It can seem at times like modern AFL football doesn’t do humility, and nowhere in an increasingly blocked-out calendar do the howls of “look at me” echo louder than on Brownlow night. Which made Matthew Priddis a winner to savour.
The story of the West Coast midfielder’s perseverance in the face of multiple draft rejections was well documented on Monday night, yet it took a moment of immense personal achievement to truly lay his character bare. His every utterance should be shown to juniors aspiring to greatness, as sparkling proof that being humble won’t stop you getting there.
Sharon Priddis watched the count with her eldest son’s wife Ashleigh and their daughter Nala, enjoyment giving way to tension as he reeled in the big names. And then, when he spoke, to pride.
“The individual honour is amazing, I mean no disrespect to anyone who’s won a Brownlow, it’s fantastic for Matt to have done that,” Sharon said on Tuesday. “But his humility, the way he spoke, I was just so proud.”
Husband Wayne, a bricklayer, rarely works away from home, but on Monday was 350 kilometres south-east in Lake Grace. He rushed back on Tuesday morning, and together they watched the Brownlow replay. Then watched it again.
“Wayne just sat there shaking his head, almost in awe, thinking, ‘What a beautiful young man you are.’ We’re so proud of him,” Sharon said.
The easy assumption would be that Sharon and Wayne instilled this groundedness into Matt and his younger siblings, Ben and Jess. Guidance on how to carry yourself in sport – in victory and defeat – can be as influential as technical instruction. New Zealand cricketer Dan Vettori counted the words of his Italian grandfather – “keep a small head, Daniel” – among the most profound advice he received.
The Priddises say Matt never needed to be told. “He admits himself, he knows his limitations and tries to be the best he can be, no one else.” A schoolteacher once told Sharon they shouldn’t push their boy so hard, and was enlightened by the response: “We don’t push Matt at all, he pushes himself.”
As a boy Priddis showed an aptitude for football, basketball and surf lifesaving, made representative teams without ever being the star. His mother soon realised there would always be others who were better – and some who would always be happy to tell you so. “He was never that way inclined.”
Peter German has known Priddis since he coached him at Subiaco as a 17-year-old, ultimately to two WAFL premierships and a Sandover Medal amid the speed bumps of AFL knockbacks. He remembers that no matter the situation, what came out of his mouth was always “please”, “thank-you”, “how can I help?”
“If I said to him, ‘Mate, you’re sitting on the bench for half a game’, he was, ‘Yep, no worries.'”
German bristles at the thought of young AFL footballers who’ve achieved nothing getting an inflated sense of their importance from day one. “You don’t have to be like that, of course you don’t.” Waking up on Tuesday to a radio poll asking whether Priddis was a worthy winner enraged him. “Jeez I was wild. He exemplifies best and fairest.”
Brady Rawlings has only known him for a year, but the Eagles midfield coach feels privileged to have experienced up close a player and person he sensed was special whenever they crossed paths on the field in his North Melbourne days. “You get an idea of someone’s character when you play against them, just the way they go about their footy,” he said.
“He’s up alongside Simon Black and Lenny Hayes for me as players you really respect from opposition sides.”
Rawlings has never seen Priddis whinge to umpires, and his attitude to close attention speaks volumes. “Players like Pridda, they deal with taggers, they just go and play and beat them. They don’t need to carry on with anything else.”
Would he have demanded a crack at the top level sooner if he’d shouted louder during those years at Subiaco? His mother reckons the point is moot. “I don’t think Matt could have sold himself, he’s not that sort of person. He’s too honest. He’ll give you his best, and if that’s not good enough, well, I’ll try a bit harder.”
Rawlings is rapt that anyone watching on Monday night now knows what sort of person Priddis is. He loved hearing him say, when interviewed as the count leader with a few rounds to go, that he hoped Joel Selwood would win. He knows one thing for sure – it won’t change him.
“He seemed embarrassed to win it, he even made the comment himself,” Rawlings said. “He doesn’t like the attention, but he should be embracing what everyone’s saying about him this week. He did himself proud.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.