The phone call from dad that kept Marlion’s dream alive
Richmond premiership hero Marlion Pickett has declared a second flag within 20 games would be the ultimate validation following football's most trying season.
Pickett, 28, revealed he had all but quit social media this year after a raft of derogatory messages about his place in the team began affecting him mentally.
The Tigers' 2019 fairytale story is endeavouring to add a second Grand Final victory to his name after sensationally making his AFL debut in last year's decider.
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He has played a further 18 games this season, with his stoic partner and "rock" Jess and their young family joining him in the team's Queensland hub.
But it hasn't all been easy, with family grief - including the funeral of his uncle, Mark, on the day of Richmond's qualifying final loss to Brisbane - and personal struggles throughout the year as he made the transition from finals sensation to fixture in the Richmond outfit.
"There's been a lot of criticism on social media and web pages and stuff," Pickett told the Herald Sun.
"I wasn't really a fan of it, but I'm trying to stay off it now, because I just play my role in the team system. Outside of the footy club, people don't know what our role is.
"People wishing you'd get dropped, getting messages saying, 'hope you're telling the coaches that you're not playing' because you had a bad game.
"I'm talking to people to help me through it, and they give me advice to stay off social media and not read into any of that stuff. But it's a bit hard when you've got people messaging you, some of the fans of Richmond and stuff, but it is what it is."
Pickett's struggles were highlighted earlier this year when it was reported that he was on a second-year rookie wage at a time when players agreed to take a 50 per cent pay cut to help save the game during the COVID-19 crisis.
But the tough Tiger said this year was all about Saturday night.
Pickett, a proud Noongar man, has been spending time with his children in the hub "and occupying myself, trying not to spend too much time on the phone".
He said the playing group had met after teammate Dylan Grimes and his family were subjected to threats during the year - an attack acted upon by Victoria Police.
He said he had also consulted with coaches in the wake of the criticism.
"Listening to (Grimes') time experiencing a similar thing, it made me want to listen to them," he said.
"So I've been staying off there a bit."
Pickett also said he had come close to booking flights to return to Perth with his family on the eve of the finals series.
His father, Thomas, who is fighting lung disease, has been in and out of hospital in recent months, and was released from care on Monday in his most recent fight with illness.
But it was a call from his father that convinced Pickett - who attended his dad's brother's funeral via Zoom - to keep his second premiership dream alive.
"I nearly left the hub to go back and stay with family in Perth," the Tiger said.
"Just to be with my family, because I was a bit worried about my dad.
"Family is family. Footy is a job. But family is the most important thing, and No.1 in my life.
"I was ready to book my flight, but I spoke to my dad and he was OK, and said to stay there. If it wasn't for him and that phone call, then I probably would have been back in Perth.
"Definitely (glad I stayed)."
Pickett said his father - whose first trip on a plane was to Melbourne for last year's Grand Final - would "100 per cent" be watching on Saturday.
"He calls me up before and after the game and always lets me know he's really proud of me and how far we've come," he said.
Pickett and his family will return to Perth immediately after Saturday night's Grand Final at the Gabba.
Having settled in Thornbury before the AFL season upheaval, Pickett joked that he might return to "jungle" in the backyard upon his return to Melbourne.
But to claim Saturday's cup would be worth the lengthy journey.
"Being away from home for 100 and something days, you just want to win, hopefully," he said.
"But if not, at least we know that we've overcome adversity throughout the year and made it to where we wanted to be. To play in another granny is a really good thing. Not many people make it and play in them, so it's a good achievement."
Originally published as The phone call from dad that kept Marlion's dream alive