Poor old Tommy Seroka is copping it from all angles.
Already tasked with bar duties at the Manjimup Tigers football club for grand final day, he’s also just been roped in for a stand-up interview in front of a camera and the throng behind are letting him have it.
The subject is Marlion Pickett, who is in the process of making his AFL debut on the two big screens fixed on opposite ends of the room in the Tigers’ small, but welcoming club room.
Just over 10 years ago, Marlion would have been a fixture in that same room, but more so out on the oval just outside.
Now he is hitting the headlines as the first player to debut in a VFL/AFL grand final in 67 years — and he’s doing more than a passable job at it.
“Oh, he had all the talent in the world from the get-go,” remembers Tommy who coached Marlion from under 9 to under 12.
“And he still plays the same today — watching him up there with that cheeky little grin, he was always full of energy and ready to go.”
With the interview in the can, Tommy heads back behind the bar and plucks an old photo off the wall. The crowd of about 50 continue to give him good-natured ribbing.
If there is a GWS fan among them, they’re keeping a pretty low profile.
The photo is of the Manjimup Tigers colts celebrating a 2006 Premiership win.
Young Marlion is at the bottom left, looking suitably happy with what was “a good game” as Tommy recalls.
Tommy Seroka coached Marlion Pickett as young footballer — he says the AFL debutant did them all proud. (ABC News: Anthony Pancia)
“This is going to be great for the kids down here,” Tommy says of Marlion’s meteoric rise to fame after a few rough years.
Football is still the game of choice for the town of Manjimup and while the occasional player may get drafted to the WAFL, someone hitting the big time is rare.
“I have to admit, I haven’t spoken to him much since he left so I don’t really know much about what you hear about the trouble he got in, but jeez, it would be great to get him back. The town would go crazy,” Tommy says.
The regional town of Manjimup is located in Western Australia’s south-west, a three-hour drive from Perth perched between the lush rolling hills of the small agricultural towns either side of it.
It once thrived as a tobacco growing town and more recently transitioned out of timber milling to agriculture — its fresh produce (apples, avocado and, of late, hemp) is slowly making its mark worldwide.
Families come and go but the current population of a little more than 4,000 have deep roots in the town and many remember Marlion and his family.
Pickett “was a lot more athletic than the rest of us”, according to an old junior teammate. (AAP: Michael Dodge)
ABC Grandstand tweet: “The reason why I’m here doing what I’m doing is because of the obstacles I’ve had in my life, and my kids have given me non-stop loving.” one of the stories of the @afl year. #AFLGF
Mitch Sewell is one of those. He kicked around with Marlion in the junior ranks and is one of those enjoying watching the big game.
Mitch is not keen to stand in front of the camera, but offers a few insights while enjoying a cigarette in the designated area well away from the clubroom (despite the momentous occasion, the club is a stickler for such rules).
“He was a lot more athletic than the rest of us and as clichéd as it sounds, he did just have that natural instinct,” Mitch says.
“He had an uncanny ability of getting the ball out of your hands and he’d be off.”
Mitch says he lost contact with Marlion once he left town, but had otherwise enjoyed watching his old teammate’s trajectory through the West Australian Football League to grand final glory with those other Tigers from Richmond.
“I didn’t really hear much about him until he started playing for South Fremantle and he started to really make a name for himself,” says Mitch, cigarette and beer almost done, indicating he’d be heading back in soon.
“He obviously developed a lot in that time and it’s pretty amazing to be standing here at the same field we used to play and seeing him up there on the big screen. How good is that?”
As we walk back in, all eyes are on the screen as Marlion steels himself for a shot at goal in the third quarter.
The crowd hold their breath and erupt as the ball sails through.
It’s as good a moment as any that have been celebrated here at the Manjimup Tigers club room even though the action is underway on the other side of the country.
Pickett shows few signs of nerves as he goes on to earn four votes for the Norm Smith Medal in his first-ever AFL game.
He ends up with 22 disposals, three clearances, nine score involvements and eight inside 50s in a ripping introduction to the big league.
The remainder of the game continues in fine style and the gathering laps it up, saving the loudest cheer of all for when Pickett, who once played on the oval just outside, walks up to receive his medal.
“That’s something hey?” says Tommy grinning from ear to ear. “He’s done us all proud.”
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