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Thursday, September 30, 2021 - 7:43 AM by Chris Pike

MATTHEW Parker will forever be grateful to South Fremantle for giving him the chance to realise his AFL dream and that's why he is desperate to help repay the Bulldogs with a premiership triumph on Saturday.

Not only did Parker think that playing AFL was a faraway dream when he arrived at South Fremantle ahead of the 2017 WAFL season, but even playing league football with the Bulldogs was a long way away for the now 25-year-old.

However, he delivered impressive reserves form to bang down the door to play the last seven matches at league level with the Bulldogs in 2017 including the three finals that South Fremantle took part in.

He kicked four goals in a stunning debut and made an immediate impact leading to a standout 2018 season which was so impressive that he would end up drafted to St Kilda and go on to play 19 AFL matches over the next two years.

Parker found himself delisted at the end of 2020 and there was nowhere he thought of continuing on his career outside the AFL other than returning to South Fremantle, with the Bulldogs having won the 2020 premiership in his absence.

This version of Parker after two years in the AFL system was quite the impressive product and he delivered some scintillating football in the WAFL in the first half of the season showing he could be a brilliant clearance winner and on-baller as well as what he provides in attack.

Parker looked clearly a player who should be back in the AFL system and it was a club who had won three of the last four premierships who agreed and he lobbed at Richmond at the mid-season Rookie Draft.

He made an immediate impact at the Tigers too playing six more AFL matches to close out the season and Richmond was so impressed by him that they have guaranteed to sign him up to continue at the club in 2022.

Once the AFL season was done with Richmond missing finals, the opportunity presented for Parker to return to South Fremantle and be part of the Bulldogs' quest to win back-to-back premierships.

Once he found out that was possible, he was instantly on board and it's all because of what South Fremantle has done for him and he couldn’t be more thankful with the two clubs he's currently tied to.

"It just comes down to that a skinny little kid who came off the streets basically got given a chance by the Bulldogs," Parker told The Kennel on 91.3 SportFM.

"Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today so I have all the thanks to them and if I can help in any way I can to give back and to get that glory of a premiership with South Freo then I'll always put my hand up straightaway. I'm just repaying the favour I guess of what the club has done for me.

"It just comes down to having fun with your footy. That's why we start playing for because we just love playing the game because we are having fun out there. 

"So I've made sure that stays my focus and being around such a tight group there with the brothers at Richmond and at South is something pretty special. Both clubs are family clubs and have a lot of brothers so for me that's what makes being at both clubs extra special at the moment so it's good."

To say it's been a rollercoaster past 12 months for Parker would be a great understatement.

He deserved to feel he had done enough in two years at St Kilda to deserve to remain on their list, but the Saints disagreed and all of a sudden he was out of the AFL system and moved back home to Perth to re-join with South Fremantle.

But then mid-season he was back to Melbourne and back into the AFL system with Richmond, and Parker couldn’t be happier with how it's all panned out.

"It's been pretty much a rollercoaster year, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I was lucky enough to come back and play here at South Freo, and then was lucky enough to get picked up again by such a great club in Richmond," Parker said.

"I got an opportunity to play a few games up there and am hoping to build on that now next year, but I also got the chance to come back here to lay a bit of finals footy for Souths. I put my hand straight up as soon as I heard I would be allowed to play and I wanted to go out and help the boys during the finals."

Looking back to Sunday's preliminary final win against Claremont that has got South Fremantle into a third straight Grand Final against Subiaco this Saturday at Optus Stadium, Parker was proud of the team's fighting performance.

"It was a bit of an exciting week for everyone and it was good to get the win to get off to the Grand Final. We'll prepare well and hopefully go again on Saturday," he said.

"I thought we did pretty well on Sunday as a collective group. We knew what we wanted to do and I think we executed that real well. 

"We always knew they were going to come at some point and they did that early in the last quarter by kicking a few goals, but we just stuck to what we know and what we do our best and that got us to where we wanted to be."

South Fremantle is now attempting to break a run of losing six straight finals against Subiaco dating back to 2016 in Saturday's Grand Final, and Parker has full faith the Bulldogs have what it takes to pull it off.

"Last time they got over us because we started a bit slow. We obviously know they are a physical group but we can by physical as well so we know what they are going to bring, and we know what we have to bring. We just have to bring that to the table and give ourselves the best chance," Parker said.

"Obviously with a lot of players coming out of the team last week and bringing those young boys in, they really stood up for us and I think that gave us a bit of an edge to just focus on getting in there and cracking in. 

"We had guys like Suban, Drago and Jakey cracking in there in the mids and in the forward-line we have Cody and little Kelly cracking in, and then a couple of young boys down back like Hally. We have a good mix across the ground and we are pretty settled and happy with where we're at heading into the Grand Final."

One of the things that Parker has fallen in love with most in his time at South Fremantle is the faithful supporters and he can't wait to see them turn out in their thousands on Grand Final day.

"The fans are what makes the club go around I think more than anything. To be able to have our loyal supporters there on Saturday to come down and support us will be amazing," Parker said.

"They've been around a lot longer than I've been around the club and I still see the same faces there every week for our games, win, lose or draw. If they can come down again for the Grand Final and when we run out onto the ground and can see red and white everywhere in the stands that's going to be even better for us."