The Tigers Almanac 2019 – Extract: Pickett’s Pirouette


Order The Tigers  Almanac 2019 HERE.


Each year one of the forewords in our book celebrating the season is about the subject on the cover. This year that subject just had to be Marlion Pickett (painted by Kate Birrell).* Fine young writer (and Almanac member) Jack Banister wrote about Marlion.


Here’s Jack’s piece:

Pickett’s Pirouette


Jack Banister



The second quarter of the 2019 Grand Final is a tick over four minutes old, and the Tigers are surging. Two goals to end the opening term and another to Jack Riewoldt since mean they suddenly lead the Giants by thirteen points.


Field umpire Shaun Ryan slams the ball into the MCG turf, and eccentric Tiger ruck of Croatian heritage, Ivan Soldo, has a wild swing at it. He misses, watches it bounce again, pounces, then flicks a loopy handball forward to Marlion Pickett.


For a split second, it looks as if he can dart unopposed out the front of the stoppage. But he sees Lachie Whitfield racing in from the wing, hunting, so he slows and props. With all the nonchalant confidence of a toddler who’s worked out how to walk but hasn’t tripped yet, he turns his back on Whitfield and performs a 360-degree pirouette – a blind turn – that wrong-foots the Giants’ speedster. It buys Pickett the time to size up his teammates inside fifty, and he duly places his kick perfectly for Jason Castagna, who jumps all over Giant Phil Davis to mark.


In the bleachers, no-one can quite believe it. The blind turn is usually on show via glossy footy cards and Auskick demo videos, not at the MCG on Grand Final day. It’s a pirouette, for God’s sake – more debutante at the ball than debutant with the ball.


Pickett is the first debutant in a VFL/AFL Grand Final since Magpie Keith Batchelor some 67 years ago, when the game was barely comparable to the professional behemoth it is now. Bill James is the only other man to do it for Richmond. He famously debuted in the Tigers’ first VFL flag in 1920, then never played for the club again, choosing instead to continue his career back where it began, in the country leagues of Kyabram. He famously shot himself in the foot in 1925, an incident that was, until recently, thought to be the reason he never turned out for the Tigers again.


Pickett’s path to the Grand Final is, at a glance, more conventional. He came from South Fremantle – you know, the other club of Tiwi great Maurice Rioli. But dig a little deeper into the Pickett CV and you’ll find he spent time playing for the Swans – not the Sydney version, but a side from Wooroloo Prison Farm in Western Australia.


That’s where he spent more than two years locked up after a string of burglary-related offences he committed not long after his eighteenth birthday, an outcome that is all-too-familiar for boys-turned-men who spend time in juvenile facilities. Heaven knows what he thought about in the vacant hours spent staring at the cold walls of a jail cell. It might’ve been footy, but it probably wasn’t dropping a blind turn on Lachie Whitfield.


When he made it out, in 2013, he walked straight to South Fremantle, and probably thought he had a permanent cross next to his name in the eyes of AFL recruiters.


It looked that way, until the final pick of the first-ever mid-season draft. Nursing a finger injury that put the rest of his 2019 season in jeopardy, the Tigers took the punt on what looked like a long-term project. Pencil him in for game time in 2020 – nothing to see here just yet.


By the time the father of four was right to pull on the yellow and black against Casey in Round 18 of the VFL, the prevailing logic was that he’d left his run too late.


Over the final weeks of the season, the inevitable question would be thrown out on Twitter: “How’d Pickett go?”


“20-odd, dozen tackles. Smooth. Cleeeean,” seemed the weekly answer.


Then, the follow-up: “But if we bring him in, who goes out?”


He would’ve been a walk-up start at the height of Richmond’s injury crisis. Now, opportunities were scarce.


The possibility that his debut might come on the biggest day of all began when Jack Graham dislocated his shoulder on Preliminary Final night. Pickett was well back in the field, out wide, off the rails, à la Cole Diesel in the ’89 Caulfield Cup.


His closest competitors, Kamdyn McIntosh and Jack Ross, were held back from the VFL Grand Final, played two days after the Preliminary Final.


As Pickett turned in a performance for the ages at Princes Park, the whispers started to grow – he couldn’t, could he? They wouldn’t, would they?


Again and again, it was his wiry frame seen storming out the middle, unconcerned by occasion and opponent. The Norm Goss Medal for best afield was a formality once Richmond snuck across the line.


Come Grand Final week, the Tigers played it down, and the media let it go.


It’ll be Jack Ross, they said. You just can’t pick a bloke to debut in a Grand Final!


Thursday morning, two days out, commentator Gerard Whateley declared on radio that the build-up had entered a “lull”. Then, Richmond dropped their bombshell.


It was instantly the story of the week, the sort of thing movie scripts are made of. Richmond was to be condemned if it went wrong, lauded if it went well.


It was bold, a decision befitting the club’s new groove – confident in themselves and their people, concerned about within, rather than without.


They were already vindicated by the time Pickett stormed down the wing and picked out Dustin Martin inside fifty in the third term, with the Tigers home and hosed.


The next play, like so many in the second half, was part of the long and drawn-out process of icing the thing. Martin took it upon himself to deliver another day-defining moment by returning the ball to Pickett so he could slot his debut goal.


The familiar sight of the debutant being mobbed by every last one of his teammates only served to remind those watching exactly what they were watching – something that hasn’t been seen for a lifetime, and might not be seen again for another.


Order The Tigers  Almanac 2019 HERE.


The Tigers Almanac 2019 has arrived from the printer and all pre-orders are being attended to today (Dec 12).  Order now and receive your copies in time for Christmas. (Free postage within Australia).

To find out what’s in The Tigers’ Almanac 2019 click HERE.

The Tigers Almanac 2019 launch – Dec 17   DETAILS HERE

*Kate Birrell’s original artwork featured on the cover of The Tigers Almanac 2019 is up for auction. Make your bid HERE


About Jack Banister

Journalism student @ Melbourne Uni, Brunswick Hockey Club Men's Coach, tortured Tigers fan.

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