to keep the rib injury a secret, Jason Akermanis had informed a mid-week press conference (and thereby the Collingwood football club) of the fact, yet despite this Lappin played very well in the victorious premiership side, contesting, running, and absorbing the punishment, and all the while struggling to breathe.
Lappin came back better than ever in 2004, playing every game, winning his first (and only) club best and fairest (the Merrett-Murray trophy) and gaining his fourth All-Australian jumper in a row. It wasn’t enough to get the Lions over the line in the decider against Port Adelaide, but it was enough to establish Lappin as one of the greats of the modern game.
For Lappin and the Brisbane Lions, the next four years were frustrating, to say the least. A precipitous fall from grace for the once mighty Lions coincided with a string of injuries to Lappin that limited him to 38 games and curtailed his effectiveness. When he did play, he played well, but the glory days were over, and in 2008 he announced his retirement after failing to recover from an Achilles tendon injury.
In late 2008, Lapping was appointed as an assistant coach at Geelong, a position he has held ever since. In 2016 he was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame.
Author - Adam Cardosi