Growing up in Stawell had a big impact on Liam Pickering's future | Legends of Yesterday

Liam Pickering is one of Stawell’s most successful sporting exports. Developing his football with the Redlegs through the 1980s, he made the move to Melbourne where he played in two AFL grand finals and more than 100 games. We caught up with ‘Pickers’ as this week’s Legend of Yesterday.

STARTING SMALL IN STAWELL

Just like many kids growing up, sport played a massive role in Liam Pickering’s upbringing.

He spent many formative years in Stawell keeping active and busy with any activity he could compete in.

“Summer was all about cricket and winter was all about footy. I also played basketball and anything else around too,” Pickering said.

“As a kid I can’t remember a time where I didn’t have a ball in my hand whether it was a cricket ball or a footy.”

Growing up in Stawell, Pickering was surrounded by strong sport figures that would influence his future in the sporting industry.

Michael Pickering instilled a love of the North Melbourne Football Club into his son Liam, having played six games in the VFL before injury cut his career short and he returned to Stawell to dominate the Wimmera league.

“Dad had the biggest influence on me by far,” Pickering said.

“Coming from a family where my old man was a massive North supporter and played for North we we would try and get down to Melbourne whenever we could and watch the Kangaroos which I just loved.”

ROAD TO THE TOP LEVEL

Pickering was able to live out a dream many young players have when in 1987 he was drafted with pick 47 to play for the club the grew up supporting, North Melbourne.

“It was amazing to be drafted to the club I’d supported as a young bloke,” he said.

“I got to play with guys I idolised like the Krakouer brothers and Wayne Schimmelbusch who went on to become coach.

“I just loved it. I started my career at the same time as guys like John Longmire, Alastair Clarkson, Glenn Archer, Anthony Stevens and Wayne Carey. To be mates with those guys growing up made me feel privileged to play for North.”

SWEET REDLEGS SUCCESS

Pickering’s journey to the VFL/AFL started with the Stawell Redlegs, where he enjoyed great success as a young footballer. 

Pickering celebrates the 1987 premiership win with his teammates

Pickering celebrates the 1987 premiership win with his teammates

In two under 16 seasons he won a premiership and played in a losing grand final before stepping up into seniors in 1986 where Stawell reached the semi finals.

1987 was a season to remember for Stawell and Pickering, beating Horsham by 10 points in the grand final, with a young Pickering leading the way with five goals.

“It was very enjoyable to get hold of Tony Lloyd’s mob that day,” he said.

Pickering said his time in Stawell's senior side was invaluable.

“The two years I played senior footy were critical for me. I was a young guy playing against men so it toughened me up pretty quickly,” he said.

“While the VFL was a much better competition and a lot quicker I was already used to crashing into big bodies by the time I was drafted. It meant  I was not as intimidated early on.”

Stawell’s 1987 premiership coach Tony Beck was crucial in developing the young forward and helping him adjust to senior football.

“For all of us young blokes and there were a few of us we had a terrific coach in Tony Beck. I had a great relationship with him most of the time,” he said.

“Although one time I remember we had one good blue one day on the ground. I made the mistake of coming back for a ball he thought was his. He was the captain-coach so he yelled and me and I fired back and told him where to go so he sent me off the ground and sit on the pine. We went on to win the flag that year.”

NOT JUST A ONE TRICK PONY

While Pickering did make the journey to Melbourne through his football, it was his cricket prowess which opened the first door for him to make the move to Melbourne.

He moved down to the city in 1986, initially playing seconds and thirds at Carlton before going on to play more than 170 matches for North Melbourne in the Victorian Premier Cricket competition. 

“I believed I could be a decent cricketer more than a footballer which is why I went to Melbourne in the first place,” he said.

Pickering nearly fell back on cricket completely when after five seasons with North Melbourne he cut ties due to limited opportunities.

“I was playing well in the seconds but not getting a look in which is just how it goes sometimes. After five years and just 22 games I started to think I was wasting my time.”

He was picked up by Geelong where he would go on to play more than 100 games.

Liam Pickering playing first grade cricket at Arden Street. Picture: Angela Wylie

Liam Pickering playing first grade cricket at Arden Street. Picture: Angela Wylie

“When I got the flick at the end of 1992 from North I was in the state cricket squad with blokes like Dean Jones and Shane Warne,” he said.

“I was lucky enough that Geelong coach Malcolm Blight did a deal with the Victorian coach at the time to allow me to do the preseason with cricket rather than footy.

“Despite playing a few second eleven shield games I was really keen to give Geelong an opportunity after my time at North didn’t work out.

“My dad was the driving force in believing in myself. I had lost all belief after five years with North and just 22 games.

“But just like he did when I was a young kid at Stawell he kept pushing me and instilled the belief in me that I didn’t have at that time.”

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR

Pickering would go on to play in two losing grand finals with Geelong, falling short in 1994 and 1995.

Picture: Joe Armao.

Picture: Joe Armao.

Losses in two night grand finals and one reserves grand final with North Melbourne meant Pickering’s only senior premiership of his career was at Stawell in 1987.

“That flag win means a lot being on the senior premiership I won,” he said.

“The thrill of being out there was great but but the disappointment of not being able to salute in one hurts but that’s sport.

“In footy you are only as good as the whole team so if you're not all working together you don’t get the results and that’s basically where we were at at Geelong.”

POST-FOOTBALL SUCCESS

Following his football career Pickering has become a household name in the AFL media landscape. He co-hosts weekly radio show called ‘Off the Bench’, commentates AFL matches as well as acting as player manager to some of the biggest names in the game including Gary Ablett Jr and Jack Riewoldt. 

He said he would not have been given the opportunities he received without football and without his upbringing in Stawell.

“There are a lot of sliding door moments in sport and life but I look back and think if I said no to Geelong and chased cricket I may have played a few shield games but I wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to play in another hundred odd games and a few grand finals,” he said.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity footy has given me and it all started with my country team and my family.”

This story Liam Pickering lived out his childhood dream | Legends of Yesterday first appeared on The Wimmera Mail-Times.