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Illawarra Mercury

The Saint who became ... SYDNEY'S SAVIOUR

Author: By PETER DAVIS
Date: 04/06/1999
Words: 1500
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: Sport
Page: 6
Late August 1994, or was it September?

The exact date escapes me, but I remember the telephone conversation as though it was yesterday!

"How's, it going?" I asked to Tony Lockett as he spent a quiet holiday evening in the Central West of NSW after his 12th year at St Kilda.

``Mate, it is just nice to be finished with footy again and have time to relax," was his reply.

Short, to-the-point, and we got on with other matters.

The conversation varied from our mutual love of greyhounds to fishing, golf and finally, back to football.

In the weeks leading up to our conversation, I knew he was very close to leaving the Saints to sign with Collingwood.

As a parting comment, he added: ``See you in November!"

What!?

Were my ears deceiving me?

``Yeah, I've just signed with the Swans. I'll need you to pick me up from the airport," he said.

His bombshell left me in a state of disbelief for the remainder of our family holiday to Hobart.

The season leading up to his signing with Sydney had been one of tumult for Anthony Howard Lockett - ``Plugger" to his legion of fans.

He had served a longest suspension of his career in 1994 after felling Swan Peter Caven at the SCG in an incident that was played over-and-over in the media and portrayed Lockett as a despicable opponent, capable of carnage at a moment's notice.

This version of Lockett was foreign to me.

I first met Plugger at Wentworth Park dogs one Saturday night in 1993 when Billy - his favourite greyhound - was contesting a heat of the NSW Country Championship.

We had spoken on the phone many times before, but meeting the big fella in person was very different.

His lack of compassion for the media had been well documented.

Here I was, part of greyhound racings media contingent, wondering whether Tony Lockett had me in the same basket as those living south of the Murray.

His handshake was as crushing as his imposing frame.

He was reserved, speaking only when asked a question.

The ice was broken, however it was obvious Plugger was somewhat shy and quiet, befriending only but a few. To those he trusted, he was totally loyal.

Nearly six years later it is the same humble Plugger that strides out for the Sydney Swans and is set to achieve AFL immortality.

The villain that felled Caven at the SCG is now truly adored in his adopted home town.

However it was this adulation following his condemnation over the Caven incident that, in my opinion, troubled Plugger the most when he first came north.

People who wanted him hung one minute were slapping him on the back the next.

Privately, I am sure he cursed them.

Lockett's first port of call in Sydney was Coogee's Holiday Inn.

Weekends were spent back at his Cranbourne property in country Victoria while his intensive pre-season training was based out of a beachside motel room.

After Christmas he moved into a caravan park at Brighton Le Sands but that lasted only a few days.

One of the highest profile footballers in the country living in a caravan park?

That was the way he wanted it.

Independent to a fault.

A motel room at Engadine was homebase after the New Year and long-term partner Vicki joined him just before buying their first home only a matter of 400m from that same motel.

``The move to Sydney was the toughest decision I have ever made," he said. ``Fortunately, it's the best I've made.

``Not only did it reignite my career, it provided me with a sense of freedom that was not possible in Melbourne.

``I came here looking at three years of football (30 months was the duration of his `football contract') and then going home.

"Nearly five years have passed and this (Sydney) is home.

``We have two beautiful girls, and they are our priority.

``I will never forget St Kilda and the mates I have down there, but this is where my future lies.

"When I came here, Gordon Coventry's record was a million miles away and, importantly, Jason (Dunstall) looked like getting there first.

"For the past 12 months it (breaking Coventry's 1299 goal mark - Plugger is on 1297) has been a distraction to winning games and it will be nice to finally get it out of the way against Collingwood.

``Our loss to West Coast was shattering, but it did show that we are a force in this year's competition.

"This is a team game and, though this will be my last year of playing football, I want to go out with a premiership.

``That is what it is all about."

After four wins and five losses in the opening nine rounds, a premiership may not be added to Lockett's considerable AFL achievements.

He will almost certainly retire at the end of this, his 17th season as one of the AFL's elite.

His five years dominating the SCG's extremities will long remain in the hearts and minds of Swans fans.

