AFL Finals Wrap: Tom Hickey

Submitted by Peter Blucher. 

Is it any wonder Tom Hickey was fending off in tears on national television last night Friday night? It was the culmination of the week from hell and the biggest and best moment of his football career.

It was why Hickey was so vigorously embraced by teammates after the Swans’ brilliant qualifying win over Melbourne at the MCG, and why he sang the club song with such gusto.

And it was why the first words from Swans coach John Longmire to his playing group after they’d qualified for a home preliminary final was to commend the efforts of the big Queensland ruckman.

In a pure football sense Hickey pretty much single-handedly took on the gun Melbourne ruck duo of Max Gawn and Luke Jackson and beat them. So much so that Melbourne great Garry Lyon said post-match on FoxFooty that Gawn and Jackson had ‘no influence’ on the game and Hickey was ‘magnificent’.

But the back story made the performance of the veteran father of three even better.

In a week in which his son Lou celebrated his third birthday his eight-month-old twin daughters Olive and Delma found themselves in hospital. First one and then the other the night before he flew to Melbourne.

It was the extension of what has been a tough year for Hickey and his Brisbane wife Chloe, who moved from Perth to Sydney at the end of the 2020 season to be closer to family and friends.

After the twins were born either side of midnight on 30 October last year they found themselves flying family members or friends to Sydney to help look after the children whenever Tom was away on football duties.

Speaking recently of the challenges they’ve faced this year, Hickey said: “We feel like we’re coming out of the trenches now, at 10 months. They’re starting to crawl and laugh at each other and entertain each other. I think I described it as pure chaos with moments of bliss.

“It’s awesome. We were lucky to have them early in the off-season, so we had a fair bit of time to get our feet on the ground,” he said.

“It was harder earlier in the year – so hard on my wife, and hard on us – just with the lack of sleep and obviously being in Sydney and not having a heap of family support with the day-to-day stuff. The footy club’s been sensational through it and our friends and family have been awesome.”

Hickey, who lives close enough to the SCG to ride his bike to training, noted the upside of the football lifestyle in that he has got to spend a lot more time with his children than do normal working fathers.

“I’m so grateful to be able to play football and have the time that I have with my family and be able to be a big part of their lives and be around so much,” Hickey said.

But when the twins were hospitalised it became a different story. So it was to his enormous credit that Hickey could put aside his personal angst to play a pivotal role in Sydney’s 14-7 (91) to 10-9 (69) win over the defending premiers in which they kicked eight of the last 10 goals.

The 31-year-old played 81% game time, getting an occasional chop-out from part-time ruckman Sam Reid, and had 17 possessions, 24 hit-outs and a last goal before three-quarter time to give his side a two-goal buffer.

Moreover, he had a team-high seven intercepts, his five clearances was behind Luke Parker (9) and James Rowbottom (6) in the Sydney side, and his 14 contested possessions was bettered only by Parker (17) and Rowbottom (14).

While statistically he’s had bigger games, none were as important as the fourth final and the 137th game of a career which has taken the former Morningside player to the Gold Coast, St.Kilda, West Coast and Sydney over 12 years in the AFL.

It was noted in the lead-up to Friday night’s clash that when the sides met in Round 12, when Hickey was missing through injury, Gawn had been best afield in a losing side with 28 possessions, three goals and 30 hit-outs.

The resumption of hostilities between the pair, who have been friends since the met in Melbourne in 2016 on a shared junior coaching commitment, was always going to be pivotal to the outcome on Friday night.

Hickey is no stranger to big crowds – it was the norm during his time with West Coast. And he is no stranger to the MCG – it was his 15th game and his second final at headquarters.

But the monster turnout of 78,377 on Friday night, which included an outrageously loud Swans contingent, was easily the biggest of his career.

So good was his performance against Gawn and the defending premiers that he was asked to do a post-game interview with FoxFooty. And when he referenced his home situation his eyes watered and he shut himself down before closing with a message … “I’m coming home girls”.

Lyon was glowing in his praise of the bearded and mop-haired ruckman. “That’s what it’s all about. You play for all sorts of reasons but at the heart of it your family is number one,” he said. “They couldn’t be more prouder of you tonight my friend. You did them proud. It was a magnificent performance.”

Fox Footy colleague Nathan Buckley added: “Sometimes we just do not see the players that play as human. We see them as robots. Underneath that, they’ve got families, they’ve got lives, they’ve got ups and downs that happen. You see that bleed through a little bit from a player who’s been clearly challenged during the week.”

Finally, Hickey’s former St.Kilda teammate Nick Riewoldt added: “He had the mental strength to go out and compartmentalise that stuff and turn in a performance that was pivotal.”

Delighted to have his parents in the MCG rooms post-game, Hickey caught an early flight back to Sydney ahead of the team on Saturday morning.

Even more delighted to have his family reunited at home on Sunday, he now finds himself with a week off before Sydney’s first SCG preliminary since 1996, when Tony Lockett kicked a famous point after the siren to put the Swans into the grand final.

The Swans will play the winner of Saturday night’s semi-final between Collingwood and Fremantle, while Geelong will meet the winner of Brisbane’s Friday night semi-final against Melbourne.

Peter is a consultant with Vivid Sport.

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