By Ben Pollard
On the surface, former Prahran junior Tom Temay’s path to the AFL appeared secure from a young age.
Tom’s father Paul Temay played 52 games for St Kilda between 1980 and 1986 and had a guiding hand in his son’s junior career.
Paul coached Tom at Prahran for three years from 2006-08, with the pair combining to help win an under-14 premiership in 2008.
Guided by someone who knew what it took to make the big league, it’s perhaps not surprising Carlton picked Tom, an 18-year-old small defender/midfielder, at selection no.35 in the AFL National Draft.
But his path to the Blues wasn’t always assured – Tom needed to make a couple of his own big decisions along the way.
Paul said his son’s first major choice had to be made three years ago. Tom had just run third in the 3000m at the Pan Pacific Championships in Canberra and soon needed to decide between football and running.
Paul thinks Tom always had only one dream though.
“I think football was always going to win,” he said. “He chose football because he just loves the team involvement and he’s been carrying a footy around since he was about four.”
Paul said Tom’s achievements at the Pan Pacific Championships actually helped him realise his AFL dream.
“To get to that level (in running), it takes a lot of dedication and discipline and hard training,” he said. “He’s fortunate, because that’s grounded him a lot to prepare for footy.
“He’s certainly quite mature in his preparation, looking after his body and understanding his body.”
Tom has spent the last two seasons in the TAC Cup with the Sandringham Dragons, and the club’s football and operations manager Luke O’Brien clearly agrees with Paul’s assessment.
“(Tom’s) probably the most professional player we’ve had go through our program in the last couple of years, mainly from the preparation side of things, recovery and looking after himself,” he said.
But O’Brien said Tom’s professionalism hadn’t always translated into success.
As a 17 year old in 2011, Tom played a few games in a back pocket but needed to improve the defensive aspects of his game and just missed out on Sandringham’s premiership team.
Tom then had to make another major decision: How was he going to approach the off-season in order to realise his AFL dream?
O’Brien said the answer was emphatic.
“Over the pre-season last year he was just fantastic in the way he applied himself and did everything we asked,” he said. “He’s just one of these kids who constantly seeks feedback on his game, so he’s always looking to improve.”
And improve he did.
The Sandringham coaches started Tom in defence once again in 2012. The goals were to improve those defensive aspects of his game and also to make use of his offensive weapons – his running ability and “beautiful kick”, according to O’Brien.
By the time the AFL Under-18 Championships came around mid-year, Tom’s rapidly improving form had him on many AFL recruiters’ radars.
His performances for Vic Metro in the Championships would have only increased their interest.
O’Brien said Tom’s best showing was probably in a match against Vic Country, when he went head-to-head with the future no.1 draft pick, Lachlan Whitfield.
“Whitfield I think averaged 23 or 24 disposals and Tom kept him to 13,” he said. “The way Lachlan plays, he’s got elite endurance and he sort of blows his opponents up with his work rate, but one thing Tom has is endurance as well and he just stuck to it and ran hard.
“To see him play on Whitfield with his defensive running and all the defensive aspects of the game was probably the most pleasing thing.”
Tom moved into the midfield at times during the second half of Sandringham’s season, demonstrating the versatility AFL clubs expect of modern-day draftees.
Now, after over 100 games, three best and fairests and a premiership at Prahran, Carlton has given him the opportunity he worked so hard for during his junior career.
Indeed, Paul Temay said Tom isn’t a Blue simply because he’s the son of a former AFL player.
Paul may have taught him some lessons about what was required to make the big league, but Tom made his own big decisions from there.
“(I told him about) just embracing and enjoying the game, and if you’re going to do something, dedicate yourself to it and try to be the best you can be,” he said.
“I don’t think the fact that I played a few games gave him some sort of direction. I think it’s really just come from within.”
*Check out a carltonfcTV video of some of Tom Temay’s highlights in the ‘Media’ box on the right of screen.