PLUGGER'S TOP TEN

? The 1996 Grand Final game we lost but could so nearly have had stitched up by halftime.

? That point against Essendon. Everyone knows how many goals I have landed but none have been as important as that 50m drop punt point at the SCG in 1996.

? State Of Origin 1995 against South Australia at the MCG. Teddy Whitten was an inspiration and to win the E J Whitten medal is something that I really treasure.

? The '89 origin game against the Croweaters in front of 97,000 home fans was big.

? Kicking 100 goals in a season for the first time in 1987 and winning the Coleman Medal.

? Scoring a goal with my first kick in senior football against Geelong at Waverly in 1983.

? The 1987 Brownlow Medal.

? My 250th game against Fremantle at the SCG last year.

? The 1000th career goal against Fremantle in 1996.

? Hopefully getting at least three goals, and a win, on Sunday!

Boys are coming

Duff, Al and Muzza are on the way.

The Ballarat boys will be at the SCG on Sunday - this is it.

As the world knows, Plugger has three goals to kick to be the greatest ever!

And who would bet against the big event happening with his best mates from down south arriving for a rare visit to the Swans nest.

``Duff and I go back a long way," said the big number four yesterday.

``We played footy together in the Under 12s at Ballarat and it will be great to have them here on Sunday.

``I don't see a lot of them but, like most good friends, when we catch up it is like we have not missed a day from seeing each other.

``Al is a true friend and a desperately frustrated golfer. It's a real afternoon out on the golf course with Al.

``There is no chance of losing money and the comedy comes free.

``Muzza and I catch up each time I go down to Ballarat but, with his business, he gets little time to come north.

``The boys will be in party mode and my brother Neil - known to his friends as The Delinquent - has the job of looking after them.

``Good luck boys!"

Mum's the word, says Liz

Since first pulling on a St Kilda jumper as a raw 16 year old, Liz Lockett has followed her oldest son's career with a passion.

Hardly a published word about the champion goal-kicker has eluded the mother of four, and she's got the scrapbooks to prove it.

"All the family will be up for the game on Sunday."

"Some of Tony's oldest mates from Ballarat will be in town. It will be a real familiy affair.

``Amazingly, most of the family barracked for Collingwood when the kids were little.

"But Tony supported Hawthorn as a little bloke and Dianne (his older sister) had a soft spot for Carlton.

``He was drafted by St Kilda - as Ballarat was in the Saints' recruiting zone - and we travelled down to Moorabbin three times a week for training and to watch him play on the weekends."

Though his football skills have allowed Tony Lockett's name to transcend his sport, his genuine all-round sporting ability was always evident.

``He started playing footy at seven (in an Under 12s competition) and continued with North Ballarat until he went to St Kilda," Liz recalled.

``But he also played cricket, basketball, tennis, badminton and table tennis.

``Everything just seemed to come naturally to him - always very competitive.

"He worked very hard at being the best he could be at anything - a perfectionist you could say."

But superstition has also played its part in the Lockett legend.

"On Sunday he will have an old Adidas football bag with all his gear in it," his mum said.

``He has used the same beaten-up bag since first starting at St Kilda and it looks like lasting through his career."

Lockett's older sister Dianne - an outstanding sportsperson in her own right - really wanted to play football as well, but the authorities would not allow girls to play footy back then.

``She was broken hearted that she was not allowed to play, but she eventually ran the boundary as an umpire for North Ballarat," Liz said.

``The pair (Tony and Dianne) were excellent badminton partners and had a lot of fun together as younger kids.

"Carol has kept playing basketball since the age of seven.

``She is in the Police Force now and has represented the State.

``Neil loves his golf and was another partial to a game of basketball.

``He now lives with Tony and they share a good deal of common interests."

At season end, the Lockett family will have some time on their hands.

Season 1999 is Tony Lockett's 27th of strapping on football boots.

His family have been there for every game, every minute - either watching or listening via the radio.

By the time season 2000 arrives the Lockett family's winter will be very different, as it will be for the Swans.

Unfortunately for Sydney, there is only one Tony Lockett.

The Legend of Lockettt - See Page 8

 
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