Former forward Josh Walker has been in career-best form for the Brisbane Lions this season in the backline. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty
Former forward Josh Walker has been in career-best form for the Brisbane Lions this season in the backline. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty

Reinvented Lion relishes defence

FROM a young age, Josh Walker always maintained the belief he would eventually make it as an AFL footballer.

He just didn't envisage it would be as a key defender.

The 26-year-old is in career-best form with Brisbane and may have finally cemented a spot in a starting 22.

It was something he struggled to do when playing up the other end in four seasons with Geelong and his first three with the Lions.

Heading into today's clash with Essendon at the MCG, Walker is fresh off a dominant display - including a career-high 16 marks in the back half - in the win over Port Adelaide last Saturday, which saw them go 3-0.

"I think my skill set suits it," the reinvented 77-gamer said this week. "I'm competitive and strong overhead.

"I take what I've learnt in the forward line, with positioning and stuff, and apply that to the backline.

"I find it to be quite easy because you just think like a forward - you go to the same spot as them as opposed to just following them around.

"I'm pretty happy with how it has worked out so far. I've still got things to improve on.

"I want to be one of the team's and the competition's better key defenders."

Josh Walker is in the AFL's top 10 this season for intercepts and marks. Picture: Chris Kidd
Josh Walker is in the AFL's top 10 this season for intercepts and marks. Picture: Chris Kidd

Always a forward growing up in Geelong, Walker was recruited by the Cats in 2011 to partner spearhead Tom Hawkins.

Grandfather Peter played 159 games for the Cats and was a member of their 1963 premiership side.

Walker was in and out of the Geelong side, showing glimpses here and there of his aerial prowess and ability to kick a goal.

He managed five in a match against the Lions midway through 2015 - and claimed his only Brownlow Medal vote - but by the end of the season he was in a Lions jumper.

"It's underrated how hard it is to play there (in attack) at the moment, the modern game," Walker said.

"Teams are so good at getting an extra player back to defend.

"Quite often you think you've got your man beat only for someone else to fly over to spoil.

"It was so difficult, particularly in a team that's not winning a lot of the ball, not going too well. I did struggle a bit."

Walker played the first four games of last season, but would kick just one goal before being dumped to the reserves again.

He would return to the team 10 weeks later, but in a different guise, filling in for the injured Harris Andrews down back.

"I'd spoken about it (a switch) before with coaches," Walker recalled. "But there was still a necessity at the time for us to have a bigger, experienced body (in attack to protect youngsters such as Eric Hipwood).

"I had to shoulder that load, regardless of whether it was good for me. I first went down there out of necessity and it just sort of clicked. This preseason we stuck with it."

As a pillar in defence, Walker is in the top 10 this season for intercepts and marks.

"To stay in the AFL you've got to have that belief in yourself ... I always thought I'd be all right if I stuck at it," Walker said.

"I was never the most polished player. It was always just work rate and competitiveness.

"They are the things that keep you in it. You see guys who are highly skilled, but if they don't have that drive and that resilience they can find themselves out of the system.

"While I did have some tough times, I always had confidence that I could make it.

"It's nice now to be playing good footy."

Walker has formed a good relationship with defensive general Luke Hodge, on and off the field.

Once fierce rivals at Geelong and Hawthorn, they now play golf together each week.

"He's been putting a lot of time into his golf at the moment," Walker said. "He's desperate to get his handicap lower than mine. He's 16, I'm 15."

While the forwards are more likely to get the plaudits - Walker was denied a coach's vote last week - he doesn't miss the attack.

"We've got a really settled back six or seven there at the moment - makes it easier to play with. We've just got a selfless group," he said.

"It's always nice when the mids are getting the ball out of the middle more (but) I don't miss it at all, to be honest.

"More than happy to just play my role down back.

"If we restrict teams to low scores and guys like Hipwood and (Dan) McStay are getting on the board, it's good for the team.

"I'm much happier playing on a winning team."

News Corp Australia

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