Ex-Panthers return to old stomping ground

Carlton’s Tom Bell and St Kilda’s Tom Hickey were back in Brisbane last week, and they sat down for a chat with community footy writer, Beth Newman.

Every professional AFL player has to start somewhere, and generally it is in the arms of a local footy family.

And that’s something Tom Bell (Carlton) and Tom Hickey (St Kilda), two former Morningside players, will never forget.

The two were  back at Jack Esplen Oval fitting in some off-season training, as they prepare for season 2014.

Both Toms played in the 2009 Morningside Under-18 premiership and still count a number of their teammates among their closest friends today.

The two Panthers trod differing paths to the big stage, but that bond has remained pretty constant.

Bell is a product of a changing view on recruiting, picked up by the Blues as a 20 year-old mature aged rookie after a stand out finals series for Morningside in 2011.

Hickey came to the sport late, after trying his hand in a number of pursuits, and after playing some games for his school, Iona College, in 2008, he was selected in the Queensland Under-18 side as a rookie search pick in 2009.

He was picked up by the SUNS as a Queensland zone selection in the 2009 draft, and played for the Gold Coast for two seasons, before being traded to the Saints.

After a year of living in different states, Bell and Hickey were reunited in Melbourne, when the latter signed with St Kilda.

The two Panthers trod differing paths to the big stage, but having a group of close friends around has made it all the easier.

Did having Tom (Bell) around make the transition to Melbourne life easier?

HICKEY: I’m a big fan of the culture down there and love going out for a coffee and my girlfriend lives down there so I’d been down there a few times and I’ve always loved it.

BELL: It’s good, knowing you have people outside the footy club that you are friends with, so when you come home you don’t have to talk about footy. That’s what you do day in and day out and it’s probably the last thing you want to do when you come home, so it was good living with Tom and Josh (Thomas – Collingwood midfielder and former Morningside player).

And in such a footy town like Melbourne, what do you do when you have time off?

BELL: When Hickey moved down I started surfing. I try to surf once a week. I’ve got this big obsession with going out for brekkie. We’ll just go out for breakfast all the time

HICKEY: We surf a lot in preseason, but it gets too cold for me, so we’ve just been going for coffees.

I just bought a house so I’m doing my house and I got a puppy as well, a French Bulldog called Dudley.

BELL: Don’t start him on that.

HICKEY:  I’m one of those embarrassing people, I’ll show people pictures of my dog, I’ve got no shame.

You’ve already been back into some training, so do you get much down time once the season’s over?

BELL: You get 2 weeks d two weeks where you don’t have to do anything but I can’t sit still. I always have to be doing something, whether it be surfing or something like that.

Probably about four weeks before you go back, you have to ramp things up.

HICKEY: You also don’t really want to sit still and not do anything when you come back for pre-season because within teams everyone’s fighting for spots. You want to come back and be better than the other ruckman or the other forward. When you’re sitting at home you know some people may not be training so that’s when you try and get your advantage on them.

Do you have any particular areas you’re looking to improve on?

HICKEY: I’m trying to get weight on. I’m trying to get a bit heavier and continue improving my kicking and contested marking.

BELL: I want to lean up a little bit and just improve my speed and opposite foot kicking, as well as on my preferred foot.

You two both made it to the AFL in slightly different ways – for you, Tom (Bell) as a mature-aged rookie, How did you react after missing out in your 18s year?

BELL: A lot of people it would you wouldn’t want to continue with footy after that, but it kind of motivated me to keep going and get on an AFL list. I’m a pretty competitive person and having Hickey and Josh on AFL lists, that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to get on that list.

 I just kept doing my own thing. I was always doing weight sessions by myself and extra running sessions and I guess it went from there. I can’t really complain where I’m at the moment, I’m loving it down there.

And getting to play finals footy this year – how was that?

BELL: It was amazing; especially the first one that we won against Richmond, I think there was 95,000 at the MCG. I’m pretty sure most of them were Richmond supporters, but just running out in front 95,000 is something you sort of dream of as a kid, so it was amazing.

Did you have much time to mentally prepare for that match, given the way the season unfolded?

BELL: I was lucky enough to play three games before that final and I played the Collingwood game at the start of the year, Round 2, which had 95,000 and I had a bit of a stinker because I couldn’t take in how many people were actually there, so I had to tell myself t’s only another game of footy and I guess that helped out a fair bit.

HICKEY: Our group of friends, being really good friends all texted him to let him know there was going to be 95,0000.

BELL: We have a group message going with all the boys from back home and they just all gave it to me. One was a Richmond supporter so he wasn’t too happy with the whole result, but that’s alright.

Click here for part two: http://bit.ly/GAaZdR

Twitter: @bethknewman

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