When a young player arrives at a football club, gaining the respect of the senior players is his first priority. Before I got to Fremantle in 2007, I knew Matthew Pavlich as a champion in the game, a West Australian icon and the greatest leader the Dockers had ever had. He was someone I desperately wanted to impress.
But during my first week at the club, Pav went out of his way to make himself known to me, rather than the other way around. It sounds like a small gesture, but the fact he asked whether I’d like to go for a coffee with him meant the world to me. I suddenly felt at home at Fremantle – Pav has that effect on a lot of people. We continued to touch base like that once or twice a week, and he became a mentor for me – for that year, and every year after.
Pavlich is a remarkable footballer, and the fact he’ll become the first West Australian player to reach 300 games this weekend is testament to that. But what I have found most incredible about Pav has been his willingness to constantly give back to others.
‘I suddenly felt at home at Fremantle – Pav has that effect on a lot of people.’
For as long as I’ve shared the forward 50 with Pav, he’s been someone who draws two or three opponents each game. He’s been our most important player, and the one that opposition sides have put the most time into stopping. He’d have every right to focus on his own game, as he faces bigger challenges than most other players on the footy field. But looking out for number one has never been Pav’s go.
I certainly wouldn’t be the player I am today without Pav. He has taught me how to train, how to best use my body in contests and how to approach my goal-kicking. He’s also taught me about leading patterns, defensive pressure and every other technical element of my game, and has spent countless hours going through my tape with me. But that’s only ever been one part of it; he’s also taught me a lot about life.
Whenever we catch up, Pav wants to know exactly where I’m at with Uni, and is always making sure I’m on top of it all. Whenever I’ve had problems, with footy or life in general, he’s always been available for me to call him and check in.
There was a period last season where I was having a tough time, and he could tell I wasn’t right. He encouraged me to put everything into improving my football during my time at the club, and once training was over we’d get a coffee and talk through any issues away from footy. Pav has always openly discussed how he’s gone through life, and how you can put whatever you’re dealing with into your football.
I took his advice on board and was able to have a pretty good year.
Matt has had a huge impact on my career, but I’m certainly not the only person at the club he looks after. Every player on our list has had similar experiences with him, and there are any number of guys who could have written a piece like this.
‘His voice carries so much weight, and it means a lot to all the guys at the club that Pav is out there looking out for our interests.’
Having grown up in South Australia, Pav takes a special interest in all the boys who have come across from Adelaide. He regularly has Lachie Neale, Cam Sutcliffe and all the Adelaide boys over for dinner at his place. He cooks up a feast for them and makes sure they’re all going okay.
Pav has a gift of making people feel important and part of something – whether it’s a young guy at the club, or someone who approaches him on the street whenever he’s out in Fremantle.
His presence around the city of Fremantle is a sight to behold, and something that’s always amazed me. Every time we go to get a coffee, he’ll be stopped half a dozen times by people just wanting to say hi. No matter how busy he is, Pav will always make time for them. He’s always happy to have a chat, pose for photos and sign autographs.
Aside from being the unofficial mayor of Fremantle, and the captain of our club, he’s also the Vice-President of the Players’ Association. His voice carries so much weight, and it means a lot to all the guys at the club that Pav is out there looking out for our interests, and supporting all players – not just the big names. I couldn’t imagine being in his position, balancing all his different responsibilities whilst raising a young family with his wife Lauren.
Pav has great resilience, and is never one to pack it in when things get hard. I know he’ll have matches where he won’t kick a bag of goals and win the game off his own boot – but I also know that on those days he’ll be laying a block, running to the next contest and doing everything else in his power to help get us over the line.
It’s an attitude he’s drilled into all of us, and while there are few players who can influence a game like Pav, we can all approach the contest the same way he does. I know the boys would love nothing more than to win for him on Saturday.
When asked during the week why he’d stayed at the Dockers through the lean years, Pav said he’d felt he had “unfinished business”. He’s not the only one.
Pav couldn’t have done anything more for the Fremantle Football Club. After everything he’s given through years of ups and downs, and having fallen just short of a Premiership last year, he deserves nothing less than the opportunity to finish what he started 300 games ago and enjoy the ultimate team success.