AFL Grand Final: Tom Hickey

Submitted by Peter Blucher.

Football journeyman Tom Hickey will become the 27th Queenslander to play in a Toyota AFL Grand Final when he caps a remarkable career with the Sydney Swans against Geelong at the MCG on Saturday.

In one of the great stories of modern football, the 31-year-old will join a wide-reaching list which is headed by Queensland football greats and runs through to some of the more unlikely players to find themselves in the spotlight of the game’s biggest day.

It will be the culmination of a journey that began with QAFL club Morningside and has seen him play in the AFL with the Gold Coast (2011-12), St.Kilda (2013-18), West Coast (2019-20) and Sydney (2021-22).

The first person in AFL history to play with four clubs based in four different states, Hickey will be Queensland’s oldest grand final first-timer at 31 years 202 days, surpassing ex-Brisbane Lions champion Marcus Ashcroft, who was 30 years four days in his first grand final in 2001.

Only Ashcroft, in his 13th season, waited longer than Hickey, who is in his 12th season. Sam Reid, who played in the 2019 grand final with GWS, was also in his 12th season although he had two seasons in retirement mid-career.

Hickey, the son of 10-year first-grade rugby league player with Valleys who grew up in suburban Alexandra Hills, has been a marvel since taking up football almost by chance in his final year at Iona College with two close mates who also went on to play in the AFL.

It was a special trio that remains close today – Josh Thomas was a Collingwood grand final player in 2018, and Tom Bell played with Carlton and Brisbane – with Hickey looking to do what his good mates couldn’t do. Win a flag.

Hickey, who sought a trade from West Coast to Sydney in 2021 after the Covid season of 2020 to be closer to family in Queensland, has won lavish praise from triple Brisbane Lions premiership ace Jonathan Brown in the lead-up to Saturday’s grand final.

Brown told Fox Footy’s On The Couch this week that he believes the bearded, mop-haired ex-volleyball player has been arguably the best recruiting move by any AFL club of the past five years.

“If you go pound-for-pound in what you’ve had to give up to get a player, his influence on that
football club has been unbelievable. Obviously in big games he’s stepped up.”

Offered a two-year extension at the Eagles before his trade request, Hickey joined the Swans in a trade package with picks #34 and #60 in the 2020 AFL Draft. The Eagles received pick #58 and #62, plus a future second-round pick (tied to Port Adelaide) and a future third-round pick (tied to Sydney).

Wearing jumper #31 with the Swans after he wore #40 at Gold Coast, #1 at St.Kilda and #16 at West Coast, Hickey played 21 of a possible 23 games with the Swans last year to finish sixth in the club best & fairest and unofficially be rated the best recruit of the year.

After an injury-plagued start to his 2022 season has hit his straps at crunch time. He’s played every game since Round 18 – and his past four weeks, in particular, have been superb. According to the AFL Player Ratings, Hickey was best on ground against Collingwood in Round 22 then ranked 12th, second and fifth across his next three games.

Hickey was particularly impressive in the Swans’ qualifying final win over Melbourne, not only nullifying star duo Max Gawn and Luke Jackson in the ruck but also having a significant offensive impact himself, booting one goal from 17 disposals, 14 contested possessions, five clearances and seven intercepts.

“He’s been unbelievable at his fourth football club. What a finals series he’s had,” St Kilda legend Nick Riewoldt told On The Couch. “He goes head-to-head with Max Gawn and Luke Jackson in the first final and does more than hold his own in what is probably the most daunting assignment for an individual player in the game.

“Then on the weekend (against Collingwood) he was absolutely huge. Just in important moments, he takes that big mark late when you need a presence down the line just to be able to reset field position.”

Hickey’s exact challenge against the Geelong ruck pairing of Rhys Stanley and Mark Blicavs on Saturday is still unclear, with his Swans ruck partner Sam Reid under an injury cloud.

Depending on what happens with Reid’s fitness, Hickey could take on the Cats pair single-handed, or could have Joel Amartey or Hugh McLean in the side as a back-up, or even as the medical substitute.

But such has been Hickey’s form that Melbourne champion Garry Lyon says the Swans will be fine in the ruck regardless.

“Thankfully they’ve got a journeyman who’s in career-best nick playing in the ruck. Of all the great stories going around, throw Tom Hickey into the mix,” Lyon told On The Couch. “We talk about players that make their reputation in finals, they are unbelievable numbers.”

Can you name the 26 Queensland products who have been where Hickey is going on Saturday? It’s another tough trivia question.

Ex-Morningside ruckman Warren Jones was the first with Carlton in their 1982 win, followed by Windsor-Zillmere utility Frank Dunell, who was an Essendon premiership player in his 100th game in 1984.

Hawthorn champion Jason Dunstall played in the first of five grand finals in 1985. It was a loss before he was premiership player with the Hawks in 1986-88-89-91.

Ex-Wests youngster Gavin Crosisca was a member of Collingwood’s drought-breaking premiership side in 1990, while ex-Mt.Gravatt ruckman Stephen Lawrence was a premiership teammate of Dunstall in 1991.

Ex-Southport tall defender Steven Handley was a member of Geelong’s losing grand final sides in 1994-95, while Surfers Paradise and Southport ruckman Aaron Keating was a 1997 premiership player with Adelaide in just his 3rd game. Playing against him that day was St.Kilda’s Max Hudghton.

The Lions’ golden era saw an influx of Queenslanders on the big stage, with Michael Voss, Jason Akermanis, Mal Michael and Clark Keating playing in the premiership hat-trick of 2001-02-03 and the 2004 grand final loss to Port Adelaide.

Ashcroft retired after the 2003 flag, so missed the ’04 loss, while Robert Copeland played in the 2001 and 2003 wins and the 2004 loss, and Jamie Charman was a premiership player in 2003 in his only grand final appearance.

Brent Renouf won a flag with Hawthorn in just his 8th game in 2008, sharing the moment with fellow Queenslander Michael Osborne in his 99th game.

Nick Riewoldt and Sam Gilbert were members of the St.Kilda side which lost the 2009 grand final, drew the 2010 grand final and lost the 2010 replay, while Dayne Beams was on the opposite team with Collingwood in 2010, celebrating a flag after the draw.

David Hale, who had begun his career with North Melbourne before becoming a triple premiership play with Hawthorn, lost his first grand final with the Hawks in 2012 but was a part of their hat-trick flag team in 2013-14-15.

Fremantle’s Lee Spurr played in his team’s 2013 grand final loss, while Sydney’s Kurt Tippett was on the losing side in 2014-16. Likewise current Brisbane star Charlie Cameron at Adelaide in 2017, Josh Thomas at Collingwood in 2018 and Reid at GWS in 2019.

Peter is a consultant with Vivid Sport.

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