Tongala’s Harley Reid kicks 100 goals for the season

By Riverine Herald

There are moments in sport when you get that certain shiver down your spine. Those moments when you know you are seeing something special.

And can relive them again and again as they have almost certainly been immortalised from every conceivable angle by live telecasts, newspaper photographers and myriad mobile phones.

But when you are in the local under 14s, kicking the dew off the grass at Congupna’s football oval in the depths of winter, anything special is unlikely to be seen by anyone other than parents, the occasional sibling and the volunteers around the club helping set up for the day – and serious footy – ahead.

Except on Saturday.

By 9am on Saturday there was a serious crowd already gathered at Congupna, and it was growing by the minute as car after car, filled with blue-clad Tongala players and fans, rolled through the gates.

Because they knew they were about to see 14-year-old Harley Reid do something very special.

He had already kicked 97 goals for the season; had twiddled his thumbs impatiently through the league bye last weekend and now was fronting up at Congupna to go for his ton.

The last time these teams met – at Tongala back in May – Harley had kicked an astonishing 20 goals as his team swept to a 31.15 (201) – 0.0 (0) victory.

There have been changes since then, starting at Echuca United on June 22, with opposition clubs swapping jumpers with the undermanned and undergunned Congupna (at least one of the girls in red had to jog off at three-quarter time, pulling off her footy gear to get into her netball uniform) to make it a more even game for everyone.

So Harley would spend the third quarter in a red top instead of his beloved blue, and much of the fourth quarter in the rooms getting restrapped for his game with the 17s.

None of which was germane to the opening 10 minutes of the game, which for Harley started with a bit of a stutter as he hit the goal post twice.

Then he switched on and the Harley Reid show took centre stage.

His first goal – from a strong mark – wasn’t outside the 50m arc but was still a long way back. And he drilled it.

Barely a minute later the ball was bouncing around in the square as he scooped it up, dropped it on his bright orange boot and dribbled it through for number 99.

But goal 100 was exactly what everyone had come to see – and it did give you a shiver up your spine.

Harley sprinted around the boundary, scooped up the ball one handed, without breaking stride, swerved around two opponents and snapped back across his body.

It was sublime.

Missile launcher: Tongala's Harley Reid roosts the football long.

At no stage did he stop to think, to look around, to anything.

When Harley gets the ball time slows, spaces appear that simply shouldn’t be there – and aren’t for the mere mortals in the opposition.

He kicks with both feet, can stand toe-to-toe with an opponent and still can’t be touched. He ducks, weaves, changes direction and fends off – all with instinct and extraordinary athleticism.

And a smile.

A huge smile lights his face – even when he was wearing the Congupna colours.

Which fits perfectly because there is no Harley in team. The Tongala under 14s are not about this goal kicking machine because he passes off as many as he kicks, maybe more, and he wants to do it, wants everyone to be part of the team.

As expected, he was mobbed by teammates as number 100 sailed through the goals, car horns blaring and mobile phones rampant. It seemed half the crowd was in some way related to the teen sensation, ensuring his cheer squad was also something special.

It has been a stellar 2019 for the dazzlingly talented young footballer. 

His worst returns have been two games with just two goals apiece and, horror of horrors, the Saturday he kicked just one.

Offsetting that have been four hauls of 10 or more – and that 20 against Congupna.

Reid’s coach David Graham, obviously delighted with the youngster’s success, still hosed it down at the quarter time break, impressing on his diminutive charges he wanted to see them continue their slick ball handling, sharing the ball around and executing the drills they practice.

None of that advice was lost on Reid; who was making himself blend into the huddle, just one of the guys. In the second and fourth quarters he would hand off at least 10 shots on goal to better-positioned mates and no sooner had he finished one game than he was running back onto the field with the 17s (and he didn’t score any goals there).

But he had come back on in the dying minutes of the 14s, kicked another four for emphasis and was then carried from the ground on the shoulders of a teammate and a Congupna player – a delightful touch reflecting the co-operation of swapping players.

Truth be told, Reid had already kicked 100 for the season – he had 12 from the 17s going into this round – but it only counts in the one division.

Graham doesn’t really expect the club to see much more of Harley.

He has coached the kid for two years and is somewhat in awe of the natural talents with which he has been blessed.

“Harley has been playing 14s and 17s every week, all year,” Graham said.

“He trains with the seniors and he is good; has that something you can’t teach, it’s either there or it isn’t,” he added.

The Year 8 student reckons he started footy when he was about seven and hasn’t stopped since. When he is not playing or training he just likes to take it easy – with a bit of kick to kick with mates at school.

Harley Reid, pictured in 2017, was selected for the School Sports Victoria 12 years and under football team that year.

In August he is off to Swan Hill, and then Shepp in September, for the GVL Academy trials for the Pioneers and he has already played in the Victorian Under 12 side.

And yes, Harley wants to play AFL – preferably with Geelong.

But right now his blood runs blue, very blue.

“Do I want to play GVL, or some better league? Why would I? I play for Tonny, that’s what I want to do,” he said waiting for the 17s to start.

“I have been to academy trials in Mildura and Swan Hill, am going back to Swan Hill soon, and they are great. As a bottom age player I spend more time there in the midfield and on the wings than I do as a forward,” Harley added.

“In the 17s I do the same and I really enjoy the challenge of playing bigger and older guys,” he said.

For someone who has just become the first player in the league – at any level – to reach 100 it almost seems as if that has been forgotten.

After all, it happened more than 30 minutes ago.

But did it feel good? You bet.

“Last year I think I kicked about 45 or 50 goals so it felt really good to make it 100 this year,” Harley said.

“Dad played for Tonny too, I think he played a lot of games (yes, dad Mark did play a few, setting the club record well north of 400 games).

Footy also runs in the family apart from father and son.

Harley’s older sisters both turn out for Kyabram’s women’s football teams – 18-year-old Jasmin and Hollie, 15, who is back this year after a knee reconstruction for a ruptured ACL.

Mark and mum Vanessa aren’t getting too carried away about the rise and rise of Harley – and conceded he isn’t all that flash at following their advice.

While Harley reckoned he got into footy as a seven-year-old his parents confirm he got his first ball as a two-year-old.

But mum and dad also wear their pride on their sleeves and there was no wiping the grins off their faces on Saturday morning.

And just as delighted in the way their boy plays as they were in his success.

“Harley has always been a team player, he’s not selfish and he likes to bring as many people into the game as possible,” Mark noted.

The only thing to be decided in the very near future is in which team he will continue to be a star.

He is outgrowing Tonny faster than he is outgrowing his footy boots, he’s just that little bit young to fully realise it.

Even if they’re not actually saying it, his parents, his coaches and anyone with half a brain, can see it.

Being 14 in Tonny is a long way from Kardinia Park and the AFL but once you have seen this football savant you not only know he has the package to make it, you know he has a very serious shot at it – because Harley Reid, 14 years and three months, is very special.