Morningside premiership ruckman Tom Hickey has been claimed by the Gold Coast Suns as a Queensland priority selection.

Thursday, 28 October, 2010

Tom Hickey, son of a former top-level Brisbane rugby league player and a former State volleyball representative, has been playing AFL football for all of two years. He’s an athletic ruckman who stands 201.4cm tall.

Yet at the recent NAB AFL Draft Combine (formerly Draft Camp) at the AIS in Canberra, attended by 100 of the best young players in the country, Hickey stamped himself as a prospect of enormous potential.

The Alexandra Hills 19-year-old ranked second overall in the new ‘clean hands’ test – an outstanding result for any player but more particularly for a ruckman.

Designed to identify players who can cleanly grab the ball and deliver accurate handballs, the test simulated ball handling skills and required players to recognise and deliver handballs quickly and accurately on both sides of their body.
Hickey was also the best-performed ruckman in the agility test, and equal second-best among ruckmen in the beep test, measuring endurance.

The NAB AFL Draft Machine on the AFL website ranks Hickey second overall in physical testing results among ruckman behind South Australian Daniel Gorringe, who is widely tipped to be a first-round draft selection.

Little wonder the new Gold Coast AFL expansion franchise have claimed him as a Queensland zone priority selection ahead of next month’s draft.

The Suns exercised a recruiting option on the 2010 Morningside QAFL premiership team member and State U18 representative after rival club North Melbourne had proposed a trade for him during AFL Trade Week.

Hickey, looking forward to tapping into the knowledge and experience of prized ruck signing Josh Fraser from Collingwood, has put on hold an electrical apprenticeship and is set to start training with the Suns tomorrow.

He will join his Queensland U18 captain and fellow zone selection Joel Wilkinson at the Suns. And, like Wilkinson, a convert from track and field, is another example of an athlete from another sport who fell in love with AFL after an almost accidental beginning.

It was October 2008. Hickey, a State Schoolboys volleyball representative and all-round sporting fanatic, joined a bunch of mates in playing football for Iona College in the Queensland Independent Schools competition.

As he recalls, he turned out against Villanova, St.Peter’s, St Lawrence’s and Marist College Ashgrove.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” he confessed, admitting he jumped off both feet in the ruck.

“I just won the ruck taps and ran around in circles trying to put a body on people.

“We were just a few blokes having some fun. Other than the small minority who had played seriously for a long time we had no idea.”

But Hickey says there was something special about those four games of school football that captivated him.

“I loved the team environment,” he said. “And it was great to be back playing a contact sport … playing footy. It really whetted my appetite and I’ve loved it ever since.”

Two years ago he didn’t dream of playing at AFL level. But from the moment early this year he heard he was on the radar of AFL scouts, even if only mildly so, it became an obsession.

“I just put my head down, bum up, and trained as hard as I could to try to make it a reality,” he said. “I’ve had the best year and for it to end this year, being picked up by the Gold Coast, is incredible. It means everything to me.”

Hickey has a strong sporting pedigree. His father Michael, or Mick, played 10 years of A-Grade rugby league in Brisbane.

As a youngster from age six to 14 Hickey Jnr played rugby league at Redland juniors. “I lived and breathed it – I loved it,” he said, confirming against expectations that he was a lanky five-eighth.

He played in a Lytton District representative side once, but insists he had no future in the game. “None at all – absolutely,” he said.

As he moved on from St.Anthony’s  Primary School to Iona College Hickey’s sporting interests broadened. Basketball, rugby union, water polo, athletics and volleyball.  He tried his hand at anything.

For a time volleyball was his No.1 option.  In 2008, in Grade 12 at school, he toured New Zealand with the Queensland Schoolboys side as a ‘middle hitter’ or ‘centre blocker’. They won the Trans-Tasman Schoolboys Cup and Hickey was said to have a bright future.

But there was something missing.  “I just didn’t enjoy it.  The egos of the people drove me away. They were that far up themselves I didn’t want to play,” he said.

