Tory Dickson took the road less traveled to the AFL.
After playing six years at both local and VFL level, his dream was realised on draft night in 2011.
The rest, as they say is history, with Dickson enjoying a career-year in 2015 — kicking 50 goals and just 12 behinds in 23 games.
Things didn’t start too well for him in 2016, with the goal sneak missing the first four games of the season due to a quad strain, but he quickly made up for lost time.
In some ways, Dickson’s rise from suburban notoriety to elite status exemplifies the Bulldogs’ ascension — quiet and unassuming.
However, the dead-eye Dickson had a somewhat surprising outing in the Bulldogs’ semi-final triumph against Hawthorn.
For the first time in his career, he kicked three behinds in a game, and by his own admission, missed some set shots that he’d normally gobble up.
But just like his teammates have done all season, Dickson picked himself up off the canvas and responded in resounding fashion against GWS, finishing with four goals in the Dogs’ thrilling six-point victory.
“I felt like I got the opportunities, but the kicking boots weren’t on against Hawthorn,” Dickson told Aflplayers.com.au.
“I put that down to a couple of things — it was a bit slippery and there were some nerves.
“I focused on the fundamentals during the week. Obviously, it’s easy to kick them at training, but I wanted to make sure that my routine was nice and fluent.
“I was happy to get the first one or two out against GWS which gave me the confidence to kick the next few.
“When I’ve been asked about my routine, I’ve explained that I like to keep it as simple as possible. I don’t focus on a certain amount of steps or anything like that, I make sure that my ball drop is as close to my hand as possible, and the momentum is going through the ball.
“When I lean back or stab at the ball, that’s when I’m most often going to miss.”
It’s that goal-kicking routine that stood out to his former VFL coach at Frankston, Shannon Grant, who was crucial in getting Dickson to the Bulldogs when he went across as an assistant coach under Brendan McCartney.
Under Grant, Dickson won Frankston’s best and fairest in 2009 but, after leaving the VFL to play locally at Noble Park, was convinced to move back to the VFL with Bendigo by the former North Melbourne star.
A number of things stood out to his former mentor — the work ethic, the forward pressure, and the “solid” routine in front of goals.
“I always believed he had a tremendous amount of talent,” Grant told Aflplayers.com.au.
“I probably found it hard to believe at the time that he hadn’t been picked up earlier. That sometimes happens — good players get through the cracks.
“He has a solid routine [in front of goals] that he’s backed himself in with over a long period of time, and he’s worked hard at it.
“He’s a really good body player for someone of his size. He’s hard to match up on because if you put a bloke on him that’s the same size he can take them deep and out-work them and out-mark them. With taller guys, he can probably out-work them further up the ground and lose them on the way back.”
There were some key moments on Saturday that stood out as being pivotal — whether it was Clay Smith’s burst of energy in the first half, or Marcus Bontempelli strolling inside 50 to give the Dogs the lead — big finals games are made up of instants where players make their mark.
With 16 minutes remaining, and the Bulldogs trailing by their biggest margin of 14 points, Dickson displayed his nifty body work against Nathan Wilson, delivering a timely nudge to gain separation, before falling backwards to hold onto the mark.
A momentary lapse in concentration by the Giants allowed him to waltz into the goal square and peg the margin back to eight points.
The Giants’ momentum had been stifled as the Dogs reeled off the next two goals to open up a seven-point lead.
Fittingly, the ball ended up in his hands with 27 seconds remaining, sending football fans across the country into raptures.
“When I marked the ball, I knew there was under a minute to go because everyone was telling me to hold onto the ball,” Dickson explained.
“A lot of things were going through my head, but when that siren sounded I smiled and I thought of torping the ball, I thought of doing a few different things but it didn’t matter in the end.
“It was a happy point.”
Most Bulldogs players will get used to the constant questioning over the next few days. After breaking a 55-year drought, will there be extra motivation? How hard will it be to not get caught up in the fairy tale story line?
For Dickson and the playing group it’s simple, if you need extra motivation at this point of the season, you shouldn’t be out there.
“There’s enough motivation in itself to win an AFL premiership. Hawthorn were lucky enough to do it three years in a row, and I think we’re just going in with the belief that anything is possible.”
That belief has been on display on a couple of occasions over the past two seasons.
In round four last year, and round 15 this year, the Dogs overcame the odds to topple the Swans at the SCG.
While that evokes a sense of assurance, clearly it doesn’t provide the playing group with complete confidence.
“You can look at it both ways,” Dickson explained.
“It gives us confidence to know that we can match it with the best on their day and interstate, but It means nothing now, it’s a grand final and I expect the intensity to go up even more.
“I watched the Geelong game and they were unbelievable, and we lost to Geelong twice this year.
“Sydney ended up on top for a reason.”
The softly-spoken 29-year-old will realise a boyhood dream when he runs out on Saturday, re-affirming his decision to stick at it when many others would have given up.
“I’ve had many dreams — I used to be a Hawthorn supporter back in the day so I’ve watched a lot of the grand finals,” Dickson added.
“It’s always been a dream to win an AFL grand final.”
With each passing week, Dickson has slowly begun to believe. With one hurdle remaining, he can’t help but consider the possibility of holding that cup aloft at 5pm on Saturday afternoon.
“I dreamt about winning the first final, dreamt about winning the second final and the dream came true to win that third final.
“There’s one more to go, so hopefully we can get over the line.’’