Pickett doesn’t drink. Not any more. He knows what is good for him and what isn’t.
He came into the AFL as a mature-aged recruit, to Richmond with life experiences unlike anyone else in the game. He had spent two-and-a half years in jail, had four kids. He was not just an old recruit, he was by now a mature one.
You surely know that his first game of football was just over 12 months ago in the AFL grand final but it bears repeating. Imagine your first game being the biggest game of the year, in front of the biggest crowd. Right now it’s hard to remember being at a game with a crowd.
The feel-good nature of this story demands that after that breakthrough moment life would open up and get easier. That after spinning with the ball on light dancer’s feet, after kicking a goal on that grand final day, he would follow through on the promise he showed in that one game and become a top 20 player in the competition, with a wealth such that all life’s troubles would melt away. It hasn’t happened.
Still on rookie wages after his one game, he was ready to sign a new contract that would have given him the financial comfort he has chased along with his playing dream. Richmond had one there for him. Then COVID hit and contracts were frozen, player wages cut and everyone was thrown into turmoil and hardship. Pickett was one of the players quickly identified as an obvious case for hardship assistance when the sweeping wage cuts hit players.
Since that grand final debut, when he played in front of a full MCG, his next game was in front of an empty MCG. He has co-written a book, he’s been the subject of an Australian Story documentary, he’s gone into a hub and played a full season.
Having moved his young family from Perth to Melbourne to pursue his football dream, they went into lockdown for months in a small home in Melbourne then joined him in a hub in Queensland.
Meanwhile, home in WA, his dad was struggling with lung cancer and the pull on him to leave the hub and get back across the country to see him was becoming acute. He said recently he nearly left the hub – and with it any real hope of playing finals with Richmond – to get back to see his dad. His dad didn’t want him to do that.
For people who work closely with him at Richmond, this spoke to the essence of Pickett. He wanted to be with his family. Football meant so much to him but he was putting someone else first.
When he was asked this year how he was coping with the hub and everything going on, he’d shrug and smile. “I’m all good,” he said.
Pickett never comes to the club with a complaint, it’s only ever a question. And it’s never about him, it’s always about one of the other players who now fall under his wing.
“Is Stacky [Sydney Stack] OK? What can we do?” he’d ask.
“I’m worried about Shai [Bolton]. I think we need to…”
They are used to the calls. If the other players have concerns it’s Pickett who wants to fix it.
“That’s been the environment, that’s how he’s been from the start, he always thinks of others,” said assistant coach Xavier Clarke.
“It speaks to the person he is, he wants to make sure everyone else is OK. He calls me old fella but I am learning from him. I have a two-year-old now and I am learning from him about how he is with his kids.”
This year has been an adjustment for everyone. From the outside, Pickett’s football has looked inconsistent. Maybe it’s the high bar he set in his first game, and the excitement it generated for how good he could be, that everything afterwards has felt like a slight letdown, but it hasn’t been as consistently electric as that first game. Really, how could it be as exciting?
The difference is largely explained by the fact on grand final day he came in and played on the ball and half-forward. It was easier to fit into that role as a see-ball, get-ball midfielder and forward playing on instincts.
With Brandon Ellis going out he has taken a position on a wing, which at Richmond means learning and understanding a very specific way of playing the position to fit into a structure.
This year he has learned that role.
“You can’t judge him on numbers. He offers us so much with his running power and grunt. He is very important to us,” an insider said.
His background has made him ready to deal with the difficulties he has faced in the last year, from the grand final to the dislocation of the hubs and juggling the kids in a flat away from home.
“Nothing fazes him. He has been through so much in his life it’s like football is easy,” said one Richmond football insider.
It’s a turn on the famous line from Keith Miller, the great Australian all-rounder and former World War Two fighter pilot, who put elite sport into perspective when he was asked once about pressure to perform.
“Pressure?” Miller asked. “There’s no pressure in Test cricket. Real pressure is when you are flying a Mosquito with a Messerschmitt up your arse!”
For Pickett, there is no pressure in AFL. When you have been through what he has been through, footy is just a game.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.