Along came AFL.  Luke Curran, then at AFL Queensland and now running the Brisbane Lions AFL Academy, spotted the lanky giant playing in the Independent Schools competition and dropped in to the school in about October 2008 and invited him to be part of the AFLQ Rookie Search Program.

A schoolmate of subsequent Collingwood draftee Josh Thomas, Hickey didn’t think twice as he quickly made his way into the 2009 South-East Bushrangers program.

“I love the fact that it’s a real team sport and no matter how good any one individual is you need the entire team performing well to be successful,” said the effervescent Hickey.

He played the 2009 Bushies side under ex-Essendon AFL player Robbie Amos, but admits he still he wasn’t setting the world on fire.

“I was useless,” he said. “I’d drop it with my right hand and kick it with my left foot. I had no idea. But I liked being part of the system so I stuck with it. And over two years I just fell in love with it.”

He was a member of Morningside’s 2009 U18 division one premiership side, and finished second in the League Best & Fairest Medal, and this year he established himself as the No.1 ruckman in the Queensland U18 side.

He confirmed his standing among the recruiting scouts when, in Queensland’s final U18 game of the year against Northern Territory, he had 29 ruck hit-outs, kicked a goal, collected 12 possessions and made five tackles.

Then he took it to another level in his last game of the year – the QAFL grand final – when he played a pivotal role as Morningside came from 20 points down in the final quarter to beat Labrador.

Hickey’s final quarter stamped him as a definite draftee. Having played only 10 minutes in each of the first two quarters of the premiership decider and “about three minutes” of the third quarter, he got his chance five minutes into the final term when Panthers veteran Jacob Gough was forced off with injury.

Up against Labrador’s former AFL ruckmen Peter ‘Spida’ Everitt and Trent Knobel, Hickey won a string of clean ruck hit-outs at the centre bounce, took several critical marks in the middle of the ground and pushing back in defence, and won some telling ground ball possessions. He was a match-winner.

“It was a great day,” he said. “I had goose bumps from the time we went out onto the ground for the pre-game warm-up, through the national anthem, and then to the first bounce.

“It was the best way to win a game. When you spend all year with the boys and you get to win like that in the last 15 minutes it’s pretty special. You watch everyone’s belief grow as things started to fall into place … fantastic.

“I took a lot of confidence out of that one quarter but it didn’t really alter my belief. I knew if someone would give me a chance I wouldn’t let them down … I just had to be given a chance. I’m just so excited to be given an opportunity.”

Hickey made his senior QAFL debut for Morningside in Round 8 this year, and played a total of 13 senior games, including the last 11 in a row. And he finished third overall in the NAB QAFL Rising Star Award.

It’s all been part of a dream says the 19-year-old apprentice electrician, who lives at Alexandra Hills with parents Mick and Anne, and 21-year-old sister Chloe.

“Ever since I was about four I’ve wanted to be a professional sportsman … at first it was rugby league, then it was anything it could be and now it’s AFL. I just want to get myself an opportunity to be the best I can and to make a profession out of it.”

What does his Dad think about him playing AFL rather than rugby league? “He backs me on everything I do. He’s always been my No.1 supporter and he’s already booked four season tickets at the Gold Coast next year,” he answered.

Hickey remembers his first visit to the Gabba when he was “about seven” and was part of an Auskick match at halftime of a Brisbane Lions game.

“My sister and I were doing Auskick through the school and she was invited to play at halftime. I packed my stuff and took it to the game just in case, and I cried until they gave me a go,” he recalled, with a typical self-effacing laugh.

“I had no idea what AFL was all about back then because I was a ‘leaguey’ but it was awesome watching those big guns run around and to hear all the fans screaming. And I loved the fact that you could go out on the ground afterwards and have a kick.”

When told he’d been drafted by the Suns Hickey celebrated with his family at a favourite Cleveland Restaurant. He did what any 201cm 87kg teenagers might do – he had two meals. And then he called his mates to share the biggest news of his life.

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