Magical Pickett delivers on biggest stage of all

Sunday, September 29, 2019 - 10:03 PM by Chris Pike

TEN months ago he was again overlooked by every AFL club. Four months ago his WAFL season might have been over let alone any AFL dream. But now Marlion Pickett is not only an AFL premiership player with Richmond but went ever so close to a Norm Smith Medal on debut.

From the moment Pickett arrived at South Fremantle midway through the 2013 season as a 21-year-old it didn’t take long for it to soon become obvious he was a special talent.

He would play just six reserves games before then coach Paul Hasleby couldn’t ignore him any further and threw him in for the last two league games of the WAFL season. 

He was remarkable on debut with 26 possessions, nine marks and three goals in a win against eventual Grand Finalists East Perth at Fremantle Community Bank Oval and that would become a trend.

The stage might not quite have been the same but Pickett's WAFL debut with South Fremantle was remarkable in 2013 and then with quite the journey in between, he delivered one of the most unbelievable AFL debuts ever on Saturday.

Having only been at Richmond for half a season after being picked up in the AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft, Pickett starred in the previous week's VFL Grand Final triumph for the Tigers and then was a shock inclusion for Saturday's AFL Grand Final against the GWS Giants at the MCG.

The 27-year-old would go on to produce a Grand Final performance for the ages. At least according to North Smith Medal voting, he was judged third best on the ground but it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that some could have seen him as best afield in the 89-point triumph.

Having started on the bench, Pickett didn’t take long to make an immediate impact and the faith that Richmond coach Damien Hardwick had in him was evidenced by him trusting him by playing on the ball.

What Pickett would go on to show was what he had done in 98 games with South Fremantle in the WAFL and in the previous week's VFL Grand Final.

Pickett showed amazingly clean hands to gather the ground ball and a number of times he would get out quick handballs to set up his teammates. He also showed what he long did with the Bulldogs in the WAFL by running and carrying the ball and driving it into attack to set up goals for teammates.

A centre clearance he won where he did a blind turn to get clear and then drive Richmond inside-50 had to be seen to be believed. He would go on to kick a goal of his own after being set up by Dustin Martin and Pickett would just carry on from there.

He finished the afternoon with 22 possessions, eight inside-50 entries, a remarkable nine score involvements and his own goal in one of the most remarkable AFL debuts of all-time.

The Pickett story from a difficult upbringing, to spending time in jail as a youth and then finding a football home at South Fremantle upon his release and getting his life together as a father of four to now being an AFL premiership star is just incredible.

Words don’t do it justice and Pickett himself is a man of few words, but that doesn't defy the self-belief he has in his own football ability.

No challenge in football is ever something Pickett sees as beyond him and that's why he plays with such confidence and that's why he delivered what he did on the AFL Grand Final stage.

Afterwards, Pickett was thankful for all the support he received to get to this point from the Richmond and South Fremantle Football Clubs to his family and teammates.

"It's very special. It's something you can't replace and I'm just going to enjoy the moment. Probably as soon as I ran on I felt comfortable out there," Pickett said post-Grand Final.

"I had a lot of support back home from Jane, Jarman, the Walley family, the Pickett family and the support has been something like I've never had before. That's been awesome.

"They probably don’t really know what's happening at the moment but they'll learn as the years go on and I'll just enjoy the moment with them. Life has changed a lot for all of us and I'm just doing this for them, and I've done it, and it's been awesome."

Following that stunning debut with South Fremantle late in the 2013 season, Pickett would go on to play in the Bulldogs' reserves premiership of that year coached by Tony Walters.

The 2014 season was more of a consolidating than a standout one for Pickett with South Fremantle. He could never quite find a position that best suited him and he would end up splitting most of his time between the wing and half-forward to various degrees of success.

Todd Curley took over as coach of South Fremantle in 2015 and that's when Pickett's career really took off and it was by settling himself into the back-line with the Bulldogs.

Pickett was able to show off all his remarkable physical abilities in that defensive role where he would prove a great help to his teammates to come and help either get a spoil in from nowhere or take an intercept mark.

Then out of half-back, the sight of Pickett running through the defensive 50 and then through the middle of the ground to drive South Fremantle forward became a trademark of his as he delivered a standout season finishing third in fairest and best voting behind Ashton Hams and Ryan Cook.

Pickett delivered another standout season in 2016 with South Fremantle in that role in the back-line where he averaged 18.0 possessions and backed that up in 2017 averaging 17.3 disposals, and it appeared that defensive role was the one he'd continue to thrive in.

However, when teammate Tim Kelly departed to take the AFL storm with Geelong after the 2017 season, South Fremantle needed to find a way to fill his position in the midfield and Curley elected to throw Pickett into that role.

It couldn’t have turned out any better with Pickett showing that perhaps he was born to be a midfielder and to be more around the ball. 

His ferocious attack on the ball made him a contested ball master while all opponents looked twice when he was around because of the way he would attack the contest and then lay tackles or deliver some fierce bumps.

But then there was what he could do with the ball in hand. Pickett's hands in close were remarkable and then when he got in space he was quick and could get away in a flash while then able to deliver going forward.

His 2018 season was nothing short of brilliant as he averaged 21.8 possessions and kicked 13 goals to go on to win his first WJ Hughes Medal as South Fremantle's fairest and best winner.

It seemed a lock that he would go on to join Kelly and fellow teammate Matthew Parker in the AFL system going into 2019, but it wouldn’t happen and then Pickett suffered two hiccups in the first part of the season that might have ended those hopes forever.

Pickett had a delayed start to the season with a broken finger and then in his second WAFL game back with South Fremantle, he again broke his finger just days before the AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft.

However, Richmond weren’t deterred and still selected him despite being no guarantees that he would even be able to play again in 2019.

Not only did Pickett make it back, he led Richmond's VFL team to a premiership with a best on ground performance and then he was ever so close to being best afield in the Tigers' AFL flag success on Saturday in a fairytale story for the ages.

Back on Thursday when Pickett found out he would be playing in Saturday's Grand Final, Pickett couldn’t believe that all his dreams were about to come true.

"The emotions were a bit of everything and when I got told I didn’t believe it, and I probably still can't believe it really. I immediately just started to look forward to the weekend," Pickett said.

"I am still pinching myself to be here. I didn’t think my debut would come around this early but it has. I just want to take it with both hands now.

"They say anything is possible so I didn’t give up and the finger healed, and I was playing VFL and enjoying playing with the boys and being at Richmond. 

"I did dream of playing in a Grand Final with Richmond, but probably not this soon. I thought it might happen in the next couple of years but for it to come around so quick is awesome."