This article was published before the Phillips brothers played against each other on Saturday night.
It’s been an eventful six days in the Phillips household.
Last Saturday, younger brother Ed debuted for the Saints in Perth, and collected the most disposals by a St Kilda debutant since 1993, while older brother Tom failed to finish Collingwood’s loss against Geelong on Sunday afternoon due to concussion.
Remarkably, his boot made contact with the ball and dribbled through for an improbable goal at the exact same time his head hit the turf.
And while their exploits last weekend couldn’t have been more diverse, the stars have aligned this weekend.
For the first time in their young lives, Tom, 22 and Ed, 20 will play against each other when St Kilda host Collingwood on Saturday night at Etihad Stadium, which has made for a unique set of circumstances.
Both still living in their family home in Donvale, the Phillips brothers share a unique bond, one that has taken them through the highs and lows of football, and to some of the most remarkable sights around the globe, including Myanmar, Cambodia, India and Nepal in the last off-season, an experience that brought them even closer.
Tom and Ed speak glowingly and proudly of each other’s feats to date, “I’ve travelled a lot with Ed overseas, and we see the world through very similar eyes,” Tom explained on Thursday night. “We want to impact those around us and the world around us. We share the same hobbies and passions for travel, and like to give our time and help other people out.”
But their normally open and honest relationship has been tested throughout this quirky week.
Tom was unsure up until yesterday afternoon whether he would take to the field on Saturday night, and did his utmost to deliberately keep Ed out of the loop, just in case the Saints were probing the younger Phillips about his older brother. Right up until Thursday afternoon, Ed was sending Tom Snapchats to decipher whether he was given the all clear, but Tom gave him nothing in return.
Most nights, the Phillips’ sit down and have dinner as a family, aside from two nights before game day — usually a Thursday — where Tom and Ed meet with their mentor Anthony Panozzo at a Thai restaurant called Jinda, which Ed says is “the best Thai in Melbourne.” Although if you ask them both where it is, Tom will say it’s in Abbotsford and Ed will list Richmond.
To most people’s surprise, the topic of conversation last night at Jinda wasn’t solely related to their impending encounter. When they meet with their mentor and family friend, the three talk about life, rather than getting bogged down in the workings of their day-to-day jobs.
Growing up in a family that included their father, Anthony playing for the Essendon reserves, and their uncle, Andrew playing 42 games for Carlton, there was only ever one sporting path for these two endurance beasts.
“Dad and our uncle have been very helpful in Tom and my football development,” Ed said. “They were role models for us and something to aspire to.”
And while their formative years playing football were inspired by their elders, it was playing alongside each other in the backyard and at the Beverley Hills Football Club in East Doncaster that has inspired their eerily similar footballing strengths.
Both elite runners, Ed was one of the few St Kilda players who challenged Jarryn Geary during the club’s 3km time trial in December, while Tom is an endurance beast who won both 2km time trials at Collingwood this past off-season, and claimed the 2015 and 2016 installments.
When asked who the best runner was out of the two of them, Tom tried to be diplomatic, “I’m pretty modest and low key with running, but I think I’d get the win over him. He’d be in the top one per cent of runners in the AFL as well.”
They differ academically, where Tom is studying a bachelor of communications, and aspires to move into a sports journalism role, already dipping his toe in the water by hosting the ‘Board Room’ podcast with teammate, Mason Cox.
For younger brother Ed it’s a psychology degree, where the remarkably grounded 20-year-old is exploring the psychology behind elite athletes and what makes them tick.
After Thursday night’s dinner at Jinda, the two tackle a day at their respective clubs on Friday, which includes meetings, pre-game prep and the captain’s run, before they will share a family dinner together on the eve of the Round 9 match. Ed believes the meal will consist of spaghetti bolognese, and Tom insists it will be some pesto pasta with chicken. “Our preparation in general is a little bit different. I’m a bit more detailed with mine, Tommy I’m sure prepares in his own way,” Ed explained.
“It’s weird,” Tom said. “It’ll be funny sitting across from him [the night before], because it’s not as if he plays for an interstate club and you don’t really see him. We’ve been under the same roof for 20 years, so it’s pretty unbelievable and unreal when you think that we’re now trying to beat each other.”
When they make the trek from Donvale to Etihad Stadium tomorrow, it will be in separate cars, or so I believe. “We’ll probably go in separate cars to the game, but I wouldn’t rule out us going together,” Tom joked. “We spoke about me walking into the St Kilda change rooms, and Ed walking into the Collingwood change rooms and seeing how that would play out. It would be a bit of a laugh if we did a Facebook Live while it was taking place. That would be a pre-game rev up for the audience.”
And as for family allegiances, it is expected that mum Liz will wear both Collingwood and St Kilda scarves and may cheer for a draw, younger sister Lucy will support Tom, because “Ed and Lucy have always bickered so deep down she will be supporting me,” and dad Anthony will be hoping for something similar to Liz.
There’s a distinct possibly that they will cross paths on the wing at some point in the night, an event they have pictured. “Growing up, we played a lot of footy together so we know our games pretty well,” Ed explained. “It’d be a funny feeling to line up on him.”
And while Ed hasn’t entertained the thought of getting physical just yet, his older brother may be going into the contest with a slightly altered mindset. “I’m sure there’ll be a sledge directed his way at some point, but hopefully not an all-in brawl. If he pipes up a bit there might be a few jumper punches. We’ll have to see what happens.”
One thing’s for sure, the close-knit family who have dreamed about this milestone transpiring will be riding every bump, kick, tackle and kilometre run.