Morabito writes his own story

Finally, he was back. Photo: Getty
Finally, he was back. Photo: Getty

When Anthony Morabito last played at AFL level, Ross Lyon was about to coach the Saints to a grand final draw and defeat, Julia Gillard had just formed minority government and Mark Thompson and Gary Ablett were still pillars at Geelong, though neither would last the year.

It was almost four years ago, in September 2010, when Morabito last suited up for the Dockers in a final against the Cats, before his appalling run of three consecutive knee reconstructions. On Saturday evening, in balmy Darwin, Morabito was substituted into the game in the third quarter, completing one of the longest absences a player has endured in recent times.

Once, if a player missed four years, he would be away fighting the Japanese or Germans. Morabito has simply been fighting his private battle of wounded knee. Lyon had never seen a situation up close like this one, though he had observed ''from afar'' the Sisyphean struggles of Neale Daniher - the Essendon champion cut down at his zenith.

Lyon added: ''Nick Malceski at the Swans, but I think this is as significant as any. Clearly Anthony doesn't want to be known about recos....he's on his journey now, kick start his career to become a great player.''

In his return, Morabito gained eight touches, missed a goal with 15 seconds left, but - most crucially - he emerged without any injury. His first disposal came seconds after he took the field, from a free when Chris Dawes drove him into the Darwin turf. The Dockers metaphorically did worse to the Demons, winning by 63 points without Matthew Pavlich (illness), Stephen Hill (quad) and Michael Johnson (knee). Pavlich was replaced by imposing 200cm key forward and debutant Michael Apeness.

''Just really thankful that the boys embraced me and brought me into the game, which was nice,'' said Morabito. ''Thanks to Dawesy for dumping me into the ground and giving me a kick.''

Morabito said he was ''pretty cooked at the end'' and should have converted his shot, but felt fine and his body had experienced tougher tests at training. ''I've pushed my body to levels that are probably further than that, so I was really comfortable.''

Morabito said the difference between 2010 footy and 2014 weren't important. ''That's really irrelevant. I don't really remember four years ago.'' He had prepared for this by playing 10-15 weeks of WAFL football, and ''to be tell you the truth, I didn't find it overly different, which is good.''

Morabito was, in his words, ''thrown around a bit'' from forward, back and the wing. Lyon said there was no particular reason he was selected for this game. ''He was selected to be picked. We never took in the geography or opposition. We don't work like that.

''Selfishly, we always wanted an AFL powerful midfielder back, and that's what we still want and that's been prised open a little bit more tonight...objectively, this club's support for Anthony has been amazing - all our conditioners, physios and doctors have played a part, but ultimately it's been Anthony's willpower and desire to get back and play that's the real story. Certainly, the support from the Fremantle Dockers has been a significant part as well.

''We think he can be significant in the journey we're on going forward...he's coming and he's coming quickly. He'll play next week and he does what he does, and then he'll play the next week and he'll have to continue to fight for his spot. But it's a feel good story, isn't it.''

Lyon couldn't say if Morabito would play a full game next week, though a full game soon would be the planned progression. Both the coach and Morabito, while recognising what had happened, wished to look ahead.

''I never (was) close to calling it off. I think when you're full of emotion, you tend to say stuff that is off the cuff. I'm thankful for my upbringing and stuff like that that I was able to keep going on. Just because of the person that I've been moulded into,'' Morabito said.

While Lyon's Dockers gained from Hawthorn and Port's defeats, the coach wasn't interested in the lives of other teams. ''We aim to continue to write our own story.''

Morabito, who might have been written off, is writing his own story, too.

This story Morabito writes his own story first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.