While most eyes here were on the second weekend of the Rugby World Cup, across the ditch the self-professed sporting capital of the world had their big day for the game that is theirs (and almost theirs alone).
The AFL’s Grand Final packs out the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and even though much of Australian Rules football remains a curiosity to those that have just a passing interest here – including the sleeveless jerseys (‘guernseys’), the short shorts, and trying to figure out just what the rules actually are – it’s nothing short of a spectacle.
Saturday’s contest pitted the old and the new; 11-time premiers in Melbourne side Richmond looking for their second “flag” in three seasons up against Greater Western Sydney, who only entered the competition in 2012 as part of the AFL’s expansion beyond the borders of Victoria – one Israel Folau was an original player – and playing in their first final.
But this isn’t a review of the game where the Tigers simply overwhelmed the debutant Giants to win by a massive 89 points, kicking 17 goals to just 3 in a 114-25 scoreline, but instead about one player that most AFL diehards wouldn’t have heard of.
Seven years ago Marlion Pickett was in a Western Australian jail, serving time for several offences including burglary. On his release he plied his trade in the WA State League for South Fremantle, gradually making a name for himself but in an age where youth is prized and the draft is full of teenagers his name was never called, even after starring for his team last season.
Then Richmond’s Shaun Grigg, a veteran of over 200 AFL games, was forced to retire due to injury and opened a place on their ‘list’. Finally in the mid-year draft – a place where teams can select players from the state leagues to replace those lost in-season due to retirement or long-term injury – he got the call and shifted across country.
But it wasn’t a case of walking straight into the first-team. Rather Pickett had to wait for a broken finger to heal, and then had to bide his time for the reserves in the VFL. But he impressed as they marched to the title and claimed the prize for the player of the Final as well.
That was the previous Saturday, and after Jack Graham was ruled out of the championship decider with a shoulder injury Pickett was thrust into the Tigers side as one of the four players on the interchange bench, where he would be the first person to make their AFL debut in the Grand Final in 67 years.
The obvious question in AFL-obsessed Melbourne was how would someone in such a position play? Pickett answered that emphatically, buzzing all over the park and making a telling contribution, including a blind turn to set up a mark and a goal in the second quarter when the Tigers stamped their authority on the game.
The moment though was when he seemingly set up Dustin Martin in the third, only for Martin to quickly and unselfishly return the favour. With all 100,000+ sets of eyes in the MCG on him he didn’t just kick the goal, he nervelessly drilled it straight down the middle. That gave Richmond a 50-point lead and the game was as good as done.
Heck, he even finished third in the count for the Norm Smith Medal as the best player in the final. And the reception he got at the medal presentation was well deserved.
Who knows what his future holds but it was certainly a lot better than where he’s been. It’s the sort of story that sport can provide.
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