By sports editor Russell Bennett
Tom Papley’s State of Origin footy journey may’ve only just begun, but there’s an Origin legacy in his blood.
His grandfathers on both sides of his family – Jeff Bray and Max Papley – played for South Australia and Victoria respectively, and on Friday night in front of a bumper crowd the Bunyip product got the chance to follow in their footsteps.
But he didn’t just follow them, he made his own stamp on the big stage – booting five majors against an All-Stars side coached by his Swans coach, John Longmire, and further cementing his status as one of the current day’s best small forwards.
In many people’s eyes, Papley would have even been a worthy winner of the best on ground medal, which ultimately went to the player judged by most as the AFL’s best – Richmond superstar Dustin Martin.
But Papley – despite having played in an AFL Grand Final before – was pinching himself to even be out there on the same team as the likes of Martin, Cotchin, and Pendlebury.
“Mate, he said just running out with those stars – let alone getting high fives from them as team mates during the game – was unreal,” Papley’s father, Dave, told the Gazette.
“He couldn’t believe that after one of his goals Cotch, Danger and Dusty all gave him a high five.
“But, honestly, he was most excited about playing Origin in the first place – just like Jeff and my old man.
“He said he could hang his jumper up next to Paps’ (Max’s) now.”
But it wasn’t just the AFL’s most recognised stars that Papley relished calling team mates.
“He raved about Toby Greene (from Sydney’s mortal enemy, Greater Western Sydney) – he spoke so highly of his footy brain, and said of all his Victorian team mates he was probably the one he connected with most.
“He’s still pinching himself about the game even now – he said it was just great.
“He knows he may never get the opportunity again, but he said it was just unbelievable.”
Two-time Richmond premiership coach Damien Hardwick led the Vics last week, and even organised for each of his players to receive a letter from a past Victorian Origin great.
Papley received one from Collingwood icon, Peter Daicos.
“He was just so rapt with that – it’s a massive feather in his cap getting a letter from him, and he said he’d frame it too” Dave said.
“And what a great idea from Dimma (Hardwick), too. He really got right behind it.
“Even though the players didn’t have a huge amount of time together under Dimma, Tom said it was like having a mate coaching them. He could tell how much of a ripping bloke he really is.”
The cause behind Friday night’s blockbuster – bushfire relief – was one that’s particularly close to his heart.
In March last year he set up a GoFundMe page to raise as much money as possible for the victims of the fires that ravaged well in excess of 100,000 hectares and destroyed 29 homes in the local area. The page raised just shy of $10,000 in a matter of days.
But Dave said his son was still hurting with the knowledge that so many people in and around his home town were still suffering 12 months on from those blazes.
“He was right behind the cause because those Bunyip State Park fires still haven’t been forgotten by anyone around here – not by a longshot – particularly by those who experienced them directly,” Dave said.
“He was hoping that some of the money raised on Friday night would make its way to those families too.”