Ben Keays will build a new chapter in his football life in 2020, closing the book on an enduring association with Queensland's first AFL team. 

He was always destined to support the Brisbane Lions, following in the footsteps of his late great-grandfather Fred, who played for Fitzroy in the VFL from 1919 to 1921. 

As a four-year-old, he witnessed Brisbane claim a breakthrough premiership win over Essendon in 2001. He then cried all the way home after the 2004 decider when the Lions’ run of three consecutive flags came to an end.

Keays then went on to join the Lions Academy as a teenager, ultimately leading to him being drafted by Brisbane with pick No.24 in the 2015 National Draft. 

Ben Keays (left) representing the Lions Academy in 2012. Photo: Instagram / @benkeays

His immense connection to the Lions is undeniable, and Keays admits it was “very disappointing” to be told his time there was up at the conclusion of Season 2019.

“It’s sometimes hard to put into words,” he told AFC Media.

“In that situation, you have a feeling that it's going to be the end. It’s not that much of a shock.

“But having it happen is another thing and having to deal with that.” 

Despite the setback of being delisted, Keays has zero regrets and can see the silver lining in the opportunity he now has to forge his own path at West Lakes.

He remains truly grateful for the time he spent at Woolloongabba and is adamant the experience has made him much more resilient. 

“I was a Brisbane fan growing up, a Queensland local. To have four years there is more than I can ask for,” he said. 

“I can’t really make any complaints about that. I still got to play on The Gabba, play with some of my heroes and pull on the Lions jumper so will always be grateful for that.

“Hopefully the grass is greener, and the best is yet to come. To get another chance might be the best thing for me.”

Ben Keays making his AFL debut on The Gabba against Sydney in Round 1, 2016

Keays is certainly not taking his AFL lifeline from the Crows for granted.

He said he was “pretty flat” after not being picked up in National Draft and was ready to move onto the next phase of his life when he got the very welcome surprise at pick No.7 the Rookie Draft.

“It’s amazing (to have another chance). Almost a bit more of a surreal feeling than when I first got drafted,” he said.

“I want to make the most of it. I can’t wait to take the opportunity. I’m going to work hard and make sure I do everything right and take this chance.

“Not many blokes get the second chance. Getting to the AFL is one thing, getting another chance is pretty special, so I’m going to take it with both hands.”

As a member of a strong Brisbane side which finished second on the AFL ladder last season, Keays could only muster two senior games.

Despite what that may suggest to external critics, he rates 2019 as “arguably his best year of footy” as the Lions went undefeated in the NEAFL on their way to premiership glory.

Ben Keays and Archie Smith embrace after the siren in the 2019 NEAFL Grand Final. Photo: TJ Yelds / NEAFL

In the reserves, Keays played primarily as a permanent forward, booting 43 goals from 16 games including four majors in the Grand Final victory over Southport.

“Despite what it may seem with AFL senior games played, I still think this year was my best year of footy and I’ve got my best ahead of me," he said.

“I just want to keep improving every session, every week and see where we go from there.” 

This desire for continuous improvement holds him in good stead when it comes to making the most of his second opportunity at the top level. 

Keays added more versatility to his game in 2019, while improving his clean hands and overall decision making. 

He is now supremely determined to continue getting better at his new home in South Australia and has set himself that goal over the summer. 

“I want to get better at everything and keep getting better as it goes on,” he said. 

“I don’t want to stagnate, I want to keep improving, that’s going to be my goal. 

“I’ve probably had my best year of footy yet (in 2019) so now it’s time to build on that and I’ve got a new environment to do so.

Always be working on my skills, left and right foot. Distributing the footy, clean hands, just all the basics. That stuff you can never do enough, you can never do enough repetition.

- Ben Keays

“Then just learning the game style and playing to my strengths as well which is my work rate, my running and my defensive stuff.

“I’ve just got to mix it all together and looking for that continuous improvement.”

Ben Keays training on his first day as a Crow. Photo: AFC Media