‘Goosebumps’: Pickett is AFL’s greatest fairytale
MARLION Pickett has set a new benchmark for the greatest fairytale in Australian sport.
The 27-year-old had never played a senior game of football before Saturday's grand final.
He's now a cult hero, an AFL premiership winner and a Richmond life member.
It was one helluva debut and an ever more extraordinary journey.
Pickett's ride from a prison sentence during his teenage years to turning his life around through football is the Hollywood script that not even the madness of live sport could have cooked up.
But on this day, September 28, 2019, the stars aligned and arguably the most famous debut in the history of football played out like a fairytale.
The mature-age rookie and father of four, who was recruited four months ago, stole the show and threatened to steal the Norm Smith Medal from teammate Dustin Martin.
Pickett got four votes across the five judges, finishing behind Martin and Bachar Houli.
Martin spoke glowingly of Pickett's fight to cement himself in the Tigers' team and get his life back on track after serving jail time for burglary offences as a teenager.
"I couldn't be prouder of the club for taking a chance on him," Martin said.
"He's a big-time player, and looking forward to what he does next year.
"Even that, the story for the club to give him a second chance. People make mistakes."
Pickett said after the game he's "doing it" for his kids.
"I'm doing it for them," he said. I have done it (now). It's been awesome."
He also had his father fly to Melbourne from Perth on Friday night.
His dad had reportedly never been on a plane beforet, but made the trip for the biggest game of his son's life despite battling emphysema.
Pickett's medal presentation was the loudest roar of the entire premiership cup ceremony.
Pickett is clearly just as popular with his teammates as he is with the fans.
"I think Dimma said it, he's born for the big stage," captain Trent Cotchin said.
"I can't wait for more of his story to come out because it's just a special part of today and our footy club."
The first-gamer from South Fremantle was simply the toast of the town.
The loudest roar inside the MCG during the game was also sparked by Pickett when he kicked his first AFL goal.
Tony Leonard on 3AW called it "a burst of sheer unadulterated joy".
Pickett's story was the talk of the football world.
Goosebumps! Well done Marlion. What a story! https://t.co/EODlbbuOji— Karmichael Hunt (@karmichaelhunt) September 28, 2019
Absolutely loving this Pickett story. 2 Premierships in 2 weeks. #AFLTigersGiants— Mason Cox (@masonsixtencox) September 28, 2019
That time a 27 year old debutant goaled in his AFL debut! pic.twitter.com/OHkkuw34l0— Peter Rolfe (@rolfep) September 28, 2019
If Pickett keeps this up and wins the Norm Smith on debut - he’s gotta be in the mix so far - it’s surely the greatest Grand Final fairytale. #AFLGF— Adam Collins (@collinsadam) September 28, 2019
Marlion Pickett has a serious case for Norm Smith. 20 touches, one goal, 8 I50’s (game-high), 9 score involvements (second only to Castagna) #AFLGF— Mitch Cleary (@cleary_mitch) September 28, 2019
It was a fairytale that so nearly never started.
Sidelined by finger surgery just days before the mid-season draft, Pickett looked set to miss out on the AFL again.
With coach Damien Hardwick's gamble to play Pickett in the biggest game in Australian football with just seven VFL games to his name, Pickett became only the sixth player in AFL history to debut in the premiership decider.
The last was Keith Batchelor for Geelong in 1952 - as Neil Balme noted, the year that the Tigers' football manager was born.
Pickett is the cousin of former North Melbourne and Port Adelaide player Byron Pickett - the Norm Smith Medal winner as best afield in the 2004 grand final.
The Tiger's four children, aged two to nine, proved to be Pickett's motivation to put his life in order.
But although he showed plenty of potential at WAFL side South Fremantle, Pickett could not convince an AFL team he was worth the risk.
Despite a finger injury that sidelined him until August, Richmond finally took the punt.
Pickett and the Tigers used the injury lay-off wisely, giving him the equivalent of a preseason where he could boost his fitness.
He first raised eyebrows at Punt Rd with a strong performance in their VFL qualifying win over Essendon, where the Tigers roared back from 40 points down in the last quarter.
Pickett was best afield in last Sunday's VFL grand final win over Williamstown and he effectively forced Richmond to pull the trigger.
It's the story that now seems certain to go down in folklore.