Bulldog Pickett to make most of long-awaited AFL chance

Sunday, June 2, 2019 - 9:00 PM by Chris Pike

GIVEN he is 98 games into his WAFL career at South Fremantle the chance might have come later than it could have and an AFL debut might still be delayed until 2020, but Marlion Pickett is now getting the chance he deserves thanks to Richmond.

The Pickett story is a remarkable one and it's a tremendous example of how someone can overcome a troubled youth with the right support around him, and turn both his personal and professional life around.

It's no secret the bad decisions a younger Pickett made and by being caught up with the wrong people he paid the consequences for that, but it takes tremendous commitment and courage to turn your life around, and to let people help you to accomplish that.

Pickett's life now continues its tremendous upward trajectory as the father-of-four is building a life for his family that has their future looking bright while his football career goes from strength to strength.

Talent on the field has never been in question with Pickett and that was obvious from the moment he arrived at South Fremantle midway through the 2013 season.

Then coach Paul Hasleby threw him in late in the season with nothing to lose and from the moment he delivered 26 possessions and three goals on debut against East Perth at Fremantle Community Bank Oval, what he was capable of was obvious to everyone who witnessed it.

While he had a solid 2014 season, it wasn’t until the arrival of Todd Curley as coach in 2015 where Pickett really truly found his feet as one of the most spectacular and dynamic players in the WAFL on a regular basis.

He was shifted into defence and quickly made an incredible impact. 

His ferocious attack on the ball and opposition, and competitive drive to never lose a contest and then natural talent and athleticism to help out his teammates to affect spoils, and then run and carry the ball out of his defence soon became his trademark and one of South Fremantle's great strengths.

Pickett would deliver three outstanding seasons in that role which including a third-place finish in fairest and best voting in 2015 and also being recognised for his talents by playing in the WAFL State Team.

He appeared at the peak of his powers in that defensive role by the end of 2017 while having had the occasional stint forward, in the middle or even as a pinch-hit ruckman but then Tim Kelly was drafted to Geelong and his whole world changed.

Suddenly South Fremantle needed to find a replacement for Kelly in that role in the middle and they looked to Pickett who went on to produce a simply stunning season in a Bulldogs team that ended up reaching a third successive preliminary final.

All of a sudden that role as an on-baller allowed all of Pickett's great strengths to shine where his fierce physicality on the man and ball let him win the ball in tight and apply great tackling pressure.

Then his ability to break from congestion and run with the ball using his dynamic pace and then deliver the ball by foot made him a marvel to watch in action.

Pickett went on to win the WJ Hughes Medal as South Fremantle's fairest and best for the first time and it appeared a lock he would join Kelly and Matthew Parker in the AFL system.

However, Pickett went undrafted and his AFL dream appeared a long shot to receive another chance.

That was even more the case when he broke a finger on the eve of the 2019 season and then missed South Fremantle's opening five games.

He made a solid return in the Round 6 win against Subiaco before disaster appeared to strike just two days out from the AFL Mid-Season Rookie Draft when he rebroke the same finger and immediately underwent surgery.

Pickett himself might have thought that his potential last chance of breaking into the AFL at age 27 was over, but come Monday evening he received the pleasant shock that Richmond had selected him in the mid-season draft.

Now all of a sudden just days after thinking his AFL dream was over thanks to the broken finger, Pickett was saying goodbye to his family at the airport and heading to Melbourne to begin his football journey at the Tigers and at least in the short-term, living in Melbourne with 2017 Brownlow and Norm Smith Medallist Dusty Martin.

Pickett had resigned him to the fact that when he broke his finger early in Saturday's game against East Perth that it would likely mean no AFL club would still pick him up two days later.

"When I broke my finger, I wasn’t expecting to get picked up anymore so I had the surgery straight after the game and it was a pretty tough couple of days because I thought I'd lost my chance," Pickett said.

"But then it was a bit of a shock when I heard that Richmond had selected me, I was pretty stoked actually. I'm stoked and I'm just ready to get to Melbourne now and put my best foot forward, and work as hard as I can."

Pickett was still keeping an eye on the draft on Monday afternoon but more so to see if any teammates might get selected rather than thinking he was still a chance. But then he got the pleasant surprise.

"So when I've done my finger for the second time this year on Saturday, I thought that was it for me," he said.

"I wasn’t expecting to get picked up anymore so I wasn’t really watching the AFL app for me when the draft was on. But I was watching because I was hoping for a couple of other boys to get picked. But my name got called out and I wasn’t really sure what to think."

With a partner and four children, the fact that Pickett is now in the AFL system and if he could remain with Richmond in 2020 and even beyond, it has the chance to be a lifechanging past week for the 27-year-old which is why he never gave up on the dream.

"I'm mainly doing it for my family. I'm not doing it for myself, I'm doing it for my kids. I'm a bit nervous about heading over to Melbourne but I'm looking forward to the challenge," Pickett said.

"Not getting picked up every year has probably only made me work even harder, I've tried to not let it get me down too much. I've tried to focus on becoming a better player every year instead of getting down about not being picked up."

Now that Pickett is in Melbourne and living with Martin and embracing being part of Richmond, it's all about moving forward and making the most of the opportunity ahead of him.

"I'm just focused on doing everything right to get my finger ready to go again in eight weeks and seeing where we go from there," Pickett said.

"I'm pretty excited to go over and play with Dusty. I'm going to be living with him for a little while so I'm looking forward to that and then when I get back to playing, I'll just try and play the way I do and see how I go.

"If I get to play in the AFL and do it with someone like Dusty for a team like Richmond, it would be a dream come true."